In celebration of the 150th anniversary of Japanese immigrants to Hawaiʻi, also called Gannenmono, the Honolulu Museum of Art is honored to be hosting a concert series called 150th Gannenmono in Concert. The concert series will be a troika of unique collaborations highlighting distinct narratives within Japanese immigration history. To kick the series off, the museum welcomes a collaboration featuring prolific taiko drummer Kenny Endo called Pacific Crossing: Kenny Endo, Hiromitsu Agatsuma, and Chieko Kojima.
Endo and the taiko drum go way back—like 43 years back. He was introduced to the Japanese instrument while a kid living in Los Angeles and playing western drums. In college, he saw a taiko drumming group perform for the first time and “was just blown away,” he says. “It was the sound,” he continues. “It was not a sound that you could just feel through your ears but a sound you could feel down to your bones.” He was hooked.
Since then, he’s become synonymous with the name of the instrument, having practiced with various groups like Kinnara Taiko and the San Francisco Taiko Dojo throughout his career. He studied all over California and, of course, Japan. (In fact, what was supposed to only be one or two years of studying the art form turned out to be 10.) If we’re considering the phrase “getting someone’s feet wet” with Endo and taiko, then it’s only fair to say that he is deepsea diving. He is currently working on releasing his 10th album and has played around the world and with collaborators of all genres and art forms.
We caught up with Endo to learn more about what he likes about taiko and what he and 150th Gannenmono in Concert collaborators Chieko Kojima, a Japanese folk dancer (and according to Endo, a solid taiko player too), and Hiromitsu Agatsuma, a preeminent shamisen player, have in store for audiences. (Hint: they’ll be premiering some brand-new work made just for this concert series!)
What is it about the taiko that you love so much?
What I like about it is the sound, and every individual person can get their own sound out of it even though it’s the same drum. So it’s pretty interesting. There’s always so much to learn too. It’s a simple instrument but there’s so much involved in really getting close to mastering it. It just takes your whole life. But every time I practice—and I love to practice—it just kind of reignites the passion I have for it.
Tell me about what it’s like to be involved with this concert series’ first show.
It was a really interesting idea, the idea of Gannenmono. I guess it’s an interesting type of adventurous spirit that people had when they first came over here. The other two artists being featured, Chieko and Hiromitsu, I’ve known them from before but it’s a real honor to be able to work specifically on this project with them. We’re going to do a lot of different pieces and there’s one specific piece, which we are collaborating on that we will be presenting on August 4 and 5. I’m honored to be a part of this series and I’m grateful that the Honolulu Museum of Art is sponsoring this and also has the resources, insight, and energy to pull it all together.
How does the idea of Gannenmono inspire the work you, Kojima, and Agatsuma will be premiering on August 4 and 5?
The idea is the coming over from [Japan] because at that time everybody came by boat, so that’s just basically the idea. We haven’t put everything together; we have a whole week to work this out, but it’s going to definitely have a melodic instrument called a Tsugaru–shamisen. It’s going to have taiko, and it’s going to have movement and dance by Chieko-san, who is also a very good taiko drummer.
What do you want audiences to know before your show?
I just want them to have an open mind. The three of us are trying to explore new territory as far as our art forms are concerned.
Tickets for Pacific Crossing: Kenny Endo, Hiromitsu Agatsuma, and Chieko Kojima are on sale now!