December 13, 1997
Furyu Dagaku Matsuri Shu celebrated their 10th anniversary in grand style with their annual Shiwasu (year's end) concert, at Tokyo's Itabashi Community Hall. By performing their biggest concert in Tokyo this year, in the shadow of the Kodo and Ondekoza year end concerts, they also made the statement that they wish to be considered on par with their illustrious predecessors. This is in keeping with Director Higashi Munenori's vow that he would not suffer Matsuri Shu to be anything less than the equal of Kodo or Ondekoza. Fortunately, Higashi's vision eschewed copying aspects of either group -a common flaw of many taiko groups- and instead found fertile ground for inspiration in his own backyard of Kyoto, Japan.
Matsuri Shu is based deep in the heart of Kyoto, the cradle of many of Japan's traditional arts. By taking full advantage of the endless inspiration he found there, Higashi has rooted Matsuri Shu in the deepest traditions of Japanese music. This tradition shows up in the piece "Yoiyama" that showcases drumming and dancing patterns from the Gion festival that are easily over a thousand years old. However, If they just dredged up old music, Matsuri Shu would be nothing more than another folk music ensemble; the group quickly built on this foundation, turning the piece into a rollicking uptempo number, that maintained a effortless, jubilant festival feeling even as the performers burned into blistering solos.
This is the magic of Matsuri Shu at work: transforming their traditional influences into a thoroughly modern performance. With stunning costuming and stage design that again pays respect to tradition but launches into bold, innovative directions, Matsuri Shu easily sets itself apart visually from the other major taiko groups. The show itself has a updated, sophisticated feel compared with the raw power and musicality of Kodo or the showmanship of Ondekoza.
By mixing pieces based on traditional festival music and folklore with more modern compositions, Matsuri Shu propelled the concert forward without a dull moment. There was the by now obligatory Odaiko Solo, a piece with pantomime, a beautifully atmospheric duet with Nohkan flute and Odaiko, tied together with lots of fast, furious drumming. The performers lock tightly into each other's playing, and the joy and energy that they radiate is almost palpable from the audience's seats.
Matsuri Shu may still not have quite the name recognition of Kodo or Ondekoza, but they are sure to change that in the coming years. Rumored plans of an American and European tour should garner the group the kind of international publicity and acclaim that Kodo and Ondekoza have long enjoyed.
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