Friday, June 27, 2008

RIP Daihachi Oguchi

TOKYO (AP) - Master Japanese drummer Daihachi Oguchi, who led the spread of the art of "taiko" drumming to the U.S. and throughout Japan, has died after being hit by a car, an official at his ensemble said. He was 84.

Oguchi was crossing the street when he was struck by a car Thursday. He was rushed to a hospital but died of excessive bleeding early Friday, said Yuken Yagasaki of Osuwa Daiko, the group in Nagano prefecture (state) in northern Japan that Oguchi had led.

Oguchi helped found top U.S. taiko groups, including San Francisco Taiko Dojo, which has performed in Hollywood movies and on international tours since its founding 40 years ago.

A former jazz musician, Oguchi was one of the first to elevate the traditional folk sounds of taiko to modern music played in concert halls, not just festivals and shrines.

He led and starred in the performance of drumming and dance at the closing ceremony of the 1998 Nagano Olympics.

"Your heart is a taiko. All people listen to a taiko rhythm 'dontsuku-dontsuku' in their mother's womb," Oguchi told The Associated Press at that time. "It's instinct to be drawn to taiko drumming."

Then 74, he appeared in U.S. magazine advertisements for the Games that read: "Get ready to rock 'n' roll."

Charming, fiery and vivacious, Oguchi had been scheduled to perform with Kodo, a well known taiko group, later this year, although he was in failing health in recent years.

Roy Hirabayashi, executive director of San Jose Taiko in California, said his group would not exist without Oguchi.

"It is a sad day for the taiko community throughout the world," he said in an e-mail. "His legacy will reverberate to future generations of taiko players."

Along with Kabuki theater and "ukiyoe" woodblock prints, taiko is one of Japan's most popular — and respected — art forms in the West. Part dance and part athletics, modern taiko can be dazzlingly visual and acrobatically physical.

Japanese used to grow up hearing taiko the same way Americans did with the blues or jazz. But until the arrival of Oguchi, taiko had given way in Japan to Western music, including rock and pop.

Taiko drums, especially the big ones that tower over the drummers, make dramatic booming sounds. A taiko drum is made from a single hollowed out tree trunk with cowhide strapped tightly across it.

"In taiko, man becomes the sound. In taiko, you can hear the sound through your skin," is the way Oguchi described it in the AP interview.

Thanks partly to Oguchi and his followers' efforts, hundreds of taiko groups, both professional and amateur, have sprung up not only throughout Japan but also in the U.S., Brazil, Europe and other nations.

"We have lost a big shining star — the man who was the pillar of postwar Japanese taiko," said Yoichi Watanabe, leader of Tokyo-based taiko group Amanojaku, which has often shared the stage with Oguchi's ensemble.

"We had so much more to learn from him," Watanabe said. "He possessed a unique expressive style. And he has left a powerful message in taiko to the younger generation."

Oguchi also was one of the first composers of modern taiko, writing catchy tunes based on historical themes, such as samurai storming on horses.

Besides his overseas work, Oguchi helped make taiko a household word in Japan, opening classes in various towns, attracting not only youngsters but also women who welcomed taiko like an aerobics class.

Oguchi also started making more affordable drums in his hometown of Okaya, Nagano, and turned it into a business.

"In taiko, you return to the roots, the beginning of humanity," Oguchi said.

Funeral arrangements were not decided, according to Osuwa Daiko. Oguchi is survived by his wife Saeko and two daughters, both taiko drummers, Chinami Ushioda and Kasumi Oguchi.

"I would like to thank everyone," Kasumi Oguchi said in a telephone interview. "I hope people will keep playing and let my father's taiko sound ring throughout the world."

1 comment:

kreplech said...

i was reading about this too and i think it is a senseless tragedy. i look forward to the day when all ethnic japanese drummers can roam the streets without the fear of being hit by a car.