Quest to continue PARA Beats, the Irish music & Japanese taiko fusion collaboration
In 2021, as the future remained uncertain due to Covid-19, the Japanese and Irish music fusion collaboration project conceived at European Capital of Culture Galway 2020 with the involvement of the Irish music maestro Dónal Lunny and the celebrated solo taiko drummer Hiro Hayashida, continued its activities albeit in a form different from what was originally intended. In February 2021, we staged a concert linking Narita, host city for Ireland’s team at the Tokyo Paralympics, and Ireland. The result was a memorable event in which, by means of a hybrid format that harnessed the power of technology to bring together music performed in each of the two countries, we were able to share a new piece, PARA Beats, with people not only in Japan and Ireland but around the world. This new challenge was filled with complexities and difficulties, but by overcoming these one after another, together we were able to create new work and discover new possibilities for the future, making me feel confident about the project’s potential for development going forward. At the same time, my fervent desire to realize a joint, in-person performance by the two artists also increased.
In 2022, as everyone hoped for a brighter future, I and the other members of the organizing committee at Experience Japan (EJ), which until the pandemic struck had staged a homegrown, community-based festival in early April each year, began discussing holding an in-person festival. Although a large concert would probably still be impossible, we thought we might be able to create an opportunity for Lunny and Hayashida to appear in person together on an outdoor stage. We pushed ahead with preparations with the aim of realizing a reunion of the two artists and a live performance of PARA Beats at the Experience Japan Festival in April 2022.
In March, as uncertainty remained due to the continued spread of the Omicron variant of Covid-19, the Irish government moved towards the full relaxation of Covid-related restrictions, and on March 17 outdoor parades were held to celebrate Ireland’s most important festival, Saint Patrick’s Day. The go-ahead was also given to staging events at the Experience Japan venue, Farmleigh House and Estate (formerly one of the residences of the Guinness family, founders of Guinness breweries, and now the official Irish state guest house). However, making the decision at this point to invite artists from Japan was a bold one that also brought with it risks. For the artists themselves, too, the decision to embark on an overseas trip required courage.
In late March, the Covid situation took a turn for the better, and with the understanding and warm support of the EU-Japan Fest Japan Committee the opportunity for an in-person performance of PARA Beats in Ireland became a reality. The unexpected Russian invasion of Ukraine meant that in addition to measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19, careful attention also had to be paid to the safety of the journey, but on April 1 Hayashida and the up-and-coming taiko drummer Luke Takahashi were at last able to make the journey to Ireland.
On the day before the Experience Japan Festival, Hayashida, Takahashi, the EJ Taiko Team and the Irish musicians finally got to meet face to face in the Ballroom at Farmleigh House. Though time was limited, Lunny and Hayashida were able to discuss the composition and staging of the following day’s performance and conduct rehearsals. With the number of artists smaller than usual, putting the finishing touches to the complex performance of PARA Beats on an outdoor stage was a challenge, but thanks to the performance abilities backed up by many years of experience of the top-class artists from both countries and the energy of the Irish student musicians, the task was handled superbly. The process of marrying different elements to complete a worthy piece while mutually recognizing the music of Japan and Ireland is something that cannot be gone through digitally or online, and I felt confident that the actual performance would be a success.
On the day of the festival, Experience Japan got underway with an ensemble performance by the Experience Japan Taiko Team in front of a large audience without the rain that we feared might fall. When the performance by Hayashida and Takahashi began, the crowd was completely captivated and overcome by the dynamic drumming and energy of the duo. Then, when the program continued with a performance featuring traditional Irish instruments, the whole crowd gave themselves up to the soothing melodies. The most moving thing of all was to experience taiko drumming, Irish music and the audience come together as one to create a space where people could enjoy music from the depth of their hearts.
When the piece composed by Hayashida was performed by everyone as the finale, the beaming smile on Lunny’s face and the feeling of unity among Hayashida, the Irish musicians and everyone else present symbolized the success of the project, making for an unforgettable occasion.
Also memorable was that as part of this project, making use of Hayashida’s wealth of experience and knowledge, we conducted visits to seven high schools in and around Dublin to enable students to experience taiko drumming. With many of the excursions, sports, concerts and other events they were looking forward to cancelled due to Covid-19, the Irish high school students stared with eyes wide in astonishment at the dynamic performance of the professional taiko drummer right in front of them. Perhaps because of the circumstances, the experience of beating the rhythms of the taiko together had a huge impact on the young people present and made for a wonderful introduction to Japanese culture.
This Irish music and Japanese taiko fusion collaboration project is a creative stage providing an opportunity for new marriages resulting from the coming together of all kinds of people, be they amateur or professional, young or old, male or female. The reunion and performances by the artists from the two countries at Experience Japan was achieved in the process of completing this project. I feel confident that the project will become a model for further deepening and enlivening cultural and musical exchanges between Japan and Ireland. Finally, I would like to express my appreciation to everyone involved and I hope they will continue to support us.