Yamato bangs through the Baltics

  • 2007-02-21
  • By Steve Roman

BEAT IT: The Yamato drummers pump enough raw, emotional energy into their show to power Tokyo for a month.

TALLINN - Anyone with delicate nerves might want to think about going into hiding for the next week or so. Over the next few days all three Baltic capitals will be resonating with the sounds of Yamato 's The Drummers of Japan, a high-energy percussion group that will no doubt be making headlines as its Shin-on, or "Heartbeat," tour makes its way through continental Europe. Yamato will be giving performances in Vilnius, Riga and Tallinn on Feb. 24, 26 and 27 respectively.

If you've never seen a Japanese taiko drumming performance, here's what you have to understand: It's not just about the rhythm, or the tune or the colorful costumes that the drummers wear. It's about raw, human energy and power, something that prods that little place in the back of your neck that makes your hair tingle. And if the reviewers' promises are right, this one will also make your feet stomp.

The group originates from Japan's Nara prefecture, formerly called Yamato, which is said to be the birthplace of Japanese culture. It was founded in 1993 by its choreographer and main creative force, Masa Ogawa, a drum enthusiast, who now concentrates as much on giving Yamato a strong visual presentation as on the music itself.

Though Yamato play on traditional wadaiko drums, the group are no sticklers for tradition. For one, its 14 performers include several women. The style itself is said to be a fusion of the modern and the traditional with an emphasis on youthful energy.
In addition to the drumming, performers play string and wind instruments, dance and wow their audiences with acrobatic displays.
And then there's the drums themselves, which might be as much the stars of the show as the performers. Numbering several dozen, they range from 15 centimeters in diameter to one Godzilla-sized monster that's 1.8 meters in diameter and weighs about 500 kilograms. The oldest of them, an odaiko drum, is made from a massive, 400-year-old tree.

Yamato hit the international stage in 1998, when they performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival scooping up the Spirit of the Fringe award. Since then they've been enduring a grueling tour schedule, performing everywhere from Japanese schools to South American stadiums 's with the occasional street show thrown in. This will in fact be their second trip to the Baltics; they played in Riga and Vilnius back in 2004.

Perspective audiences that want to throb along with the "Heartbeat" show this time around should be warned that it'll cost them. Tickets to the performance in Tallinn's Saku Suurhall run from 310 to 995 kroons (20 - 58 euros), and tickets in Riga's Congress Hall will set you back 25 to 30 lats (36 - 43 euros). The situation at the Utenos Pramogu Arena in Vilnius is only slightly better; here tickets go for 60 to 160 litas (17 - 46 euros). For this kind of once-in-a-lifetime experience though, it might well be worth it.

Utenos Pramogu Arena
Feb. 24, 8 p.m.
Tickets: www.bilietai.lt

Riga Congress Hall
Feb. 26, 7 p.m.
Tickets: www.bilesuserviss.lv

Saku Suurhall
Feb. 27, 8 p.m.
Tickets: www.piletilevi.ee