Browse reviews

Edinburgh Fringe 2018

Mugenkyo Taiko Drummers Tribe

Mugenkyo Taiko Drummers

Genre: Music

Venue: Assembly Mound Place


Low Down

This is a power-packed hour of traditional Taiko drumming combined with physical movement.


The Mugenkyo Taiko drummers take the audience on a journey through many different scenes and musical styles to explore the idea of the collective. It is billed as a “celebration of the collective human spirit” with a call to humanity to realize that we are all one.  The nine musicians, who identify as a Tribe, deftly move between settings that feature varying styles and tempos of drumming.  The instruments range from the smallest hand cymbal to a giant gong, and from snare drum size drums to large tympani.  .

Taiko drums were used in Japan for communication, at festivals, and in religious rituals as long as 2000 years ago.  In the 12th century, the Taiko became part of a cultural movement, accompanying plays. The modern concept of Taiko ensemble was started in Japan in 1951 by jazz drummer Daihachi Oguchi. More groups formed in Japan, and the drumming style began grew in popularity. Taiko drumming gained world attention with a spectacular performance at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.  What began as a religious activity, with drums in Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples, developed into community activities worldwide. There are now more than 8000 Taiko groups in Japan, and an estimated 1000 groups in Europe, Australia, the U.S., the U.K., and South America.

This South Lanarkshire ensemble is the longest-established Taiko organization in Europe.  Members of the Tribe represent many nationalities: Scottish, English, Japanese, American, Hungarian, Croatian, Chinese, German and Portuguese. What they have in common is their desire to celebrate their humanity and their spirit through drumming.  The group not only creates a sense of community for its members, but also shares its dramatic performance with audiences internationally. It’s not for the weak; these performers are physically very fit, which is necessary to play full out for an hour, especially for those hitting the biggest drums.

The word “taiko” literally means “fat drum”, but in this show you can see many sizes and shapes of drums. The music produced is visceral.  It can sync to your heartbeat, stir up memories, power energy, create excitement, and summon images such as storms or volcanoes. The addition of singers provides opportunity for a variety of effects, from pensive pieces to a final dramatic chant that engages the audience.

Throughout the production, there is a constant pulse that moves the show forward. The show is divided into ten scenes, with titles like “Heartbeat of Creation”, “Human Destiny”, “Storm”, “Rebirth of Humanity”, and more.  The “New Tribal Revolution” scene challenges the audience, through a megaphone-delivered diatribe, to take a stand in caring about our world. Through lighting effects, variance of the positioning of the drums on stage, changes in the rhythms, and some special dramatic techniques, the pieces are woven together seamlessly. Changing the styles, the  featured performers, and the rhythms keeps it interesting to the audience. It is beautifully choreographed and well-costumed.  The drumming is perfectly synchronized.  Special effects, such as black lights to highlight the makeup or light-up drum sticks, are used deftly to continually engage the viewer.  Overall, it is thrilling to watch and stirring to listen to.

There is power to the playing, which means that the drumming is very loud.  That is the effectiveness of the style, but do bring earplugs if you are sensitive to volume, especially for kids.  This show definitely appeals to all ages.