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A Look Back at 20 Years of Kodo

Sleepy Sado Island, just off the coast of Niigata Prefecture, easily slips under most people’s radar. Unless you were banished there back when it was an island prison for political dissidents (well-known inmates included a former prime minister) or were a fisherman in the Japan Sea, or had some relatives living on the isle, you probably wouldn’t have made the trip out to this quaint, yet beautiful, island.

Today, there are plenty of reasons to head to Sado, the most compelling of which is the Earth Celebration. No one has been more influential putting Sado on the global map than Kodo, the internationally acclaimed taiko group that hosts the annual world music and arts event. Perhaps it is fitting that the progressive group decided to lay down its musical groups on Sado since their own history goes back to the student revolts of the late 1970s.

Kodo made its international debut in Berlin in 1981 and has since performed more than 3,000 shows in more than 43 countries and even had an album produced in the San Francisco studio of Mickey Hart, the legendary percussionist of the Grateful Dead.

In 1988 they organized the first Earth Celebration on Sado Island. As Atsushi Sugano, Kodo’s former creative director, says, “The aim was in essence to bring home to Sado some of the experiences, music and people we have been lucky enough to share in our many travels, and through concerts and workshops contribute in our small way to forging a new global culture.”

Most people come to the Earth Celebration for the music, and the concerts happen over three days. However, since the spirit of EC is for guests to actively participate in the experience, workshops are available on everything from singing, dancing, crafts and, of course, drumming. The island’s picturesque terraced rice fields, rugged interior and beautiful coastlines warrant exploration. In fact, some of the best memories take place away from the shows, whether at the fringe events, workshops, flea market or dancing around the campfire at Sobama Beach.

Kodo, and the residents of Sado Island, are now readying themselves for EC’s 20th anniversary. The first show attracted about 650 people. The 10th anniversary drew nearly 3,000 people. Looking back at 20 years of concerts, music, guest artists, visitors, friendships, collaborations and memories illustrates how Kodo has stayed true to its original vision and how, at least for one week each year, people from all walks of life come together for a global celebration. As a ten-year veteran of the Earth Celebration, and a guest at the 10th anniversary, I can assure you this is one show you won’t want to miss.

“The most important, underlying theme (of EC) is the diversity and the chance to discover a new sense of values.”
—Leonard Eto (EC Music Director, Kodo Beat 1992)

“You can’t play half-heartedly; you must be intoxicated with the drum”
—Yoshikazu Fujimoto (Kodo Beat, 1995)

“We play 120 concerts a year, and I’ve been here more than 20 years. How many performances is that?”
—Yoshikazu Fujimoto (Kodo Beat, 1995)

“Dogs, cats, apprentices; in that order!”
—The pecking order as told by Kodo’s Lighting Technician (Kodo Beat, 2000)

Earth Celebration 2007

In 2007, Kodo welcomes back international guests such as Indian master percussionist Zakir Hussain, Latin music luminary Giovani Hidalgo and tap-dance wizard Tamango. From Japan, Kodo will be joined by pianist Yosuke Yamashita, Portuguese folk vocalist Mio Matsuda, Okinawan dance troupe Ryukyu Geinou-Dan and traditional drum group Miyake Geino Doshikai.
Friday: Kodo and the Miyake Geino Doshikai;
Saturday: Kodo, Ryukyu Geinou-Dan, Zakir Hussain;
Sunday: “Shukusai,” Kodo, Yousuke Yamada, Zakir Hussain, Giovanni Hidalgo, Tamango, Matsuda Mio.
Tickets: 3-day Pass: ¥13,000; 2-day Pass: ¥9,200; 1-day Tickets: Friday & Saturday: ¥4,700 (advance), ¥5,000 (gate); Sunday: ¥5,500 (advance), ¥5,800 (gate).

For more information visit www.kodo.or.jp/ec.

Kodo Guest Artists

To join the Kodo drummers was more than a great musical experience—it was to encounter a way of living and feeling music that is no longer abundant in the so-called civilized world. I was especially surprised by Kodo’s total devotion, their amazing work capacity, their sacred modesty, their love for tradition and, at the same time, their acceptance of ‘contemporaneity’ But above all, by their contagious joy that no human being can resist. All these are aims I probably have not experienced since my musical adolescence. Without a doubt, all this made me feel a “Kodo piper”, who dreams of bringing together again the Celtic lands ends with the small paradise of Sado, where we all felt at home.

Carlos Nunez (Galicia, Spain)
Guest Artist EC ‘04

For two decades Angelite has performed on prestigious stages all over the world, but one of the most unforgettable events still remains our visit to Sado Island and the Earth Celebration in 1996. We performed with Kodo – a group unmatched anywhere in the world. Their complete approach to the drums combined with the colorful Bulgarian voices, resulted in a vigorous and exciting live performance.

We were fascinated by the complete and natural fusion of Art and Nature—the best stage we ever have had. Our visit to the Kodo Village was a chance to come closer to the everyday life of our hosts. Their hospitality and warm attention toward each guest was remarkable.

Yet the memory each one of us will keep in their heart forever is the day of our departure. The previous evening, after our second concert with Kodo, we had a final meeting and good-bye party. Early the next morning when we arrived in Ogi Port to take the ferry our Kodo friends were already there playing for us. This was a surprise—no words can describe this emotional moment. Do we want to come back to Japan, to Sado Island, to Earth Celebration—many times YES!

Bulgarian Voices Angelite (Bulgaria)
Guest Artist EC ‘04

I am very fortunate to be coming back to Sado for the (20th Anniversary) Earth Celebration. My EC experience still resonates in my body as if it was yesterday. It was amazing to be in an environment where everything is for the essence of the love of life.

Working with Kodo was an amazing spiritual journey from the beginning to the end and very inspiring. I wish for the people of the planet to find a way to celebrate the earth with the same passion the Kodo players demonstrate. I am looking forward to giving back to the earth all the rhythms she provides.

Tamango (French Guiana / New York, USA)
Guest Artist EC ‘06

The 1998 Earth Celebration is one of the most memorable events in my life! I am looking forward to returning to Sado Island to rejuvenate my Spirit with the rhythms of the taiko drums.

After we returned to Taos, New Mexico (home of the Red Willow People) a lot of people wanted to hear of the journey we took to Japan. I felt such a great connection to the people and remember the hospitality that was shown to us as people from a Native American community.

I’d like to send love and peace to all who shared their lives in 1998 on a mystical island, which now is, and will forever be, known as “where many nations and cultures meet to share the wonderful process of ‘Indigenous Life.’

Benito Concha (New Mexico, USA)
Guest Artist EC ‘98

Kodo Guests

In August, 1996, I visited EC not knowing what to expect. I left Sado a changed person. Liam O’Maonlai collaborating with Ryutaro (Kaneko) was a moment permanently etched in my brain. Heavy rain poured down for thirty minutes; the entire crowd was drenched. Ryutaro pounded his drum and a thousand wet souls were dancing.

In 1997 (the 10th Anniversary) I remember camping and soaking in the incredible art with family and friends. And the (taiko) workshop with Fujimoto-san…he taught simply, by being fully in the moment.”

Darren Radu (Canada)
EC ’96, ’97

Before returning to the US, Kristie and I met on Sado Island for EC’s 10th Anniversary event. What a memorable three days! Senegalese djembe players invited us to drink tea while steel drummers insisted we attend “Trini’s.”

 Carnival, our Ghanaian dance teacher encouraged us to “free our waists!” and we did so happily. We will again meet this summer on Sado to commemorate 10 years “post-Japan”— no doubt there will be more adventures to inspire our return in 2017!”

Caroline Shelton & Kristie McComb (USA)
EC ‘97, ‘07 

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