The Kodo Drummers have been touring and performing around the world for a number of years, and every time I had the opportunity to see them…I missed it.  So, when I was offered tickets to their performance at the illustrious Royce Hall on the UCLA campus, I jumped at the offer.  Albeit, I did have my compunction of the fact that I was going to watch a bunch of guys hitting drums for two hours, and after having seen the American equivalent—Street Drum Corps—I had some preconceived notions of what to expect.  With an amalgamation of excitement and circumspect, I picked up my cohort and headed back to school.


Upon arrival at Royce Hall, I noted the interesting mixture of culture aficionados, post-adolescent males trying to impress their girlfriends with their refinement, and stoners who were trying to expand their minds.  Groovy.  We walked in, took our seats, and examined the press material provided.  After a few minutes of catching up on the names of the various performances of the evening, the lights dimmed and the drumming began. 

A progressively increasing rhythm began to resonate from behind our seats, from the reception area of the entrance hall; and with a thrust of the entrance doors, the drummers burst through behind the audience and made their way towards the stage before us.  Their demeanor and garb instantly reminded me of the drunken sushi chef who is always happy to see you, even if it’s your first time there. 

The highlight of the evening was the Miyake performance, where drums were placed low to the ground, requiring the performers to take strenuous stances in order to play.  The performance truly demonstrated the troupe’s hard work ethic and the rigorous training procedures that the group had undergone to hold these impossible stances.  Positioning their bodies adjacent to the drum, with the outer leg bent and the other straight, the troupe would use their entire body to propel themselves towards the drum to produce the amazing resonance that followed.  A fantastic feat of strength, managed by great strength of feet. 

Equally stunning was the Monochrome portion, where the performers aurally took the audience on a journey of change, death, and rebirth.  They were able to portray the changing of seasons and their life cycle with drums.  It was inconceivable, as I closed my eyes, I could instantly feel the Spring rain and the breeze, then the falling of leaves and their passing into Winter.  Simply amazing.

At an hour and 40 minutes, the Kodo performers never became stale or boring.  They successfully kept me awestruck for the entire length of the show.  With the exception of the audience never really knowing when to applaud—leading to several awkward moments—the night went off without a hitch and maintained its momentum throughout. 

I don’t know if the performance DVD can really capture the troupe’s zeal and intricacy, but—in the event you can’t see them live—I would suggest purchasing any CD or DVD you can find of this elite performance ensemble.


Mark Johnston, a native Californian, has travelled the world with various circuses, sideshows, and arena rock tours. As a musical monkey he has delighted fans the world over. Upon his return, he has since founded the Atomsmashers Publishing Company, written 2 books in the company's Warm Horchata series, created a weekly comic strip based around LA's more "colorful" characters, written reviews, articles, and rantings under various pseudonyms; this has since culminated in Johnston being named Captain Fabulous by the Superhero Association of America.