Brazilian Taiko Championship

The boom of Brazilian taiko started in 2002. Since then, the number of taiko groups kept growing. Not only the amount of groups and players but their technical level also has grown. I think that the “Brazilian Taiko Championship” (BTC) played a huge role in that evolution.

The 1st BTC took place in São Paulo in 2004 with more than 20 groups involved and just one category. Yukihisa Oda, head of Fukuoka’s Kawasuji Daiko School, came up with this initiative. The event is held annually in different cities during the month of July with an average of 20-30 groups participating and nearly 2,000 spectators. In order to participate, each group must be a member of the Brazilian Taiko Association.

The championship is based on the “Junior Taiko Contest”, which takes place every year in many different cities of Japan, and is organized by the “Nippon Taiko Foundation”.

Every year, the rules are adapted, new categories are included, new groups join in, the body of judges changed and the technical level never stopped growing.

Nowadays, the championship has 6 different categories:

  • Mirim: Groups with 13 or less members for children under 12.
  • Junior: Groups for members under 18.
  • Free: No age limitations.
  • Master: Groups for members over 45.
  • Odaiko: Individual with only an Odaiko as instrument.
  • Special: Non-evaluative category where last year’s Free and Junior champions participate.

*The most important and highest-level categories are Junior and Free.

All categories -except Special- receive grades from a panel of judges who evaluate considering the following criteria: technique, teamwork, basic principles, harmony and posture; what is more there are penalties for those who do not play within the stipulated time.

In all the group categories, the time between the first and last strike should be around 270-300 seconds -around 5 minutes-.

Just as in Japan, all groups in the junior category dedicate the first minute of their performance to the “Kodai Kyoku”. They all receive the same score and must present their own reading of that score. This is a way of evaluating all groups more objectively as they all have common reference.

As for the music, there are no restrictions; some groups play other people’s pieces, others play the same piece they did the year before, but most groups compose their own original music for the event. They choose to do this for two reasons: on the one hand there’s some kind of gentlemen’s agreement between the groups in order to have a fairer competition and on the other, Brazilian taiko evolves so rapidly that songs which were used the previous year easily become obsolete the next; this all helps stimulate the groups to search for something new and exciting feeding the cycle over and over every year.

The championship is a weekend-long event. On Saturday, preparations and group optional stages take place and during Sunday, the ceremony and performances are held. The teams with the best score in each category are awarded. The champion of the junior category gets the most coveted award, the right to participate in Japan’s “Junior Taiko Contest”.

BTC is considered the most important Taiko event in Brazil not only because it gathers a lot of taiko players -taking part of the championship or not- and shows the best of national taiko, but also for showing the evolution of the art and expression of creativity of each group.

The championship is not the only important event. What precedes it is as important; the training, the dedication and strengthening ties of each group. There’s nothing like the championship to unite a taiko group and that’s why it’s such an important stage for Brazilian taiko. I think that this art wouldn’t have developed so quickly if it wasn’t for this event.

One would think that the competition should create rivalries and enmities, but all you see is all the groups bonding. The Brazilian taiko is marked by strong ties of friendship and the championship is a great opportunity to make friends.

The championship represents a whole year of training summed up in five minutes of intense taiko times a hundred. For the audience, it’s five minutes they will always remember.

PH: Felipe Tamashiro
PH: Felipe Tamashiro

Preparations

Group members face a great challenge and a huge responsibility when signing up for the championship. They undergo various simultaneous stages in preparation to the event:

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Composition (what are we going to play):

Members of a group create, teach and learn new rhythms, movements and parts of the new piece.

Composers are crucial as the new pieces depend on their creativity. Some groups even outsource the composition to other groups.

For a composer is important to think about the message the music will convey, in the formulation of sounds, in the meanings of the movements, the engagement between the rhythms, the taiko formations, in the experience of each player with his/her instrument, in the interaction between members, in music length, in the stage setup and how to better fulfill the requirements assessed. The composer will also need to create the new piece from the point of view of the judges and how to appeal to them. All the performers should also participate in this stage regardless of experience as their feedback makes this process faster and deeper.

This stage takes months and it’s one of the most important ones. Some people say that not necessarily the best groups win but the best pieces do.

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Selection (who is going to play):

It´s not as easy as just picking the best players. Group synergy, individual potential, player availability for training, how each player fit into the formation, best instrument for each player, how the player conveys the message of the piece, must be taken into consideration. Also if the group should just focus in one category or more, if it’s best to bring a small but better technically suited team or the biggest amount of players possible. All these are sensitive issues that should be thought throughout.

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Perfecting

In this stage the performers are the most important. It is the process of continuous improvement; playing, repeating, training, evaluating, correcting, matching, enhancing, strengthening, observing and then repeating it all over again. Most of the time trials of the piece take part in this stage, where support on technical skills, reliability, accuracy and team synergy is perfected.

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Length

If a group does not play between 270-300 seconds (4.30 – 5 minutes), they are penalized. So the group has to adapt the piece to that specific length. Do they play faster and/or slower? Do they even out the time signature? Should they remove or add parts of the piece? These questions start to come up weeks before the event. And that’s aside from the psychological factor; the group may speed up due to nervousness, different instruments, acoustics, etc.

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Physical

All the technical work of the group is reinforced by physical training. Running, push-ups, squats, stretching; these are repetition of basic workouts to exhaustion. Everything is there for developing a better more competitive body for the championship. After all, the taiko championship is closer to sports than to a music festival.

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Focus

Mental and emotional preparation of a group is as important as physical preparation. Words of encouragement during the heavy workouts, dynamics to strengthen ties, relaxation exercises in the most tense times, motivational speeches and dialogues are the key.

This stage lasts until the very last second before the performance so that the group is focused and ready (centered but not too solemn, excited but not exalted, relaxed but not warm). Generally the last days before the championship are reserved for mental and emotional preparation.

People say that in high-level sport competitions, the winner is the one that wakes up feeling the best on the day of the competition. And for a taiko competition it is the same as the player has to focus on a lot of things, not only on themselves and their instrument, but also on every single member of the group on stage and their instruments.

PH: Felipe Tamashiro
PH: Felipe Tamashiro

Comments on the champions of every year

2004 – General category: Kyorakuzá Harmonia Taiko – São Bernardo do Campo

During the first event, the performance time was 10 minutes and all groups had to play the piece “Irodori”. Being the first championship, many groups didn’t know how to behave, what was the championship like, how would they be evaluated, what was ok and what wasn’t. They were kind of lost. One of the few groups who knew what to do was: Kyorakuzá. Yoshitada Umemoto (Yoshi-sensei) was the head of the group and he had a close relationship with Yukihisa Oda-sensei, who was the judge foreman and organizer. Kyorakuzá was considered an elite taiko group after the event and they won performing Irodori (katsugi-okedo and taiko set), Hibiki (a very masculine song with taikos in tate) and Zero (Odaiko centered). They also performed small solos between songs and used different varieties of formations and instruments.

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2005 – Junior Category: Kawasuji Seiryu Taiko – Atibaia

            Free Category: Ishindaiko – Londrina

This was the first to have two categories and the winner of the Junior category would win a trip to Japan to compete in their Junior championship. Setsuo Kinoshita from Wadaiko-Sho was judge foreman.

Atibaia’s group made one of the best, in my opinion, performances of all BTC. Taiko players Jun Aoyama and Mayumi Toda were the main focus with a 5 okedo set where they “fought” and “argued” using the instruments. It certainly was a demonstration with irreverence, attitude, skill and athleticism.

Those players (who still play today) are considered the best of Brazil and since then their technical skills have always been a step ahead from the rest.

Ishindaiko’s first title came unexpectedly. Everyone (including Ishindaiko members themselves) were impressed with Sao Paulo’s group Himawari performance which included stage movement, berimbau, confetti, flags and katsugis among the audience.

Very different from Ishindaiko’s performance which included a 3 odaiko small solo, a fan choreography while Fernando Kuniyoshi played a shakuhachi solo. The group was praised for the energy they transmitted.

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2006 – Junior category: Ishindaiko – Londrina

         Free category: Kouran Daiko – Suzano

In 2006 the championship took place in Bunkyo and Anhembi Auditorium both in Sao Paulo. The judges foreman was Yoichi Watanabe from Amanojaku.

In the Junior category Ishindaiko won with an asymmetric formation: Lua Lobo performed with a 5 taiko set and on the other side of the stage, Vitor Yamaguto performed with a Hirado Odaiko with a single 70 cms bachi from the start of the piece. He used that same bachi for months during training without a single crack and with the first strike in the championship, it broke. That became an iconic moment in the history of the group.

Kouran Daiko won the Free category with an unique formation: lots of taiko players in bunjins (two rows) and some shime. While most of the groups headed towards a instrument diversification, Kouran did the opposite: a massive formation which in years later became a staple of the group.

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2007 – Junior category: Ryuubu Daiko – Ibiuna

           Free category: Ishindaiko – Londrina

First year of the Masters category which Ishin Ladies from Londrina won three years in a row. Yoichi Watanabe performed again as judge.

Ryuubu is a group well known for its precision and its member’s discipline. With those qualities they won the junior category with renowned composer Harumi Tanimaru, one of the best at the time, who played a set and kept the group’s sound together as a conductor.

Ishindaiko won their third championship with the piece “Kiryoku”, probably their most famous composition. It had new elements, like the catchy fue melody, a part where the players passed an imaginary ball through the air, shime set with different tunings, 9 different bachis for the odaiko, multiple singing kiais, player interaction, the power of the odaiko that makes the floor tremble and above all, a lot of positive energy.

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2008 – Junior category: Todoroki Taiko – Jales

            Free category: Hikaridaiko – Brasilia

First event not held in Sao Paulo, but in San Caetano del Sur, first championship with Toshiyasu Minowa sensei as judge foreman and also first year of the Odaiko category (won by Daniel Coelho of Shinkyo Daiko, Sao Caetano del Sur).

What stood out in the group from Jales was their smiling performance on stage, which popularized the term “Jales Smile”. They also had a naname trio with a lot of movement.

The group from Brasilia impressed the judge foreman that year with something that was contraindicated: mirrored nanames. The right side performers (Paula Yumi Hirozawa, winner of that year’s individual performance award, among them) played inversely creating hypnotic visual combinations that worked as fireworks.

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2009 – Junior category: Kotobuki Taiko – Paravanai

           Free category: Ishindaiko – Londrina

The event took place in Marília, Sao Paulo state and was the first one not to be held in an auditorium.

Paravanai’s group presented a simple piece, but very clean and well executed. A solid presentation of synchrony, technical skills and leg flexibility.

In the Free category, Ishindaiko presented a very dynamic piece. Each section begun playing at different times to complement the music and each also had a specific function: nanames on both sides were focused on choreography that resembled flowers blooming, shimedaikos played the base with swift strikes with casual interactions between them, nagados at the center gave energy, weight and showmanship, the odaiko complemented everything with it’s low tone. But the highlight of the song was the “fighting” (bachi clash) among those who played the nagados.

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2010 – Junior caegory: Todoroki Daiko – Osasco

            Free category: Hatsumi Taiko – São José do Rio Preto

This championship was held in São José do Rio Preto.

Todoroki won the junior category playing the traditional Japanese lullaby “Furusato”. After finishing the piece, the atarigane speeds up the music.

The home team won in the free category with a dynamic composition, with individual solos, fast strikes, energy, smile and a sound explosion. The group managed to combine a lot of different nagado and shime strikes and was the highlight of the piece.

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2011 – Junior category: Wakaba Taiko – Curitiba

            Free category: Kotobuki Taiko – Paraná

The event was held in Presidente Prudente with an ever growing number of judges.

Curitiba’s group presented a piece that explored different time signatures and power, becoming very soothing in the quieter parts (at any given time players would stop playing and start singing) and very exciting in the faster segments. The highlight was an impressive solo by composer Yasmin Atarigane Hosaka (individual performance award winner of that year), the most impressive use of atarigane of all championships.

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2012 – Junior category: Tenryuu Taiko – Sao Miguel Paulista

            Free category: Kouran Daiko – Suzano

Sao Miguel Paulista’s group presented a simple piece with no choreography: the bachis were only lifted when striking. The group makes up for the technical simplicity with a song in the middle of the composition.

Again with music based on bujins (double row), Kouran continues its style. This time with a lot of waves, many different shime tunings, and very wide movements followed by explosive strikes.

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2013 – Junior category: Hisho Daiko – Colônia Pinhal

            Free category: Ishindaiko – Londrina

The 10th Brazilian Taiko Championship was held in Bunkyo, Sao Paulo, in the same place it started a decade before.

Some rules were changed for this event:

  • Due to the costs of the prizes, groups were reduced to 13 members (there were 20-25 members before).
  • Because of this limitation, each group can register more than one team per category (limited to one team per group before).
  • The Mirim (Tibiko) category was created for children up to 12 years-old to encourage young artists.

Hisho won the junior category with a simple song without choreography, imprecise arm movement and not much of a stage presence. Their strong point was the surprisingly strong sound; focusing all their energy on the power of the strikes, echoing louder than any other group in the event. Resulting in a presentation without artifice, only the purest Taiko.

Ishindaiko won the five-time championship with Yajyuu; members embodied a beast, imitating its movements, playing the sounds of the jungle and transmitting the intensity of a hunt. This representation with animalistic heavy drums shivered through the audience.

PH: Felipe Tamashiro
PH: Felipe Tamashiro

Winners of the 10th BTC:

Mirim category

  1. Genryu Daiko – Capão Bonito/SP
  2. Kouran Daiko – Suzano/SP
  3. Hisho Daiko – Colônia Pinhal/SP

Junior category

  1. Hisho Daiko – Colônia Pinhal/SP
  2. Hikari Daiko – Brasília/DF
  3. Hatsumi Taiko – São José do Rio Preto/SP
  4. Ishindaiko -Londrina/PR
  5. Todoroki Daiko – Osasco/SP

Free category

  1. Ishindaiko – Londrina/PR
  2. Tenryuu Wadaiko – São Miguel Paulista/SP
  3. Genryu Daiko – Capão Bonito/SP
  4. Todoroki Daiko – Osasco/SP
  5. Ryubu Daiko – Ibiúna/SP

Master category

  1. Kouran Daiko – Suzano/SP
  2. Mizuho Wadaiko – São Bernardo do Campo/SP

Odaiko category

  1. Renato Yuji Okamoto – Ikioi Daiko – Taboão da Serra/SP
  2. Matheus Keiji Sato – Ishindaiko – Londrina/PR
  3. Tenryuu Wadaiko – São Miguel Paulista/SP

Individual Performance category

  1. Mie Tanabe – Ikioi Daiko – Taboão da Serra/SP
PH: Felipe Tamashiro
PH: Felipe Tamashiro

Historical Rankings

A historical ranking was created of all the groups’ achievements over the years and given a scored.

This classification is not intended to categorize groups for better or worse, but to record and commend the historical groups and events throughout the years.

 Ranking Eng


Author: Lucas Muraguchi (Londrina, Brazil)

This article was written on: January 16th, 2014

Original language of this article: Portuguese

Original article: Campeonato Brasileiro de Taiko

Translator to English: Lisandro Suarez (Rosario, Argentina)

Native English Editor: Ai Matsuda (Tokyo, Japan)


Author: Lucas Muraguchi

Nationality: Brazil

Background:

– Founder and composer of Ishindaiko (Londrina, Brasil).

– 19 compositions awarded at the Brazilian Taiko Championship.

– 6 times champion of the Brazilian Taiko Championship.

lucas 2

LucasMuraguchi

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