Meshing Theatrical and Festival Music: Sukeroku Taiko
Oguchi Daihachi and Ōsuwa Daiko may have been the ones to start the contemporary taiko performance movement, but others have had just as important a role in the development of the art form. Even as Ōsuwa Daiko rode a wave of popularity stemming from its appearance on television and at the Tokyo Olympics to help spread greater awareness of their style of kumidaiko performance, another group was emerging in Tokyo that would have a large impact on contemporary taiko performance. Sukeroku Taiko, founded in the late 1960s, brought taiko into a professional context, performing at clubs and cabarets a unique style of drumming that mixed festival and theatrical drumming styles in a different manner than Ōsuwa Daiko.
The roots of Sukeroku Taiko are in Tokyo-style bon daiko, unique partially for its use of slanted stands called naname-dai (“slanted stands) that place the drum at an angle (Figure 8). Using this visual base, drummers in post-World War II Tokyo began to add more and more choreographic elements while also placing a greater emphasis on improvised rhythmic patterns while accompanying bon odori.
The prominence of the drummer at Obon celebrations in Tokyo, particularly in the residential area surrounding the Sumida River, grew so prominent that bon daiko competitions began to be held in the early 1960s. Several winners of these bon daiko competitions came together to form a bon daiko appreciation society called the Ōedo Sukeroku Kai, named after a kabuki character called Sukeroku, who was believed to be the epitome of a person from the this area. In 1966, one member of the Ōedo Sukeroku Kai, Ishizuka Yutaka, saw an advertisement calling for drummers to join a new drumming group at a club called Crown. Ishizuka responded and was chosen as the featured solo drummer in a dance show. He then asked the organizer if he could invite friends from the Ōedo Sukeroku Kai—Kobayashi Seido, Onozato Ganei, and Ishikura Yoshihisa—to join him in the performances. Together, they formed the group Shin On Taiko (“New Sound Taiko”) and began performing at Crown.
Shin On Taiko members based their initial performance repertoire on their bon daiko experiences; one early piece, “Midare Uchi,” was essentially a series of extended bon daiko improvisations. They then added performance techniques and compositional style drawn from local festival music (the first two pieces seen in Video 4 below were modeled after festival music).