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Artist Profiles

Daihachi Oguchi: Taiko Drum Master Silenced

By Published: July 15, 2008

Oguchi was a student during the war, and was drafted and sent to China where he was taken prisoner. Returning home to Suwa City in 1947, two years after Japan's surrender, acting on his love of jazz he formed a local band in which he was the drummer. A few years later, a relative found an old document in a soybean warehouse, and believing it to be a musical score for taiko, brought it to Oguchi who he hoped would use his drumming knowledge to decipher it. With the help of town elders, the circles and check marks were determined to stand for various taiko beats and the taiko score was revealed.

Oguchi, having a passion for drums and music, but no experience with taiko, wanted to perform the old deciphered music for the Osuwa Shrine. Visiting antique stores and borrowing old drums, he began to build up a collection of drums and a group to play them. After hearing the piece played in its authentic form. Oguchi used his jazz drumming experience to make what he found to be a monotonous piece into something more interesting.

In general, post-WWII times caused stylistic changes in music as a whole, making it more daring and extroverted and opened up room for experimentation. Japan's culture fuses its old political, social, and artistic practices with modern-day trends of the Western world. Oguchi began to jazz up taiko. With his drumming background, he wondered why taiko was not played in groups as an ensemble. Oguchi added new rhythms and divided up the rhythms into multiple, simple patterns.

He took taiko of various sizes, and assigned specific roles to each musical voice. Some players parts even involved using several taiko at once arranged in the style of a jazz set. The odaiko played a simple grounding pulse, the high-pitched 'shime' carried the 'ji' (background rhythm), and a variety of nagado-daiko played the melodic parts.

When the drums available to him were no longer suitable, as they were drums meant for use in festivals and not as performing instruments, he began to create his own drums, and auxiliary instruments as well, to better fit his needs. One of his distinguishing creations was adding the metallic sound of the bell-like tetsu- zutsu, to top off his ensemble. This ensemble-type playing enabled Oguchi to increase the musical complexity of his pieces exponentially and at the same time, it provided a means for large numbers of people to participate with relative ease. By 1951, Oguchi had established his own ensemble group, Osuwa-Daiko, and the beginning of this new age of kumi-daiko had begun.

Charming, fiery and vivacious, although he was in failing health in recent years, Oguchi, at the age of 84 had been scheduled to perform with Kodo, a well-known taiko group. On a Thursday the end of June, while crossing the street, a car struck Oguchi. He was rushed to the hospital but later died of excessive bleeding early Friday June 27th, said Yuken Yagasaki, a member of the master musician's Nagano-based ensemble, Osuwa Daiko.

While taiko in North America has become a rich and varied form of drumming, as idiomatic as jazz or American Indian forms, it nonetheless continues to be an important component of Japanese identity and culture.

In taiko, man becomes the sound.
In taiko, you can hear the sound through your skin.


Daihachi Oguchi 1924 ~ 2008



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