A successful petition launched by Yokohama resident and blogger Baye McNeil apparently led Fuji TV to cancel a long-running blackface segment on its music program “Music Fair.” The segment was to feature vintage vocal group Rats & Star and idol outfit Momoiro Clover Z, but after Brooklyn, New York native McNeil gathered more than 5,000 petitioners, Fuji ran the segment blackface-free, even joining his hashtag team #stopblackfacejapan #日本でブラックフェイスやめて. Read McNeil’s account here.
Tokyo Flow spoke with Eri Uchida, one of a few women members of legendary Japanese taiko drum troupe Kodo. Uchida told us about Kodo’s new work Mystery, its first to feature women in central roles.
How did you come to join Kodo?
I decided to attend Kodo’s apprentice center when I saw Kodo in Vancouver while I was at high school in Canada. After two years of apprenticeship, we are able to perform on stage with the other members.
Women seem relatively new to the world of taiko: What are the challenges?
Women are not so new to taiko as a performing art which has been around only 50 years or so. In fact, most amateur taiko groups are composed mainly of women. However Kodo is composed mostly of men, and there are lots of challenges as professionals. First of all, the size of the taiko. The taiko that we use are so large that even some men can barely make a good sound. Therefore it is even more challenging for female taiko players.
Tell us about your role in the new piece Mystery.
I think the audience will enjoy the presence of women in Mystery, because we have created both theatrical and comical pieces featuring women in the production. Women are usually not heavily featured in Kodo’s productions, so Mystery is a rare opportunity to enjoy the female presence.
Why do you think artistic director Tamasaburo Bando chose to feature women strongly in Mystery? Are women mysterious?
Bando has thought about the role of women in Kodo since the very beginning. As he plays female roles in Kabuki, he taught us how to behave and act as women on stage. I think women are mysterious in that they have the ability to create a new life inside their body. However, women are not central to the mysterious aspect of this production. Female performers have an important role to lighten the atmosphere on stage, and to provide a sense of comfort and humor with their charm. I think it was a big challenge to feature women in Kodo, which has a strong image of male performers.
Taiko seems to be getting very popular worldwide. Why do you think this is?
Taiko is essentially one of the easiest instruments on which to make a sound. So it is very easy to start. Taiko cannot be done alone; whether it is for performance, preparation, or actually building the drum, a sense of togetherness is required. I think as individualism becomes a common value worldwide, people’s hearts need this sense of community.
Tell us about your most special experience so far as a member of Kodo.
It is very difficult to choose one experience. The entire experience is special to me. Touring is life-changing. Your views and values change a lot in a short period of time. The sunset from the tour bus, the freezing weather I have never experienced, communication with local staff without language barriers, the encounter of dangerous suburban areas…the ability to find new answers when I’m feeling stuck. These are some examples of touring experiences that lead up to my performances. I am very thankful to Kodo for giving me this opportunity.
Where do you see yourself in ten years?
That’s a hard question. I feel like I am reborn every time a tour ends. I don’t know what I will be doing in ten years since my priorities change quickly. All I know is I’d like to have a child someday and want to live for others.
What does music mean to you, and why do you think music exists?
Music for me is healing, joy, and makes my life rich and prosperous, but also the biggest worry since my job is music. If I limit this topic to taiko, I’d like to introduce an idea that a psychologist once offered on the subject: “Human beings have an element of ferocity. Unlike robots, we kill other species in order to survive. Humans may develop mental illness when the balance of these ferocious instincts collapses. The action of hitting the drum provides a very important influence to achieve that balance mentally. Therefore, taiko drumming maintains wellness for human beings.” Expanding from this idea, I believe that music has a universal power to heal anyone’s mind in our current society.
Kodo perform at Brooklyn Academy of Music, March 19-21. http://www.bam.org/music/2015/mystery
When Metropolis reaches Lewis Durham in England, the singer, multi-instrumentalist and self-taught audio engineer is fixing some vintage recording equipment, trying to get it working alongside the computers at Kitty, Daisy & Lewis’ band studio.
“The old equipment has a more honest sound, and for recording real instruments, it captures it more faithfully than a computer does,” Durham says about the sessions for their simply-titled third album, Kitty, Daisy & Lewis The Third. The trio of siblings not only makes music inspired by ragtime, jazz, blues, honkytonk and vaudeville; they also approach the entire endeavor with an old-fashioned family ethic. Despite emerging from a generation whose musical palette is formed by electronic sampling and hip-hop, Kitty, Daisy & Lewis harken back to an era when performing musical families were common.
“My dad used to sing and play guitar, and his family did, and we did it at home growing up,” Durham explains. “At school there was contemporary pop, but at home there were always old songs being sung. We started off playing older songs because that’s the simplest place to start: You pick up the guitar and sing. I guess it’s considered old-fashioned now, but it seems natural to me.”
Notwithstanding their taste for musical styles from a century ago, the Durham siblings have managed to open the ears of a contemporary crowd, signing with BBC Radio 1 DJ and Bestival curator Rob da Bank’s label, Sunday Best. It’s not just the endearingly vintage warmth of their music but the modern way they mix it up that makes Kitty, Daisy & Lewis’ material intriguing.
Third, for example, takes in everything from the saucy, vaudeville flavor of “Whenever You See Me” to the boogie-woogie beats of “Good Looking Woman,” to the lively rhythms of “Feeling of Wonder.”
“The rhythm changed entirely from what it first was,” Durham recalls about the latter song. “Originally it had more of a jazzy swing to it. Kitty was playing it in the studio, and I started a new drum beat, and it changed out of nowhere.
“We’re really lucky because we get all kinds of people coming to our shows—young and old,” he continues. “We use all different kinds of feels and approaches, there are lots of variables, even more with this new album—it’s all different kinds of genres.”
Kitty, Daisy & Lewis songs often begin as the siblings have always made music: With loose jam sessions. “A certain groove will start happening and then a song will come out of it,” Durham says. “A lot of it is from just messing around, and stuff comes out of it. Often in between rehearsing songs, we’ll get a nice rhythm going, and then put some words on it.”
The Durham siblings (Daisy is the eldest, followed by Lewis and Kitty—and yes, they do fight sometimes) still live together in Camden, where they grew up. They’ve moved out of their parents’ house but seem remarkably close.
“We’d always had music in the family, and when we first started playing it was because someone asked me to come onstage and do a song,” Durham remembers.
“Kitty joined in because there happened to be drums there, and that was it, really. It was basically doing what we’d always been doing, but doing it on the stage. Then Daisy got involved and we added a few more songs, and a friend of ours asked us to join a festival. We didn’t have a name, so he just put on the poster, ‘Kitty, Daisy and Lewis.’ It all started kind of by mistake.”
A few albums and festivals later, the Durhams found themselves backing the likes of Coldplay and traveling to Japan for Fuji Rock. “We’ve been twice to Japan and it was probably the most different place we’ve ever been,” Lewis says. “The last time we hung out in Tokyo with Gaz Mayall (ska impresario and son of blues legend John Mayall). He’s been in Japan a lot and was showing us around these little bars where you can fit around seven people. He called it ‘piss alley.’ We just thought it was amazing.”
But even if their touring adventures end, Durham affirms they’ll always be a musical family.
“I tell people that even if we’re not playing on stage or making records, we’ll have our music at home, because that’s what we’ve always done,” he says.
“We’ll just see where it goes. We enjoy touring and making records a lot, but we’ll just take it organically and see where it goes. It seems to be going pretty well at the moment. But if we ever did stop playing on stage for a reason, we’d still play at home, because we don’t play music to play in a commercial band—we just play music together because we enjoy it.”
Kitty, Daisy & Lewis. Apr 24, 7:30pm. ¥6,000. Shibuya Club Quattro. Nearest station: Shibuya. http://meturl.com/kittydaisylewis2015