The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Artist Interview
A fusion of Japanese drumming and Western music The world of Shuichi Hadano
Shuichi Hadano
Shuichi Hadano
Shuichi Hadano
Was it at that time that you first encountered the Japanese wadaiko?
I failed in my first attempt to get into music college, so I went to a wadaiko group Kodo with an introduction from Mr. Okada. Kodo is an internationally famous wadaiko group based on Sado Island in Niigata Prefecture, and I went to see one of their performances. The first time I heard five or six of the drummers hit their big drums with one mighty boom in unison, it erased everything from this head of mind that had been so immersed in music that I could see the notes of the sheet music in my mind’s eye every time I heard a line of music. Everything went white. Hearing that fresh sound, produced by the dynamic body movements of the performers, I felt something like the sound was a clump rushing at me. At that moment I felt that this was an instrument that I could take out unto the world stage with confidence. After that performance, I was backstage literally grabbing the performers and begging them to let me join the group. But, the communal life they lead didn’t fit my nature and I only stayed there for less than a year. I was able to make the physical change from a body that plays percussion to a body (musculature) to strike the big wadaiko drums, and I was able to learn the spirit needed to approach the wadaiko drums, but I wasn’t able to leave behind the Western music I had known since childhood. And, I also felt that there was more to the inspiration I had first received from the wadaiko than what was actually being played on stage. So, I ended up leaving the group before I ever performed with them on stage.

That must have been the beginning of a period of searching for you.
I went around to live performance houses and jazz clubs and got gigs. People in the traditional Japanese music arts that don’t use Western musical notation aren’t expected to be able to read a music score. But when they saw that I could take a jazz score and play drum from it right away, they were happy to take me in. By the way, when I compose music it is always on a Western style music score. So, I was able to jump in and do jam sessions with musicians from a number of different genres. This was also the time when I met the Noh flutist Yukihiro Isso and the Tsugaru shamisen artist Shin’ichi Kinoshita. They were people like me who wanted to use the traditional instruments to do something contemporary and we did some interesting things together. If one of them said they wanted a “shaaa” sound, I would put a cymbal next to my wadaiko, and at another time I might add a cowbell. And, as long as I’m adding those, why not add a couple more different wadaiko to the set? That is how I arrived at my wadaiko drum set. I could play the drums, I could play the wadaiko and I could play the (handheld) tsuzumi drum. So, I was busy every day, playing in about 15 different bands in all. But, when I was 24 I developed a chronic inflammation in my left hand and I had to take off a half a year to recover. Then, when I returned I found that there was no place for me anymore in those bands. I realized that I had only been an expendable quantity to be made use of.

That gave you a chance to re-think your situation?
I began to question whether it was really a good thing to be able to do all kinds of performance. I asked myself which instrument it was that I really wanted to keep playing in the long run. I liked jazz and I liked Indian music, and I had found my essence of music in percussion, but I realized that wadaiko was my world and the sound that I loved the most. I realized that I most of all wanted to give expression to that first shock I had gotten from wadaiko, the impact of the sound, the pleasure of being swept away in its flood of sound. So, I started a band with shakuhachi flute, shamisen, bass and my wadaiko. I also participated in the forming of the wadaiko ensemble “Tokyo Dagekidan” and I did my first solo concerts around this time. This was also when I borrowed 15 million yen to buy a large taiko drum, as a sort of statement of my determination to pursue wadaiko in earnest. A loan is something you have to pay back and I was full of the desire to perform as many stages as I could. There are not any real producers in our segment of the music world, so I had to write the proposals myself and then sell the plans. I also called on other people to do some fun productions and acted as producer for a wadaiko festival and live performances. You learn a lot from planning events like this, and you meet new people and in the end this helps expand the breadth of your music.

You are performing actively overseas as well. What has been the response and benefits from these efforts?
I think the 1990s brought an end to the age when you could introduce traditional arts just as exotic things from the Orient. Lots of performers have given concerts in the U.S. and Europe, so by now the audiences are tired of seeing wadaiko simply as a traditional art. It has reached the point where the people are now asking, “Is that all the Japanese drums can do?” From the visual aspect as well, it is hard to avoid presenting wadaiko as a form of traditional Japanese culture. But, if we can’t take it to a level where it can stand purely on its musical merit, it will not really be a valid introduction of Japanese culture. The wadaiko produces a long, slow sound that can be sustained. That slow and deep sound fits beautifully with the “slow life” mentality, and that makes it popular with people in the West today. Wadaiko groups have already been formed in the U.S. and in Germany. And, because they are not bound by the traditional styles, they are able to perform much more freely. We Japanese drummers have a tendency to be bound to the traditional styles in strange ways that limit our musical freedom. It is true that good [drumming] form produces a better sound and makes you look better as stage performers, and in fact I would say that wadaiko is 80% a performing art. But, I still believe that there are too many people who value appearances to much and cling to the traditional styles more than they should. Since there are so many wadaiko performers today, I think it is fine to try some really different things. People should try to create styles that are completely their own and only they can perform. In other words, what is necessary is a balance of tradition and innovation.

It seems that wadaiko music is at a turning point. What does the Hidano style seek to express or accomplish?
What I am seeking now, as a Japanese, is sound that achieves the highest possible level of pleasurable listening experience. To achieve this I am developing new methods of performance and also revising the instruments [drums] themselves by doing things like opening air [sound] holes in the drum body or stretching double layers of drum skin on them. Since the wadaiko is made from the natural materials of wood and animal skins, the condition of the instrument is influenced by the weather and climate. So, I got the help of an American drum maker to develop an “all-weather drum” that is affected as little as possible by weather changes so that it maintains sufficient level of sound quality in all types of weather and climatic conditions. You might think that a percussion instrument has less expressive capability than the instruments that play melody, but in fact the very lack of a melody or words to be sung means that there are less restrictions, which gives it the ability to be played very freely and expressively. I want to use my own methods to bring out that expressive capacity of wadaiko. I want to create sounds that people will hear and recognize right away that it is Hidano playing. The “donnn…” sound from striking the large taiko drum just once expresses everything inside me. And the audience hears it and feels, “Ahh, that’s a good sound.” That is my ultimate objective. That is how much I love the sound of wadaiko.
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