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776: Yoko Ono
775: Boredoms
772: Kurofunedan
768: Merzbow
766: Oshiripenpenz
765: YMCK
763: Shizuka Kudo
762: Mo’some Tonebender
761: Soil & “Pimp” Sessions
756: Tokyo Conflux 2008
754: Ed Woods
753: 8otto
751: Para
750: Fuji Rock Festival 2008
748: Katan Hiviya
745: Who the Bitch
742: Low IQ 01
740: Shake Forward!
738: iLL
736: Tobu Ongakusai
733: Yanokami
731: One Night in Naha
729: Shugo Tokumaru
727: Japan Nite
725: Getting out the vote
723: J-Melo
721: Electric Eel Shock
717: GO!GO!7188
715: Yura Yura Teikoku
712: Midori
710: Seigen Ono
708: Wrench
707: Shinichi Osawa
704: M-flo
701: Freesscape
699: Versailles
698: Fuji Rock Festival 2007
697: Uri Nakayama
695: UA
693: Shonen Knife
690: Kemuri
689: Ikochi
686: Best Japanese Albums
684: Monkey Majik
682: Shibusashirazu Orchestra
681: Jon Lynch and Juice magazine
677: DJ Kentaro
675: Sadistic Mikaela Band
673: Osaka Monaurail
672: Teriyaki Boyz featuring Kanye West
666: Oki
662: Amanojaku
659: Polysics
657: Oceanlane
655: Cornelius
651: Bomb Factory
642: Soul Flower Mononoke Summit
640: African JAG
637: Buffalo Daughter
635: Ryukyu Underground
633: Mazri no Matsuri
631: Mono
629: Coldfeet
628: Crystal Kay
625: J-pop goes def
623: Ken Yokoyama
621: Zazen Boys
619: Monday Michiru
613: PE’Z
611: Afrirampo
609: Sherbets
603: Double Famous
601: Meltone
599: Michiyo Yagi
597: Hifana
594: Guitar Wolf
592: Rip Slyme
590: Little Creatures
588: Bliss Out on Hougaku
586: Hoppy Kamiyama
584: Bliss Out on Hougaku
582: Mazri no Matsuri
580: Mari Natsuki
575: Towa Tei
573: The Beautiful Losers
571: Fantastic Plastic Machine
569: Nippop
567: Brahman
560: Shonen Knife
558: Nice Guy Jin
556: Toru Yonaha and Kinohachi
554: Hiromi Uehara
551: Nicotine
549: Ego-Wrappin'
545: Eastern Youth
538: Inside tracks
536: Outside the Box
534: Rainbow Warrior
529: Breaking the mold
527: Sadao China
524: The sound of cyberpunk
522: Ryuichi Sakamoto's Chasm
516: Ken Yokoyama
514: Jan Linton
512: Jazz messengers
509/10: Naoko Terai
507: Akiko Yano
504: Kotaro Oshio: Solo Strings
502: Refurbished rhythms
494: Resonance
492: cyber-swordsmen
490: Loop Junktion
488: Ryukyu Underground: Okinawan Odyssey
484: Gocoo: Reinventing taiko
481: Leonard Eto
479: Gaijin à Go-Go
477: Enemy music
475: Yoriko Ganeko with Chuei Yoshikawa
472: DJ Kaori
469: Yuki
467: Wrench
464: Young and swingin
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422: Shing02
420: Supercar
418: Ryuichi Sakamoto
416: Kick The Can Crew
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341: Puffy
339: Ryukyu Festival 2000
337: Rappagariya
335: Lisa Ono
333: Air Jam 2000
331: Feed
327: Tenkoo Orchestra
325: Wrench
323: Sadao Watanabe
321: Dry & Heavy
319: Bonny Pink
317: Sakura Hills Disco 3000
315: Aco
313: Rovo
311: The Mad Capsule Markets
309: Coldfeet

Refurbished rhythms

Metropolis travels to Sado Island to hear how the Kodo drummers are ushering a 2,000-year-old tradition into the 21st century.

A Kodo drummer beats a massive O-daiko in the Earth Celebration grand finale

The atmosphere is so groovy at the Kodo drummers' annual Earth Celebration, it's hard to fathom how an instrument whose likely first use was on the battlefield has been transformed into a symbol for peaceful celebration. Yet this transformation-a change that in some ways mirrors Japan's postwar search for a non-militaristic identity-is exactly what Kodo have helped effect in over three decades since arriving on Sado Island.

This not-so-quiet revolution was the result of a quest fired by idealism, says Musical Director Motofumi Yamaguchi in an interview held during this year's festival at the end of August. "In the early days, people came less out of musical interest than out of a desire to join a movement, a commune," Yamaguchi notes about the years after Tagayasu Den founded Kodo progenitors Sado no Kuni Ondekoza in 1969.

A similar combination of '60s idealism and happenstance also characterizes the Earth Celebration, which Kodo-formed in 1981 when a group of Ondekoza members split with Den-launched 16 years ago. "We didn't give it much serious thought," a reflective Yamaguchi recalls amid the hubbub of the festival headquarters. "We wanted do something, but we didn't expect it to grow so big."

Taking place for three days every summer on far-removed Sado in the Japan Sea, Earth Celebration has become a sort of Holy Grail for world music aficionados. After many years of wishing, this writer finally made the daylong trip from Tokyo, arriving on a sultry August evening at Kodo's base of Ogi Port, in time for the second evening of concerts.

A key part of Earth Celebration is its interaction between the guest percussionists and the players of Kodo ("heartbeat" or "children of the drum"). The festival launches with a concert by Kodo, features guests on the second day, and concludes with a grand finale with both groups on the final day. This attempt to unite diverse cultures through the common language of the drum has always been integral to the festival, and has brought outstanding percussionists from legendary American jazz drummer Elvin Jones to Indonesian gamalan orchestra Suar Agung to Sado.

This year, Kodo have invited the drummers of Burkina Faso, whose colorful athleticism contrasts nicely with Kodo's disciplined perfection. "Usually we get to know our collaborators in advance and trade tapes or even meet abroad and practice," explains Yamaguchi. "This time we had never met the Burkina Faso drummers, but when they arrived, we found that we were able to relate to them very easily."

Yamaguchi says the fact that both Kodo and their guests are percussionists is essential in making something unplanned seem carefully choreographed. "Sense of rhythm of course differs from country to country, but it gives us a point of reference and a shared energy."

By now a well-established concern with 24 players, some 20 staff overseeing the business operations, and a compound of their own on Sado, Kodo have become Japan's premiere touring music ensemble, selling out marquee venues such as New York's Carnegie Hall.

Yamaguchi says the group attracts a different kind of candidate than in the past. "These days, many hopefuls approach us after seeing us in concert, so rather than joining a commune, we have people who really want to perform on stage-the level of professionalism has increased."

Aspirants join a rigorous two-year apprenticeship of communal living during which their ability and dedication are assessed. "Then we look at whether they will become a performing member of Kodo, or work in a different capacity," says Yamaguchi. Rather than an audition per se, it's trial by fire. "We have them participate in concerts to see how they fare."

Yamaguchi sees two main factors behind the continuing resurgence of interest in taiko, whose most recent example is the popularity of a taiko simulation video game. "Why is it popular now?" he asks rhetorically. "Well not just us, but others also have presented a vision for taiko that is not limited to matsuri or Kabuki as in the past, but is accessible to people from all walks of life."

He also perceives a benign form of gaiatsu, or pressure from outside, at work. "Back in 1981, when we debuted in Berlin and became famous overseas, Japanese saw that westerners were interested in taiko. Many Japanese then began to reconsider their traditions, and the taiko offers Japanese something from their own culture." Yamaguchi cites renewed interest in the Tsugaru shamisen and the shakuhachi as other examples of resurgent Japanese traditional music.

With their latest coup in the form of a soundtrack for the recent film Hero by Chinese director Zhang Yimou and a schedule booked through 2005, Kodo are now preoccupied with their upcoming two-week collaboration with Kabuki star Tamasaburo Bando. Choreographed by Tamasaburo, the performances represent the first large-scale meeting between Kabuki and taiko.

"Tamasaburo approached us and said he wanted to work together," said Yamaguchi. "It should be very interesting. Tamasaburo plays both male and female parts; he identifies with both genders. Usually when we do Kodo we think only from a male perspective. Tamasaburo sees things from a female point of view, and has brought out that side in us as well."

Kodo One Earth Tour Special takes place at Setagaya Public Theater November 14-30. See concert listings for details.

credit: Don Morton