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Taiko Drum Concert Featuring World-Famous Eitetsu Hayashi and Buffalo Artists

East meets western New York

Eitetsu Hayashi stands mid-squat position striking a stick to a large 800-pound drum; sweat merely beads on his face while the muscles of his back and biceps ripple in tune to the pulse-pounding rhythm. He leads four other drummers in a percussive dance that is a culmination of physical prowess, grace, mental fortitude, and cathartic chants. This internationally acclaimed ensemble is called FU-UN no KAI, or the “Gathering of Wind and Clouds,” and they will bring the sonic thunder of Japanese taiko to Buffalo this Saturday October 25th at 7:30pm.

“It’s the heartbeat of nature,” says Dr. Takako Michii on the essence of taiko. “In Japan we believe in nature…So whenever you hear the sound of taiko, you just go back to your own self—eliminating all those evil everyday ideas. And you are cleansed after you hear it.” Dr. Michii is the executive director of the Japan Culture Center of Western New York. The “Heartbeat of Japan” is the first large project of this organization whose mission is to promote an appreciation of Japanese culture while encouraging international exchange and world-peace.

However, Dr. Michii recognizes the potential pitfalls of a kitschy event that is not grounded in the community. “It’s not superficial,” she says. “I want to show a real tangible example of East meets West: Japan and Western New York.”

At the heart of this event is Eitestu Hayashi, a world-renowned taiko drummer and a pioneer in his field. Taiko is an art form that is usually performed in an ensemble, however Hayashi is the first drummer to become a solo artist. He has collaborated with the likes of the Berlin and American Symphonies and has partnered with many other artists of strikingly different musical backgrounds such as classical and African traditions. This weekend he will showcase some of his best solo pieces in addition to performances with FU-UN no KAI.

The Buffalo connection? Joe Small. The Clarence native fell in love with taiko through his dance studies at college and spent the last 10 years travelling to Japan to perfect his craft. “I loved it so much,” says Joe. “Just the feeling of moving my body in a certain way that would cause an immediate tactile and sort of sonic reaction and effect. There was instant feedback and gratification. I wanted to know more.”

In 2007, Joseph applied and was accepted into an intense 2-year taiko boot camp that was founded by Mr. Hayashi on Sado Island—an extraordinary accomplishment for a foreigner. Day in and day out he trained at the rickety schoolhouse facing the crashing waves of the East Sea. He spent his time not only learning taiko, but the core of Japanese customs and aesthetics from farming to tea ceremony. He also ran. The program trained Small to have the physical stamina and mental capacity to endure a taiko performance and provided him with the cultural depth and awareness to become an enlightened player. He is a living example of a Buffalonian internalizing Japanese culture.

In 2012, Small became Mr. Hayashi’s apprentice and will join his master on stage as a member of FU-UN no KAI. “I’m really honored and I feel really lucky that we’ve been able to bring him to Buffalo,” he says. “I think it’s a very rare occasion for the Buffalo arts scene because Hayashi-san is basically at the top of his artistic field and he is one of the original pioneers which is an incredible thing.”

There are other Buffalo connections besides Small: Owner of Sato Restaurant and Buffalo State Professor, Dr. Joshua Smith, and Dr. Shido Izukawa of Osaka University of the Arts will also be playing Japanese bamboo flute in an improvisational performance with Mr. Hayashi.

After Saturday’s performance, Dr. Michii hopes that everyone, Japanese and American alike, will enjoy a night united by music. “Music is something you cannot see or grasp. Art is the place where you are not thinking of your status or money or anything. We will be united without thinking of cultural or linguistic differences,” he predicts. And perhaps this universal appeal goes beyond art and common cultural constructions; taiko harkens back to an innate rhythm.

Small describes his master’s philosophy behind the project: “In many cases an audience that has never seen taiko has been brought to tears. Everybody at some level remembers the time before they were born when they could hear and feel their mother’s heartbeat when they were still in the womb. The vibrations of taiko actually reverberate on that. There is something very cathartic about the experience.”

The show takes place on Saturday (10/25) at the Buffalo State Performing Arts Center, at 7:30pm.

Tickets: $25; Seniors: $20; Students with ID: $15

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