A dazzling display of Japanese artistry, TAO: Drum Heart comes to Nashville Jan. 28

men banging drums on syage

Marching to the beat of their own drum.

When they’re not on international tour, Drum Tao performers are usually practicing on top of the isolated mountain in Japan where the group is based.

TAO Drum Heart

Established in 1993, Drum Tao is a 39-member group proudly telling the story of the traditional Japanese drum.

“All day we practice, rehearse, and train. Japanese drum is very loud, [so] we can’t train in town,” said Taro Harasaki, a musician and performer with the company, in a 2018 interview with the New Times.

The renowned percussion troupe — which brings the beat to TPAC’s Polk Theater Jan. 28 — combines highly physical, large-scale drumming with contemporary costumes, precise choreography and innovative visuals.

“All the performers are musicians, drummers, dancers, and singers,” Harasaki continued. “We mainly use Japanese types of drums in the show, along with the Japanese three-string guitar, harp, and bamboo flute — but mainly drums.”

Tao means the path, or the way; it is “ever present, but must be manifested, cultivated and perfected in order to be realized.”

That is the belief that fuels this culturally enriching rhythmic production that has been featured at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and The Late Show With Stephen Colbert. 

These performers are true athletes and artists dedicated to continuously developing their chosen craft.

History of Drum Tao

The group has combined the ancient Japanese art of drum-based percussion with costumes, choreography and visuals into each of its performances since Drum Tao’s inception 26 years ago.

Established in 1993, Drum Tao is a 39-member group that has been touring since 2004, proudly telling the story of the traditional Japanese drum.

Considered to be the greatest of all Japanese percussion performers in Japan, the group has performed in 26 countries, 500 cities, in front of over a total audience of eight million.

This production started in Japan in 2016. The North American tour started the end of January 2018. Currently, they perform 700 shows yearly as three teams; Team A, Team K, and Team S.

Behind Drum Tao’s instruments

Tao drum

Considered to be the greatest of all Japanese percussion performers in Japan, the group has performed in 26 countries, 500 cities, in front of over a total audience of eight million.

They mainly use Japanese types of drums in the show, along with the Japanese three-string guitar, harp, and bamboo flute.

The group uses about 50 Japanese drums referred to as Taiko instruments, which are made of wood and stretched cow or horse hide. Once the skin is stretched from end to end of the drumhead, the strong material makes it extremely difficult for drummers to break their sticks through the top.

Taiko refers to a broad range of Japanese percussion instruments played by an ensemble, often including martial arts-style choreography. The performers are both musicians and dancers. Composing their own choreography, the movements tend to be hard and fast, with the performers aiming to form a connection between the drum and themselves using four principles: attitude, music, technique, and energy.

Behind Drum Tao’s costumes

woman playing a large drum

The costumes were designed by Junko Koshino.

The costumes were designed by Junko Koshino, a famous Japanese designer, who believes in a fusion between modern and classic design. Though based off the kimono in weight and texture, the wear for Drum Tao is a mix of modern and traditional.

They are basically black and white with some colors such as red. Koshino is known for her couture designs — with an emphasis on the aerodynamics of sports — and applying these principles to her technology-aware garments and costumes.

But for Harasaki, it all comes back to the beat.

“This show is full of energy and excitement, but also meditative and relaxing on a primal level,” Harasaki continued. “They will feel the vibrations of the pounding of the drums, it can be very soothing. Japanese drumming is like the mother’s heartbeat to the baby in the womb — loud but calming.”

For more information on TAO: Drum Heart, visit TPAC.org or call 615-782-4040.

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TAO: Drum Heart promotional video: