Kiyo-Kito Taiko


Kiyo-Kito Taiko was the first (and for very long the only) taiko group in Hungary (and, as we know, in the whole Central Eastern Europian region, too), officially founded in 2000, March 21st (the equinoctial day; although being „unofficially” a bit before). Since then, we celebrate this day with a self-organized great concert in every year (the Spring Drum Celebration in Budapest). Our first album Caleidoscope, published in 2006, is a live set of a promotional CD and DVD, also made by ourselves, of course. (There had been some such promotions before, too, in 2002 and in 2003, but we didn’t consider them good enough to release and spread.) Originally, the group was founded by Tamas Paulinyi (a Hungarian writer, poet, journalist and scientific parapsychological researcher), but since then, a series of serious musicians and other creative artists have taken a part in and/or left their initials on it. For example Bela Farago (composer), Pal Bodnar (taiko drummer), Julia Laszlo (designer), Tamas Varga (jazz drummer) etc. At present, the leadership is in the hands of David Laar (who is a studied jazz drummer) and Keijiro Takaku (a well-educated musician and universal talent – for example playing Hungarian folk songs on hurdy-gurdy). The latter is the only Japanese member; everyone else are Hungarian. The whole project is made by ourselves, including to make and prepare all the instruments and sound records, or managing our shows for us.


The taiko genre itself shows the same strange duality that is also typical of several other activities practised or actually started by us: it is both modern and old; can be both arbitrary and rigorously ceremonial; equally takes on a global and a local character. The taiko drums have got a very long and historical past: they are already mentioned in records a thousand years ago. The taiko (or wadaiko, or daiko) simply means: Japanese drum (and odaiko means: big drum). Historically, the roots of the drum-making traditions grown in the Japanese environment are even traced back further to former China and India, Central Asia. However, these instruments weren’t originally applied so: nor in group, neither without another instrumental accompaniment; but rather embedded into a wider, traditional music environment: for ceremonial (celebrational), religious, courtly and folk music purposes. In these situations, the wadaiko mostly appears as an accompanying or solo instrument.

In the middle of the last century, hardly awakening from the Second World War shock, meanwhile on the other side of the world (in Europe and in America) with some other modern musical styles coming to life, too, a Japanese jazz drummer called Daihachi Oguchi invented to use the traditional instruments in an entirely novel and irregular – or, as we could say, radical – way. The trick of the trade had sounded like: let there be just one kind of instrument, but many of the same… Since the concomitant of the conception is its relatively simple practicableness, and its „do-it-yourself” home-made type (or at least its ability for an easy translation to it), and so is its openness (there is no severe stylistical obligation or limitation, that’s why it can be connected or mixed with any other musical or cultural environment), it is not surprising that became popular rapidly, and gained ground everywhere. Thousands of drum groups formed in Japan in the next decades, then the movement even crossed the frontiers: there appeared its first followers in the US and the more advanced European countries (in the first place UK, Germany and Netherlands, though in many other places since then, too). In Central Eastern Europe, however, there was another kind of life then yet, so we still had to wait for a long time for this to wind in… The Hungarian Kiyo-Kito Taiko was the first one; and also for very long (a few years) the only one.

The first time, of course, the smaller – and, in the making, even more simple and general – shaman drums had gained ground. For example, at the end of 1999, the shaman drum circle of the Synthesis Free University (the direct and organic forerunner of the taiko group) had been actively working for two years, and conceived their intentions further to extend the round of their activities. We had heard of the taiko style first from a globe-trotting television show (in the interpretation of ex-Monty Python-member Michael Palin), which we liked so much that we immediately started to search for all available information about it. We were just about to do something like (to make some wine-barrels with animals skins), and it was very inspiring to see that it had already got an established technique. (Beside Tamas Paulinyi, the second other main man of ideas was Tibor Szekely about it.)

Since the „project” – being a civil, household initiative coming from below, and not some managed and designed thing – couldn’t rely on any kind of supporting or aid from anyone, and moreover, it consisted of everyday people (none of us had learnt or practised music or anything else before), we literally had to begin everything from zero. We had to find out a style, to learn to drum, to write songs, to make the instruments for ourselves, the clothes, and everything else needed for the working (organising performances, finding place for rehearsal, the means and material resources etc.); all in one. (The Synthesis itself – that meant a few people – practically corresponded to the Kiyo-Kito from this point of view, and was also forming and building, so the same process weltered in another level.) The choosing of the name had just composed this starting position: originally this only was a pun: a Hungarian word-composition just sounding as if been in Japanese: „kiokito” – which means: „self-teaching”, or self-educating, self-training… A little later, it turned out (or rather, a member of ours, a Japanese-line university student college-girl, Vera Kuttner found it out) that the word had got a sensible Japanese meaning: „return to innocence” or „return to clearness” (or maybe „to the clean sound” – besides, it could have some other further senses, too, as consisting of archaic and obsolete, rarely-used syllables).


Therefore, at first, a small enthusiastic grouping of some twenty members gathered, who only knew that they were preparing for a „great thing”… For that purpose, we clubbed our own money together for the most important starting: we ordered five acacia barrels of big size from a cooper. Two relatively smaller (they became the two nagado-daikos), two medium-larger (the two chu-daikos), and one definitely megalomaniac piece (the odaiko). Yet that was still nothing in itself: barrels are generally made for an entirely different use, as we know, that’s why they also required some considerable surplus labour to make suitable for us. They needed to be strengthen from outside (to let the staves not to fall apart, we surrounded them with a deeply carved-in iron hoop at each mouth – by the expertness of our member Gabor Szakacs); and so from the inside (fibreglass and synthetic rosin lining keeps together each one on the whole inner surface). After this, we thoroughly and extensively smoothed them outside, then stained and lacquered… Tamas – as an ex-ceramist craftsman – set about planning bronze handles; that became a long-distance occupation, too. (It was ready after several years…)

Still, only after all, the crown came to top off everything: the skinning. We had to invent and develop some technique for this at all; what method, with what sort of skin, what upholsterer’s nails, and how to do it etc. We refined the solution in several approaches and attempts, through a long and assiduous experimenting. (For example it needed to make some special tensile scaffoldings.) In the meantime we also made same smaller drums for ourselves (shime-daikos and okedo-daikos), and tried to purchase or find a series of other tools (for example cymbals). This practically took our first one or two years; practising the basic beats and rhythms, too. (This permanent building also continued the next years after… It can be said to never end.)

By forming a severe judgement, of course, one can say it is not too authentic way. Those „very real” and anciently-traditional taiko drums in Japan are born as results of a several centuries old handicraft trade and industry, requiring a seriously engrossed, full life-work. They are made of special kinds of timber from particular species of tree, like the so-called keyaki (the Japanese Zelkova, or zelkova serrata): this species, living for more hundred (perhaps more thousand) years, reaches a trunk-thickness of several metres in diameter; which requires ten or twelve years drying and after-treatment to be suitable after cutting down… And the drum body consists of this as one piece (!); not of staves. (The mouth of the largest known odaiko is near 2.7 metres, and by another technique 3.7 metres…) However, it is not only time-demanding, but also very expensive: one such ready drum – even still a smaller one – is worth several ten (or hundred) thousand dollars. Since not everybody could pay this even over there, and in such quantities these can’t either be produced any more in the traditidonal way, so thus the most drums are made with a simplified and staved structure nowadays. (Except for the rare pieces of especially high demand.) Therefore we really need not feel ashamed: as compared to an average, genuine and trustworthy „original” taiko drum, our instruments are definitely nice, worked-out, complete, good. (And, moreover, individual.)

Our first clothes-plannings are linked with the name of fellow-member Julia Laszlo, and – as a talented draughtsman, designer – so are later illustrations, too; moreover one of our best songs (Asa No Arashi). But of course we had even got no songs at the beginning… We collected some traditional themes used by other groups first together from any kinds of training videos and other available material, which we tried to embed in some own compositions, then to gradually add our own ideas to them. (More songs like Ren-shu and Matsuri were born this way.) Among the first own songs were Sky Stud and Kiai signed by Tamas Paulinyi. Shortly, Bela Farago (a known tabla-player and composer, founding member of the Barka Theatre) joined the group for a while, who helped much in song-writing. Also we owe many thanks to Pal Bodnar, who – grown up and graduated in the US at the Stanford University, then returning home – familiarized us with the style and beating techniques applied in his own university taiko group; we appointed him to our artistic director for a few years. He wrote two of the first songs of the first years: the Dragon Dance and the End Moment. (The former was co-produced with his younger brother Zack, then we put some solo-insertions to it altogether; the latter was born upon Istvan Somogyi’s request for the dramatic culminating point of his dance-performance written after Janos Arany’s tragical ballad Red Rebek, for the hero’s execution scene.)


The first „official” performance of Kiyo-Kito happened at its first birthday: 21st March 2001, the first Spring Drum Celebration, which became a yearly returning tradition of ours from that time, for at least a whole decade. (Another such programme was the DOB-ban a szív – that means approximately „The Heart Drums” – exotic rhythm festival in the Petofi Hall, that lived to see its three times from 2003 to 2005.) All these grand-concerts were the own organizations of the Synthesis, and – though being protagonist and the „person feted” – were not only about the taiko group, but also their other participant circles, as well as a few invited guest artists sometimes. (It already reached a ten-year jubilee in 2010.) We have regularly performanced at the common Christmas event of the Synthesis and the Termeszetgyogyasz Magazin (a major Hungarian esoteric journal) since the first year. Besides, of course, there were several hundred other performances in the course of the years, too; some must be mentioned in these early times: the Valley of Arts in Kapolcs-Vigantpetend, the Horseback Archery Competitions of Lajos Kassai in Kaposmero, the Sziget Festival in Obuda, the EFOTT in Kismaros, the International Drummers’ Gala in Cegled, the International Percussion Festival in Gyor… etc. (Later several events of martial arts and bonsai, and of other Japanese culture-elements.)

Near 2003-2004, after that both of our above-mentioned names had left the group (although occasionally coming back… we receive them with open arms even nowadays, too), and we needed a new artistic director, Tamas Varga, an accomplished and experienced jazz-drummer, joined to enrich us with another kind of style again. (He also composed one or two songs, for example Seven Wheels or Great River.) Then later he set off to other ways: he quit at the end of 2004, then tried to found some own projects. These were declared partially or fully of taiko character, by various names: Kawatta; Migrating Birds; Pawaa Mitaiko etc. They similarly made some own instruments, and made attempts with an own repertoire (as well as with guest performance, for example with the Celtic band), but none of them was successful or longeval.

The real and final unfolding even came only after that for us. Having a considerable majority of the founding membership dropped out shortly (although those few who stayed already proved lasting and pillar), we constantly retrieved their loss by admitting new members. Therefore a more and more united staff was born through many years. In parallel with this, the arduous development work of instruments and other requisites had gradually came into port. (Entirely up till then hardly every income of ours rolled back into it, being very much costly always on working and maintaining.) Between 2005-2007 was the relatively most successful period: the most performances, and the concerts and the camps of highest mood – the fruits and outcome of many years’ long-lasting labours. We can tell of ourselves we rose unaided and fully under our own steam.

The new artistic director is Keijiro Takaku since then. The many-sided, versatile, educated and talented musician, living in our country for decades, graduated at the Musical Academy of Budapest (playing hurdy-gurdy among others), wrote better and better new songs for us (for example Sekigahara and Kiyo-Kito Bahashi). Likewise another member David Laar, a learned and experienced jazz-drummer (who already resigned once before, then returned), similarly the author of several songs (for example Spring Wind, The Heart’s Dance, and Quarter 7), had become more active by that time, and took a big part in the renewal and renovation of the drums.

The year 2006 was the „peak” roughly: the only one such year in which three great-concerts was played: the (sixth) Spring, as well as the Summer and the Autumn Drum Celebrations. (All of them in the Istvan Pataky Cultural Centre, that became our solid „haunt” in Kobanya meanwhile.) All three great-concerts were recorded by hired, professional cameramen in more stands, then we made a live selection and video-cut from the collected raw materials at the end of the year on DVD and CD called Caleidoscope: this was the Kiyo-Kito album first released. (Previously there were a few promotional stuffs in 2002 and 2003, too, but we didn’t consider them good enough in quality for publicity.)

Sound recordings were also done at the same time. I began to invest in buying professional sound-equipments at that time, as well as building a modest home-studio (partly using the Synthesis’ sound-proof laboratory as studio-room). I usually dragged along some of this equipment to the Pataky concerts, too. My original – although by no means „secret” – dream was from the beginning to make a (semi-)professional quality studio-record of every song (beside the riff-raff live recordings we had got), of which a qualitative studio album could have been produced; however, the means didn’t allow this during the preceding years. Then I spent some months with it alone, as a result of which a few (not too very well-performanced) demo recordings were born. (Unfortunately, the required co-operation still didn’t succeed to be done, thus we hadn’t got any more recordings of the other songs, and maybe never will…)

In the course of the next years, several members of the band departed because of their personal problems and the internal disagreements among them, and we failed to replace them with new ones, so the number of people decreased more and more. Under the influence of the general global economic crisis starting from 2008, however, less and less possibilities of performance arose, and the very expensive rehearsal places’ upkeep increasingly encountered difficulties… We also lived through this situation as a crisis. In parallel – more precisely, also slightly earlier – Tamas was becoming increasingly distracted and committed his other tasks, that’s why he solemnly gave the dum-circle-management positions to David; then soon after he withdrew to a background-reserve membership. (Before and after him, some more had also done so.) Our situation was ripe for the consideration and the accounting of the past, and the closing of it… And then for the renewal that follows. After all, in the year 2010, a dividing line formed.

In 2010, the group consisted of the following eight (or ten, in real) persons (in alphabetical order of the family names): Beatrix Czicze, Katalin Benke Furjes, Vera Kuttner, David Laar, Robert Olessak, Keijiro Takaku, Zsuzsanna Urr, Gabor Vastag (and also Tamas Paulinyi, Zsoka Szucs – in reserve). The 10th jubilee Spring Drum Celebration of 2010, or in another name, the Big Bang concert, was the dignified closing of the first decade in the life of the band (and the event, too, which also includes other circles, see there). From now on, a new episode begins; a small changing of the name signs that: the omission of the hyphen; thus the new name is Kiyo Kito Taiko. Another milestone is the release of the new album called StimmTt! on CD, and probably some further changes, too. For example, a new website (as soon as possible), a new look, a new repertoire… Some changing of the membership. If you are curious to know or see some more of us, please visit the official homepage. (Please click on the triple vortex symbol left above.) Or the official Facebook page. (Please click on the letter „F” symbol right above.)




Robert Olessak (2010)

Stonehenge Ancient Rhythm Formation

  Synthesis Shaman Drum Circle
Synthesis Shaman Drum Circle

  Our Bands brochure (2010)
Our Bands brochure (Kiyo-Kito, Synthesis and Stonehenge) (0.3 MB)