For sheer power, drama and majestic theatricality, it’s hard to beat the o-daiko. Carved from a single massive tree trunk and placed atop a shoulder-high shrine-like platform, the emperor of drums occupies center stage throughout performances by Kodo, Japan’s pre-eminent taiko ensemble, looming above the athletic proceedings with the promise of amazing feats to come.
Kodo kicks off its fourth decade with a North American tour that brings the company to Seattle on Saturday for a two-day Meany Hall engagement. Designed by Tamasaburo Bando, the “One Earth Tour 2013: Legend” program weaves together his new works with refurbished arrangements of time-tested material. The climax of each Kodo performance remains the o-daiko face off, when two sinewy young men strip to loin clothes at opposite ends of the drum and rear back for a thunderous pas de deux.
“We are often regarded as musicians, but we are somewhere between theater and music and dance,” Jun Akimoto, a Kodo company manager, said after a performance last year in Berkeley, Calif.
In concert, Kodo creates music with a vast array of dynamics and frequencies, from the o-daiko’s gut-punch whomp to the brittle, thwack of the kotsuzumi. Each performer’s movement is choreographed to accentuate the rhythms, which hint at the company’s collaborations with Indian, Brazilian, Irish and Moroccan musicians.
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8 p.m. Feb. 9 and 2 p.m. Feb. 10, Meany Hall, 1313 N.E. 41st St., Seattle; $41-$45, $20 for students (206-543-4880 or www.meany.org/tickets).
Cross-cultural dialogue is also the theme of “Brazilian Carnaval 2013” Saturday at Neptune, where Eduardo Mendonça and Show Brazil! Productions present the 19th annual celebration of Brazilian pre-Lenten revelry. Based on the theme “USA to Brazil,” the event explores the West African kinship linking North American and Brazilian music, a connection that Mendonça embodies. Hailing from Salvador, the capital of the northeastern state of Bahia and the heart of Afro-Brazilian culture, Mendonça is heir to a rich percussion tradition.
He’ll be joined by an array of musicians and dancers, including special guests VamoLá, a drum and dance ensemble steeped in samba, samba-reggae and maracatu, Jeromeskee from Massive Monkeys, and organist Barry Curtis, an early member of the Kingsmen (of “Louie, Louie” immortality).
9 p.m. Feb. 9, The Neptune Theatre, 1303 N.E. 45th St., Seattle; $18.50-$25 (877-784-4849 or www.stgpresents.org).
Speaking of building cultural bridges, the University of Washington’s acclaimed ethnomusicology program celebrates 50 years of cross-cultural exchange this semester with several performances and an Allen Library exhibition (through Feb. 21) featuring instruments reflecting some of the music traditions brought to the program by the visiting artists. On March 6, visiting artist Srivani Jade, a master of North Indian classical Khayal vocal tradition, performs a recital with students at Brechemin Auditorium.
7:30 March 6, University of Washington, Brechemin Auditorium; $5 (www.music.washington.edu).
Andrew Gilbert writes about music for The Seattle Times.