Pop Life

The Whole Wide World: Kodo's Heartbeat


Heartbeat: Best of Kodo 25th Anniversary (Sony Music Japan)


The remote Japanese island of Sado is pretty much devoid of the distractions of modern life. Due to its distance from the mainland - for centuries it was a place where people were sent to when forced into exile - technology did not fully reach the residents of this area, and it's stayed that way for centuries.

Today, visitors who take a two-and-a-half hour ferry ride to the island are promised to step back in time to a place devoid of the rush of urban existence. Because of that, the island averages 900,000 visitors a year. It was in this setting that Kodo came into existence, formed a quarter-century ago by artists and musicians who found in Sado the peace they needed to exercise their creativity and, in the island's ancient festivals and harvest celebrations, inspiration to showcase these almost-lost art forms to other nations through their music.

The result of this quest can be heard on Kodo's latest CD, which chronicles the group's musical journey (they are coming to the U.S. for an extensive tour later this winter, but no Houston date is scheduled as of this writing). During this time, the group embraced sounds from Africa, Brazil and even electronica.

An example of this is "Berimbau Jam," a tune that mixes the strong percussive sound of the giant taiko drum with that of the berimbau, an Afro-Brazilian one-stringed instrument commonly used in the martial dance capoeira, and also "Strobe's Nanafushi," a track that mixes both organic and electronic beats into a very dancefloor-friendly groove.

Also worth giving a spin is "Biei," a tune that contains several elements from Northern Africa. For those interested in more traditional material, this collection has a lot to offer, beginning with the drum-only "Zoku" and the beautiful "Ibuki," which begins with a flute duet and that moves to the background as the drumming takes center stage.

On "Shake," the musicians seem to borrow from samba, filling the drumming with odd rhythmic breaks and a Mardi Gras-like feel. Every summer Kodo stages a music festival at its hometown in Sado, draws hundreds of people during the weekend when it takes place. If you can't make that, Heartbeat might just be the next best thing.

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Ernest Barteldes