Monday, May 29, 2017

Question Everything: Traditional taiko

I've been seeing more people talk about/offer classes in traditional taiko.  It's clear this is to differentiate it from contemporary taiko, but what exactly is "traditional taiko"?

I'm not going to give a history lesson of taiko here, but ensemble drumming is a relatively new art form.  It was something that came into being in the early 50's, which puts it around the same age as jazz.  So when I hear people talk about "traditional" taiko, it either means ensemble drumming (kumidaiko) in the earlier years, or taiko before it was made into ensemble form.

For the latter, there are some older forms of taiko that aren't so much done as an ensemble, styles like those that come from Miyake and Hachijo.  But when people say they're teaching those styles, they tend to use the names of those styles

So that means it's probably referring to the former.  But what makes taiko traditional?  Is it only using Japanese patterns and rhythms?  What are those?  One person's dongo is another person's swung triplet.  Is it not using non-Japanese instruments?  Most taiko groups I've seen, regardless of what they play, only use Japanese instruments - or if they incorporate others, do it in very few pieces.  Is it not using non-Japanese movements?  Good luck identifying that one.

Take the katsugi okedo and the popularity of "crossovers".  This idea came from the Korean style of drumming called Samul Nori, adopted by Kodo.  Is it now "traditional"?  It's been "around" in Japanese taiko for ~20 years now, tell me?  If it's not traditional to you, will it be so in another 20 years?  40?  Ever?  This is when the definition argument starts getting blurry.

Not that it's a huge movement, but is the increased sighting of more "traditional" taiko teaching makes me wonder if it's a resistance to more contemporary taiko?  But only in North America?  Or Japan as well?  Or is it more wanting to show people what taiko is without adding bells and whistles, sort of a matter of pride?

This is not a judgement post, because I always try to observe and question, then to pass those to my readers to (hopefully) stir more questions.  So if you use the term "traditional" taiko, what does that mean to you?  And if you hear someone else talk about "traditional" taiko, ask them what that term means to them!  See what you can learn.

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