Kenny Endo

  • Written by 
  • Saturday, 07 December 2013 00:00
 Kenny Endo Photo courtesy of Darian Wong

Marching to the Beat of a Different Drum

Kenny Endo Talks Taiko

Taiko performer, composer and teacher Kenny Endo has spent 35 years paving new paths in the taiko genre of drumming, blending Japanese taiko with world music. Among his many distinctions are an M.A. in ethnomusicology from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, an artist residency at the Lincoln Center Institute in New York, and certificates of honor from the Honolulu City Council and the House and Senate of the State of Hawaii. He has performed for Princess Diana, Prince Charles, Michael Jackson and Prince, and he has opened for The Who. He has performed with singer Bobby McFerrin, the Hong Kong Philharmonic, the Honolulu Symphony and the Tokyo Symphony, and he is featured on the soundtracks for Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now” and Kayo Hatta’s film “Picture Bride.” Tokyo Journal caught up with Kenny to see how he continues to tread new ground for this ancient instrument.

TJ: How did you first get interested in taiko?
ENDO: When I was in college, I saw a taiko group perform and it immediately struck me that this is what I wanted to do. The sound of taiko is something that you not only hear with your ears, but you feel down to your bones. People of all ages and cultures seem to have some type of identification with it. I have heard the explanation that taiko is close to the beating of the heart of your mother when you are in the womb. In fact, sometimes when we perform babies actually fall asleep! I started playing in 1975 with the very first two taiko groups outside Japan - the Los Angeles Kinnara Taiko and the San Francisco Taiko Dojo. I moved to Japan in 1980 and got into traditional drumming such as Hogaku Hayashi as well as a Tokyo festival music called Edo Bayashi. I stayed there for 10 years until 1990 before I moved to Hawaii. In fact, I think I have the very first issue of the Tokyo Journal! There was very little literature in English at the time, so I bought it every month!

TJ: Can you tell us about taiko?
ENDO: I think what most people know as Taiko is “Kumi-Daiko”, which is an ensemble drumming performance art. That form of Taiko is relatively new in terms of Japanese history. It started in the 1950’s; the most famous group probably is “Kodo” on Sado Island. The instrument itself is used in everything from theater music like Noh and Kabuki to Minyo and folk music. It is also used in Buddhist and Shinto festival music. Kumi-Daiko has made it really popular which is why there are so many groups now.

TJ: How does taiko drumming differ from drumming in contemporary music?
ENDO: When I was playing Western style drums it was very important to have good timing, consistency and steadiness. However, in Taiko you put just as much energy into the space between the sounds as you do with the sound itself. It’s a little bit different especially when you play the big drums like the Odaiko which you have to play with your whole body. It’s not that your whole body is moving constantly but your whole body is engaged. It’s almost like a martial art. You have to be totally centered in the ki energy, which has to flow from you to the instrument and from the instrument to you.

TJ: What has been your proudest achievement?
ENDO: Receiving a Natori, which is a stage name and license in Hogaku, Hayashi and establishing the Taiko Center of the Pacific.

TJ: What are your future goals?
ENDO: I’d like to collaborate with great artists such as Herbie Hancock and Yo Yo Ma. I’d also like to do more film scores and establish a permanent home for the Taiko Center of the Pacific.

TJ: What advice would you give to someone wanting to get involved in taiko?
ENDO: Try to find a good teacher and group to work with in your area. Practice, persevere, and put your whole mind, body and spirit into it.

TJ: Do you have any message to Tokyo Journal readers?
ENDO: World peace and inner peace are not abstract concepts to be wished for but workable and achievable only with great effort and hard work. tj

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