Monday, March 31, 2008


Es salaam alaykum! I arrived in Casablanca just over a week ago. After spending a few days in Casa – including a jazz-filled evening at the best gin joint in North Africa, Rick’s Café – I took the train to Rabat, the capitol of Morocco. Already in the short amount of time that I have been in here, much has come to fruition in regards to my research. Over the forthcoming days, enshallah, I will share the experiences I have had. So, in short, stayed tuned, as there is more to come...pending internet access that is!

Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca - the third largest mosque in the world!

...right on the Atlantic Ocean...

Rick's Cafe

The art of the kitten?

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


I shot a TON of short videos during the three performances. Below are fifteen different ones; although, there is probably only ten minutes of video in total posted, so it is not too much to watch.To be completely honest, I am unsure whether YouTube will allow this videos to remain online, so I would recommend watching them as soon as possible. This goes without saying, but the concert experience is rather watered down when transferred to film. So, just think of this as a taste of the Kodo-Bløf fusion…


On the early evening of March 14th, I arrived at the Heineken Music Hall in South Amsterdam. I picked up my tickets for the performances on the 14th and 16th; I had been unable to buy a ticket for the 15th, as the show had sold out very quickly (all three shows were sold out eventually). Coincidently, Jun Aukimoto, one Kodo’s tour managers, was at the ticket will call window when I arrived; Mr. Aukimoto and I had been in correspondence over the past month, and he had generously arranged to have a ticket for me for the show on the 15th. It turned out that Mr. Aukimoto gave me a VIP pass that included access to the after party on Sunday night (I will get to that later). So, a big, BIG thanks to Jun Aukimoto and Gen Matsui of Kodo; I cannot express how much I appreciated their help to ensure that I was able to attend all three shows!

A little background information about Bløf: they are one of the most successful Dutch bands. In a way, I would describe them as the Dutch version of U2. The band itself is comprised of Paskal Jakobsen (vocals/guitar), Peter Slager (bass/vocals), Bas Kennis (piano/vocals) and Norman Bonink (drums/vocals).

The Heineken Music Hall (HMH), which basically looks a large box with metal panels and concrete floors, has a capacity of about five thousand people. Directly in front of the stage is a floor with fold-up seats; there are two levels of balconies in the rear; and VIP balconies on the left and right sides of the concert hall. With the obvious exception of the VIP balconies, there are no assigned seats throughout the venue. Regardless of where you choose to sit, the acoustics are superb.

On the first night, I sat on the floor, seven rows from the right side of the stage. It was absolutely incredible to be so close to the stage. For the three Kodo concerts I attended in Japan in December, I was all the up in the balcony at each venue (in Hiroshima, Okayama, and Osaka). It is true that the acoustics (as in, the projection of the sound from the drums) is better if you are further away from the stage; yet, it was most excellent to be able to see all of the facial expressions and body movements of the musicians.

On the second night at the HMH, I opted to sit in the upper rear balcony. Although I was rather far from the stage, I enjoyed the distanced vantage point, as it allowed me to have a full, unobstructed view of the stage. On Sunday, the final night, I took advantage of my VIP pass, and sat on the VIP balcony on the right side of the stage. (Yes, the seats were much more comfortable there).

It was great to watch each performance from three distinct perspectives; this certainly made each night feel very unique. Nonetheless, I will readily admit that, when watching Kodo perform, the closer to the stage you are, the more intense (and thus, more memorable) the experience is. Being so close to the stage, allows you to feel the vibrations of the sound waves resonating from the taiko drums.

The set lists were relatively identical throughout the three nights. In short, there were four Bløf “solo” songs, five Kodo “solo” songs, and eleven songs performed by both groups. Because almost every song had a different arrangement of instruments/combination of musicians, there were many stage adjustments. It was rather impressive to see how fluidly the transitions were; there was almost no time wasted in between songs to set up the stage. Interestingly enough, only Kodo members moved the taiko drums; the regular stage crew never touched any of Kodo’s drums.

(The following is applicable for all three nights of performances).

The set list was flawless: it was a perfect showcase for the members of Kodo and Bløf to demonstrate their talents individually and in tandem. (It should be noted that the way the musical arrangements worked was that Kodo played with Bløf; as in, the Japanese drummers learned Bløf’s songs. Bløf did not “learn” or “add on” to Kodo songs, with one notable exception that I will discuss later).

What was most effective about the set list was that there was a tremendous amount of variation. To get an idea of how the concert worked, here is a (loose) set list:
1. Both groups begin on stage together; a very cool taiko beat with the pop rock beat
2. Bløf song
3. Kodo jam; about fifteen minutes
4. Bløf song with two female Kodo members, one on a Japanese slide guitar and the other providing additional vocals
5. Bløf song; apparently a big hit, as the crowd knew every word
6. Bløf song with one Kodo member on the Japanese guitar again
7. Kodo jam; about ten minutes (I recognized this one from the December concerts)
8. Kodo & Bløf melodic interlude, with two Kodo members playing the flute
9. Bløf song
10. Bløf song; duet with female Kodo member; Shogo (of Kodo) on the violin
11. Kodo song; famous number played on the giant o-daiko drum
12. Bløf song
13. Kodo jam with Bløf’s drummer playing various taiko drums. West meets East, indeed!
14. Kodo and Bløf end the first set together; crowd chants “We want more!”
15. First encore: both groups together for slow song
16. Kodo jam
17. Kodo and Bløf together
18. Second encore: Kodo song performed by female vocalist and string player
19. Kodo drummers parade through the audience; jam with Bløf’s drummer (with him on the drum kit)
20. Kodo and Bløf come together for the big finale

Without a doubt, the zenith of the concert was when Norman, Bløf’s drummer, played several different taiko drums during an extended Kodo solo. Norman was extremely fluid on the taiko drums; it was clear that he had practiced much before the performance. It was just so neat to see him so engrossed while playing; not to mention how cool it was to see the Kodo members fully embrace him. This was the most memorable aspect of the show, hands down.

Another highlight was during the second encore, when Kodo played a song with Bløf’s drummer on the drum kit. The thunderous taiko beat incorporated with the rhythm of a full drum kit was phenomenal: percussive fusion at its finest.

During the fusion songs, it seemed that that the less complicated the Bløf drumbeats were, the more creative Kodo could be. In a certain sense, secondary drumming is for rhythm what harmony is for melody: thus, Kodo provided a “rhythmic” harmony for the Bløf songs.

I had seen several of the same Kodo songs performed back in December; yet, these versions were definitely different, specifically in the length of the song and number of drummers performing. The music of Kodo tends to challenge the notion of sound and perception: the drummers both will play their instruments as loudly and as softly as possible. Kodo performed classics, such as “Zoku, ” “Kyosui,” and “Floor” – okay, I admit that you probably haven’t heard of any of those songs, but they are all wonderful!

Patience is needed to listen to taiko in order to appreciate the flow of the movements of each composition. Many pieces are very long, and thus require much attention to fully enjoy the trajectory of the song. One of the Kodo jams last almost fifteen minutes: of course I could listen to straight percussion for hours, but I would have assumed that many people do not differentiate a cacophonous din from a symphonious rhythm. Nonetheless, it was clear that even during the extended Kodo solos, the audience was continually captivated.

It felt as if every one in the venue – musician and ticket holder alike – were all completely absorbed by the music. Throughout the entire evening, the audience was very responsive – in a positive manner – to both the fusion songs and Kodo solo pieces. It should be noted that Bløf has attracts an older fan base. Marinating in Eastern and Western rhythms for two-and-a-half hours can be an invigorating, yet taxing, experience. By the end of each night, I was exhausted!

There was a definite element of humor to the concerts; a sense of “light-heartedness” prevailed throughout the performances. For example, after the first extensive Kodo drum solo, the Bløf lead singer/guitarist, Paskal Jakobsen, made a joke in Dutch that I did not fully understand – although I did recognize that he was poking fun at the strenuous effort of the Kodo drummers, as he used the word, “workout.” It is absolutely true that taiko drumming requires an exceptional amount of endurance, as it is a very physical activity.

Kudos to Bløf for creating more international exposure for Kodo: I do not doubt that Kodo’s popularity in the Netherlands will skyrocket after these concerts. Everything about this concert series was executed so perfectly. The production of the shows was stellar: everything from the background videos to the lighting to the mixing of the audio tracks was excellent. Even during Bløf’s solo rock songs it was just cool to see giant taiko drums in the background. By the final night, there were definitely a bunch of the Bløf songs that were stuck in my head; that band has some very catchy hooks!

It was so wonderful to be able to see all three performances because during each song, so much music was been played, as there were frequently around eight to ten musicians on stage. Furthermore, no two songs sounded the same. I was able to focus on different parts and layers of each song throughout the three nights.

The after party on Sunday night was a really nice conclusion to a great weekend. (It was also nice to get free food, as I had skipped supper that evening!). Because there was a notable absence of certain Kodo members at the party, I went to see if I could find Shogo, the drummer I met on Sado Island back in November. Eventually, I found him, loading up equipment onto a truck. It was interesting that some Kodo members were assembling and disassembling their own gear. Shogo and I chatted for a bit; he was surprised to see me, considering we first met on the other side of the globe.

Indeed, these concerts are not reflective of drums and percussion in a “religious” context; yet, there was a definite spiritual essence to the whole production. The beauty of fusion music begins with the marriage of two different genres of music; yet, what truly makes fusion music special is how it can bridge different cultures together. By that token, fusion music is more than just anything genre of music. Surely, some sort of profound – perhaps even “spiritual,” if you will – connection was formed between the members of Kodo and Bløf. The exercise of fusion truly can be a wonderful construct.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


Preface: this post will be in three parts.

I am so grateful to have autonomy of my research: the Bristol Fellowship coordinator at Hamilton College, Ginny Dosch, has given me a tremendous degree of flexibility in regards to my itinerary. With my original fellowship proposal, I had no idea that I would want to venture to Amsterdam for a series of concerts. Fortunately, I was able to fit this side trip into my schedule.

From March 14th-16th, Kodo, the taiko drum group I worked with while in Japan, played three concerts in Amsterdam with a Dutch pop rock group, called Bløf. (I think Jerry Seinfeld said it best, “What is that O with the line through it? What letter is that? I don’t remember that letter in school.”)

The shows were not just merely Kodo as the opening act for Bløf; instead, the two groups collaborated and performed many songs together, fusing traditional Japanese drumming with modern Dutch rock music. Needless to say, this fusion created a tremendous visual and auditory experience.
To take a step back: ever since I first ventured to India in the fall of 2005, I have been amazed by the concept of fusion music. I was initially turned on to fusion music by the godfather of the genre itself, George Harrison. Harrison’s records, both with the Beatles and throughout this solo career, reflected a sincere interest in Indian music.

Fusion music is very difficult to create: above all, among the musicians, there must been a genuine interest and appreciation between the two schools of music. For example, George Harrison was so successful in making fusion music, as he studied the sitar as any other rising Indian student would; as in, he did not exploit his “rock star” status…

In purest sense, the purpose of drums is to communicate. With fusion music, cross-cultural communication is a given, as two different forms of music are mixed and mashed together. In the context of the Kodo- Bløf performances, it was apparent that a very special personal connection among the Japanese and Dutch musicians was forged through the music.

It was very much so evident that the members of Bløf had a sincere enthusiasm for Japanese taiko music. Not only did the music sound fantastic, but also it was clear that all the musicians were having a blast, as all the musicians were nothing but smiles. By the final night, during the big drum solo between Kodo and Bløf drummer (Norman Bonink), Norman was even wearing a traditional Japanese headband!

Within the parameters of research “spirituality in drumming and drum crafting,” it might be questionable as to what was the “spiritual” element to the Kodo- Bløf performances.

Spirituality has the connotation of the individual’s connection to the Divine; yet, in a certain sense, can “spirituality” also implicate a more personal connection between two humans? To clarify, there is something wholly “spiritual” about two people forming such a strong, personal connection, especially when that bond breaks down cultural barriers. Surely, “spirituality” is a rather ambiguous term and concept; but, after witnessing the Kodo- Bløf performances, I do affirm that a “spiritual” union can be formed between two people, vis-à-vis music.

The second part of this post will describe the concert itself…

Shogo loads equipment after the show

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


During my stay in Sevilla, I discovered a small drum shop, called Naranjo Music. The shop mostly sells Western-style drum kits and accessories; but there was a wide selection of African hand drums, as well.

Historically, all of Andalucia, formerly known as “Al-Andalus,” has had a profound connection to Northern Africa and the Islamic world, in general. Indeed, this is not the proper forum to discuss the broader cultural influences that Muslim dynasties had on Christian Spain from the Eighth Century to 1492; nonetheless, this history has, invariably, created ties between the Andalucian and North African music.

Although there was a good selection of African drums, the one drum that caught my eye was the most unconventional: it was a pair of tom-tom drums made from PVC water pipes. Like a timbale set (think Tito Puente), a pair of cowbells and six-inch splash cymbal are mounted above the two drums.
The pipe drum set certainly would be classified as a “found instrument,” as the materials used to create the drum were never intended to be used for that purpose. To give the drum an even more makeshift feel to it, the pipes were colored in with marker, not paint. Somewhat surprisingly, the sound of the drums is pretty solid.

While I have seen pipes transformed into drum shells before, there was something about this particular set that just seemed like such an “honest” effort by the craftsman. Rarely do innovation and practicality form such a straightforward marriage.

While this drum does not boast any aesthetical value, the ingenuity of the materials used to create the instrument is highly commendable. Surely, the drum does not define the drummer: the music coming out of the drum is all that matters.

Drums can be crafted for thousands and thousands of dollars, but at the same time, they can be crafted from household materials for next to nothing. It is rather incredible to analyze the spectrum of drum crafting: when I think how complex (and costly) the process of drum crafting at Asano Taiko in Japan was to the simple (and cheap) process of crafting the pipe drum, it is really neat to see such variation. But, it seems that sometimes simplicity just works best when crafting a drum.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


After my departure from India, I arrived in Sevilla, Spain, to prepare itinerary for Morocco and to, well, just take it easy for a few days. Sevilla is in Andalucia, the most southern part of the country. Because of its proximity to Africa, there are many immigrants from Morocco and West Africa in Sevilla; which creates a very diverse music scene.

One evening, I stumbled upon a small music club, Reggae Vibes, and watched a percussion performance by a group from Sierra Leone. The group, called African Shrine, mostly played djembes – large wooden and calf-skin hand drums. The djembe jam lasted about an hour, and there was also a fire show. All in all, it was very entertaining and a rather unexpected evening!

Below are a bunch of pictures and videos from the performance. The lighting is pretty poor in the videos, but the sound came out well…Enjoy!

Sunday, March 2, 2008


Hello all. I have received several messages in regards to my tabla instructor. If you are ever in Chennai and want to learn to play the tabla, definitely contact Chandran. He is a very friendly, patient, and talented teacher. His address is No. 54/21, DeMonte Street, Santhome, Mylapore, Chennai, 600 004, which is right near Marina Beach. The best way to contact Chandran would be via telephone: 98401 06214 or 99414 46214. Please give him my regards!