Event Review: HINOTORI – THE WINGS OF PHOENIX (Yamato Drummers of Japan)

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by William C. on March 7, 2023

in Concerts / Events,Tours


Have you ever attended a performance where you felt like you ran a marathon? Still, all you did was sit on the edge of your seat from the sheer awesomeness on the stage.  The Yamato Drummers of Japan’s HINOTORI – THE WINGS OF PHOENIX tour landed in the Soraya last Saturday afternoon, and this family-friendly show was precisely the pick-me-up that Southern California needed after the long chill spell that descended on the southland.

The concert opened with the earthly tone of the large drum (O-daiko) accompanied by ensemble vocals. It is as though we were all transported to the mountains of Japan, where the men are strong and the women are hard-working. The speed picks up, and almost immediately, there are four highly athletic men picking up a giant drum for a soloist to demonstrate his performance prowess, by which I mean his extremely muscular back. Yeah, you get the point right away. These men and women are fit, fun, and talented, and they want you to know it.

Stylistically, these drummers are incredibly versatile. In the first half of the concert, they used the katsugi-okedo (carrying drum) and performed in the style of the Eisa drum dance of Okinawa. This is a style of performance that is rarely seen outside of the Ryukyu islands. The Yamato drummer’s take was hyper-theatrical and fun. Followed by a number where the drummers used a bō staff to hit the drums taken from the Taiwanese U-theatre drumming ensemble. As they executed each move with force and precision, their stylistic nimbleness impressed. It felt as if the co-ed ensemble were giving their all and leaving nothing behind.

Touring in the same year as Kodo, it is hard not to compare the two ensembles. Both of the performance companies are made of incredibly disciplined and experienced drummers. However, they could not be more different. While both ensembles have roots in Japanese folk tradition, their presentations take a divergent path. Kodo remains firmly rooted  in the theatrical tradition of kabuki theater. You can tell when the drummers are resetting the stage, there is an alert sharpness that can only be learned from years of kabuki training.

On the other hand, Yamato is clearly more informed in Western theater tradition. They are looser. They wear sneakers, jeans, and a top that I can only describe as a design that is intended to accentuate their rock-hard abs. While Kodo’s dramatic arrival point is often the silence between the beats, Yamato’s performance arrives at thunderous hits. The two are almost like the Yin and Yang of the taiko performance art itself.

The members that spoke were simply delightful. Their gag of carefully opening and closing a folded written note, followed by a heartfelt apology for their English, was so darn cute. It is just so Japanese that it melts your heart. This is translated into their stage personae as well. The drumming performances are often mixed with miming tradition, fun competition, and audience participation, making this a fun experience for anybody. Be sure to bring smelling salts for after you experience the power that is Yamato Drummers.

photos by Luis Luque, Luque Photography

Yamato Drummers of Japan
reviewed at The Soraya on March 4, 2023
2023 US tour continues; for dates and cities, visit Yamato

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