Humanitas heartbeat


Kenny Endo, pictured above, will perform on the taiko drum as a part of his 40th anniversary tour and WSU’s Humanitas Festival. The taiko drum comes in a variety of sizes, and is generally made of wood and a cow- or pig-skin covering.

The thunder of these drums will vibrate your skeleton. The culprit? The taiko.

As a part of his 40th anniversary tour, Kenny Endo and his contemporary ensemble will perform at Jones Theatre today to finish up the Humanitas festival.

Endo started as a jazz percussionist but eventually participated in a country-wide movement of heritage discovery. A Japanese-American from Los Angeles, he was part of the first groups of performers who traveled to Japan and discovered the taiko drum.

“He loves the feeling and sound of the drums,” said Karen Fischer, Endo’s agent based in Hawaii.

A taiko drum comes in different sizes, generally made of a wood body and a cow- or pig-skin covering. Due to the variety of sizes, from the large odaiko to the smaller kumi-daiko, these drums can be played together to give a range of notes along with a rhythm.

“It’s very physical,” Fischer said. “You have to put your whole body into playing it … (and) that’s how they get the sound out.”

The size of the taiko doesn’t mean the sound is going to destroy an audience’s eardrums. Fischer described the taiko sound as heartbeat-like and meditative, causing one’s body to vibrate with the beat.

“You expect to be blasted away by the sound but it doesn’t,” Fischer said. “You feel the sound as much as you hear it.”

Along with the taiko drums, Endo has been known to mix the traditional drumming style with funk, jazz, afro-Cuban and Hawaiian styles. His ensemble includes guest artists playing other instruments such as vibes and bamboo flute.

He is also the first non-Japanese national to receive the Notori award, Fischer said.

Endo’s performance is co-presented by Festival Dance from Moscow, who have co-presented artists at the Humanitas festival every year since its start three years ago. Festival Dance is best known for dance and movement-related performances.

“This year it’s really cool because we always do dance things, but this year four of our performances incorporate live music,” said Festival Dance Executive Director Abby Glanville.

Between the rhythms of the drums, audiences can expect to hear the flute and slower instruments in the ensemble. Endo often brings in his background as a jazz percussionist to open a whole range of improvisation and syncopation.

One of the ways jazz and Japanese drumming can compare is how the music works with sound and with silence.

“There’s value in leaving out notes as well as drumming every note,” Fischer said. “You get that a lot in jazz and Japanese drumming.”

Glanville described taiko as far more physical in comparison to going to a concert and seeing someone sit down with the drum set around them. Taiko performers often move from drum to drum.

“(The show) is a nice way to expose our region to a variety of cultures,” Glanville said. “It’s something my organization strives to do, too.”

Kenny Endo’s performance is at 7:30 p.m. today in Jones Theatre at Daggy Hall. The concert is free and open to the public.