Review: Mugenkyo Taiko Drummers

Theatre, drumming finesse, and an incredible energy combine as Mugenkyo Taiko Drummers make their rhythmically and visually enthralling debut at the Adelaide Fringe. 

Mugenkyo Taiko Drummers | image supplied

Having recently celebrated 25 years of Taiko drumming, Mugenkyo Taiko Drummers have  performance credits spanning multiple countries and events. Based in the United Kingdom, they have performed at the Special Olympics in Abu Dhabi, collaborated with orchestras, choirs and trance-electro musicians, appeared on television programmes, and released their own music albums. One hundred per cent of their CD sales at the Adelaide Fringe will be donated to the Australian bushfire relief.

The group’s philosophy considers the Taiko artform as “limitless, with no musical or geographic boundaries” and their opening number reflects this concept as the Australian didgeridoo makes its call alongside Scottish bagpipes and the Japanese shakuhachi flute. 

Only four drummers shared the stage, but their mastery of the drum ushered fire and thunder into the room, showcasing strength and rhythmic camaraderie in a blur of whirling drumsticks, war-cries, and sharp synchronised choreography. These passionate performers maintained their impressive and consistent stamina, dynamic control, and showmanship throughout the contrasting segments of the show. 

The set and musical transitions were seamless and the show featured original compositions and a variety of drumming styles from places such as Hachijo island, Hokuriku, and Fukui. Each piece told its own story and had its own inspiration.

The highlights of the one-hour performance were the haunting Girl of One Thousand Pictures which incorporates wordless vocal melodies and a fan dance, and the visual wonder of Chronos/Todoroki which utilises masks, streamers and UV to create the illusion of dancing in a spirit world. 

There were also some refreshing and lighthearted moments throughout the set. Founding member and drummer, Neil Mackie, shared the journey of Mugenkyo which boasts members from all around the world. They are yet to have an Australian drummer on their team, but Mackie hopes this might change after their debut at the Adelaide Fringe. Another great moment was when the audience joined in on a clapping game with the Chanchiki bell, and were invited to join in on the Shichisan Stomp.  

Mugenkyo Taiko Drummers present a fiercely energetic, visually striking and playfully interactive show. Their mix of traditional Taiko, warrior cries, and contemporary theatrical elements make for an exhilarating performance and the “limitless reverberation” of Mugenkyo resounds long after the show finishes. 

Rating: ★★★★1/2
Reviewed performance: Sunday 23 February

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