More far-flung festival fun at Sado Island’s Earth Celebration

by Donald Eubank

Niigata grannies munching on bento lunch boxes, tattooed Tokyo roughnecks pounding beers, an ex-military man in from London with two Shanghaiese kung-fu sisters: taiko (Japanese drum) troupe Kodo’s annual Earth Celebration on Sado Island this past weekend drew an eclectic crowd.

This year the biggest addition to the audience were the Brazilian-Japanese and their friends who came out to see the Afro-Brazilian culture group Olodum.

Rather than play the festival’s usual series of smaller sets, on Saturday night Olodum told the audience to stand up — although all dancing is supposed to take place in designated areas — and launched into a two-hour carnival of samba-reggae. Those who came for a heavy dose of Brazil jumped up and never sat back down.

At the end, Kodo members played two short numbers, and the next day the two groups came together several times, but it was clear that Olodum were at a loss with the on-the-stage, off-the-stage scheduling of a regular EC performance. Kodo and Olodum share similarities in their community- outreach programs and in instrumentation: Olodum’s surdo bass drums and high-pitched repique mirror Kodo’s mid range of daiko drums. But while the Brazilians find a rhythm and work it long and hard to create a party jam, the Japanese have a stuttering start- stop, soft-loud dynamic that is more about stage theatrics than getting a crowd dancing.

This year’s choice of guest was made in celebration of the 100th anniversary of Japanese immigration to Brazil. One can only imagine the cultural surprises when Japanese first arrived there: These two countries hardly seem like bedfellows. But by Sunday’s final set, Kodo and Olodum had found common ground, and the whole crowd stood up once again to dance to the two playing in collaboration.