Music Recommendation: KODO ONE EARTH TOUR: TSUZUMI (North American Tour)

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by William C. on January 25, 2023

in Music,Theater-Los Angeles,Tours


Since 1981, KODO, Japan’s taiko performing arts ensemble, has brought the gloriously life-affirming art form of taiko to 46 countries around the globe. Under the banner of One Earth Tour, Kodo exemplifies why percussion is the primal source of all movement and rhythm. The newest production, Tsuzumi, is touring North America and will be pounding in the acoustically perfect setting of Walt Disney Concert Hall on Tuesday, January 31, 2023 (the tour continues through March) Expect athletic and electrifying drumming, exquisite musicianship, stunning visuals, and pure theatre.

Ever since man could bang a stick on a rock, percussion has been a way for humans to express themselves. From your teenager’s bedroom to the battlefield to the theater, percussion has evolved from communicative and ritualistic purposes into an art form. We take for granted the use of percussion as an art form, but it’s a fairly new phenomenon.

In the early 20th-century, it seemed that there were few innovations left to squeeze out of harmony and melody, and that only rhythm could express the energy of the machine age—primitive, industrial, deafening, and exciting. Thus, from George Gershwin to Tan Dun, percussion has become a mainstay in modern compositions, opening the way for percussion shows such as Stomp to take the world by storm.

Even taiko, once known as a broad range of Japanese percussion instruments which had existed for centuries, began to move from its roots in traditional settings in festivals and shrines to ensemble playing in the mid-20th century. One form is the kumi-daiko style, which features ensembles made up solely of drums. Literally meaning “drum,” taiko is not just known as instruments; it refers to the thrilling, heart-pounding, mind-blowing, and joyous performances of thunderous sound and stunning, stylized choreography.

Tsuzumi opens with a very special piece in the KODO ensemble’s history that is seldom performed on tour — Dyu-Ha. The late Maki Ishii, a modern composer who was introduced to KODO by conductor Seiji Ozawa, presented this piece to KODO as a gift to congratulate the ensemble on its debut in 1981. This will be the first time KODO has performed Dyu-Ha in North America since 1989. The 40th anniversary tour program also features Ishii’s masterpiece Monochrome and other KODO signature pieces such as O-daiko, Yatai-bayashi, and Zoku, coupled with new compositions.

photos by Takashi Okamoto

Kodo One Earth Tour 2023: Tsuzumi
Walt Disney Concert Hall
111 S. Grand Ave. in Los Angeles
Tuesday, January 31, 2023 at 8:00
for tickets, call call 323.850.2000 or visit

North American tour
plays through March 25, 2023
for dates, cities and more, visit Kodo

10 Interesting Facts About Kodo “Tsuzumi”

1. The biggest taiko weighs about the same as a piano
The biggest taiko drum on the Kodo stage, o-daiko, weighs around 300 kilos and measures 145cm in diameter. The Kodo members set up their own instruments, so they need a lot of strength just to get the drum into position. Imagine lifting a piano up above your head. They also need power, technique, and energy to make it resonate fully.

2. Beyond the drums
While taiko (Japanese drums) are at the heart of every Kodo performance, Tsuzumi also includes pieces that use a variety of other musical instruments, too. They range from percussion instruments, such as cymbals and gongs, to melodic instruments including the shinobue (Japanese bamboo flute), tategoto (vertical Japanese koto harp), and ryuteki (dragon flute). The program also features pieces with voice and traditional Japanese dance. There’s something for everyone!

3. Tsuzumi features 3 of Kodo’s 10 female performers
The Kodo ensemble has 37 members at present: 27 men and 10 women. The cast of Tsuzumi has three female performers and this programme shines a spotlight on them center stage. You’ll see these powerful women leading ensemble pieces, playing solos, and conjuring powerful, expressive sound with instruments and their voices.

4. One cast member recently got her phone privileges back
To become a member of Kodo, hopefuls must first complete a two-year apprenticeship program at Kodo Apprentice Centre on Sado Island. One of the most recent graduates to join the ensemble will make her overseas debut with Kodo on this North America tour. Kodo apprentices live communally at the Centre, where they learn taiko, dance, song, bamboo flute, and other traditional arts. The apprentices live a very basic lifestyle so they can concentrate on their rigorous training, which means distractions such as mobile phones, personal computers, and dating are strictly prohibited.

5. Tsuzumi showcases Kodo’s next generation
Currently, Kodo’s performers range in age from 20 to 72 years old. This production, Tsuzumi, features a young cast with an average age of 29.5!

6 Tsuzumi means “drum”
Kodo is written with two kanji characters: ko means drum and do means child, together meaning “children of the drum.” Tsuzumi also means drum—it’s an alternative reading of the kanji character for “Ko” in the group’s name. This production heroes taiko and celebrates the signature pieces, aesthetics, and direction that Kodo has honed for decades on stage.

7. Bringing Tsuzumi to North America has special meaning for Kodo
Kodo was originally planning to bring “Tsuzumi” to North America in 2021, during its 40th anniversary year. The tour was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which meant all the celebrations planned in the USA and Canada were put on hold. The 2023 tour is the first time in four years that the ensemble is performing in this part of the world and you don’t want to miss it. They are bringing back some fan-favorite elements to the theater with them for the first time in a decade: their signature indigo costumes and a program brimming with their most iconic pieces.

8. In North America, if you’ve seen Dyu-ha live, you’re over 33!
Tsuzumi opens with a very special piece in the Kodo ensemble’s history that is seldom performed on tour — Dyu-Ha. The late Maki Ishii, a modern composer who was introduced to Kodo by conductor Seiji Ozawa, presented this piece to Kodo as a gift to congratulate the ensemble on its debut in 1981. Kodo will perform Dyu-Ha on this tour for the first time in North America since 1989.

9. Most Kodo pieces have no speaking, but Hitohi has an MC!
Hitohi incorporates aspects of onidaiko, a demon deity drum dance that is performed at festivals all over Sado Island. Each village upholds its own unique style of this folk tradition. An enthusiastic MC accompanies the festive ritual, encouraging the audience to cheer on the performers. Get ready to answer that call!

10. Beats from Jamaica were the inspiration for Uchoten
Uchoten is a new upbeat piece that was inspired by Ska, a music genre from Jamaica. Listen out for the different Ska rhythms of ska in the piece! The performers play this piece using three original taiko drums that Kodo developed with master taiko maker Asano Taiko.

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