Marching To His Own Beat With Isaku Kageyama


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  • The taiko drum is one of the endearing symbols of Japan, stretching as far back as 14,000 BC. Traditionally used in plays or to motivate troops in times of war, the modern taiko performances seen today is only about 50 years old. On this show, Anthony chats to Isaku Kageyama who is a two-time National Odaiko Champion and is the youngest person to win such honors. He is also the 1st person to be accepted into a major American music school for playing taiko. Isaku narrates the history of taiko and hints where traditional Japanese music might be heading to overseas.
  • Anthony talks about his recent live interview at Bad Communication Podcast where this time, he was the one answering questions. He also shares his recent attempts to block cold Japanese winter air from coming into his apartment.

Keeping Japanese Apartments Warm

It can get surprisingly cold in Japan as Anthony found out that the heater in his apartment was not sufficient enough. The walls and windows were too thin that hot air merely goes out. Following some good advice from Ashley’s blog Surviving in Japan, Anthony sealed off spots where he could feel the cold draft getting in. He also bought some heavy curtains from Nitori that helped a lot with keeping the warm air inside.

Getting Interviewed this Time

Tables get turned as Anthony was interviewed live by Bad Communications, a weekly video podcast produced by 3 gentlemen who take on topics about life and news in Japan. Anthony has made some video series before in Thailand and has gotten recognized on the streets. Someone also commented that he didn’t look like how he sounded on video! Be the judge on that by checking the Bad Communications website below.

Making Drum Beats in Japan and Overseas

Introduced on the show is the award-winning Taiko drummer Isaku Kageyama. He plays Japanese music using the Taiko but with elements of jazz, rock, and African music that goes far beyond its traditional form.

Isaku was born in San Francisco, California, and went to Tokyo when he turned 4. Going to an international school and not having a strong connection with Japanese society, his parents forced him to do something Japanese: play the taiko. Back then, Isaku hated practicing it every day. But when he won the Odaiko (large drum) Contest at 18, he considered making it his profession. Realizing he had something others didn’t have and were good at it, it boosted his confidence. He then applied to Boston Berklee College of Music where he became the 1st taiko drummer accepted in the school.

Isaku shared that studying a different kind of music nurtures how he plays the taiko. It may sound as people would imagine it to be since fusing two or more kinds of music is not easy. However, he was able to apply the logic of some music genres to create new Japanese music.

Isaku continues to produce music used for traditional occasions. While he noted the limited opportunities for studying music abroad does little to enhance the influence and development of Japanese music, the reason may be in its structures. The way traditional Japanese music is learned and developed doesn’t do much to encourage its cultivation. Examples of these are the use of music sheets independent from other musical instruments and the long process of inheriting a teacher’s honored position in the ranks. Meanwhile, in America, the taiko does not evoke traditions alone as it is quite popular among young musicians. The pay can be quite good too given that only a few can play it.

Although the tradition of playing taiko on stage is only about 50 to 60 years old, its history dates back to 14,000 BC when it was used in war to signal armies. It was also used for religious rituals and theatre arts like the kabuki. In contemporary times, drum performances can draw people to come and see the show. They can be found at concert halls which tend to be more staged. Being a taiko purist, Isaku notes that concentrating on the production aspect may make one lose sight of the actual techniques used to beat the drums.

Isaku will be coming to Tokyo coming in January to play at a couple of clubs. His Hybrid Soul music album is also out in CDs and on iTunes. For free music, send him an email and he’ll send back a track for yours to keep. Talk about it with your friends because this kind of music may soon be heading your way.

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