Tantara Taiko Drumming Text

About Taiko

Taiko Drumming

When Buddhism spread from China to Japan, it took with it temple drums known as ‘Taiko’. The word Taiko can be translated as ‘big drum’ — ‘Tai’ meaning ‘big’ or ‘great’ as in Tai Chi, and ‘ko’ meaning ‘drum’.

Due to the deep rumbling sound and their power, Taiko drums became associated with the gods themselves and originally, only priests were allowed to play them. It has been said that the sound of the Taiko represents the voice of the Buddha. Within Buddhist ceremonies they serve to keep time, rhythm and structure during chanting.

Later, these drums found their way onto the battlefield where they became efficient communication tools because their immense sound could carry over great distances. They have also been used in folk festivals and in planting and harvesting ceremonies to give honour and thanks to the gods of fertility. One Japanese saying proclaims that a village is only as large as the distance its Taiko sound will travel.

Since World War Two, the Taiko has taken on a new role in performance art. A jazz drummer called Daihachi Oguchi who came across an old piece of Taiko music inspired this development. He integrated this traditional art with his jazz influences and formed an ensemble to play and experiment with this music. Groups such as the Kodo Drummers and many others have taken the genre in new directions and helped it to spread far beyond Japan.

In Taiko much use is made of martial stances and martial inspired movement. Even in martial arts training, it is not possible to strike stick to skin without causing damage — the playing of Taiko makes this both possible and pleasurable.

Extract from John Bolwell’s article The Power of Percussion.