Leonard Eto: Pushing The Boundaries Of Taiko

Although Leonard Eto ranks among the most famous and influential taiko players today – having played with the Japanese taiko group Kodo on stages around the world – he ended up playing taiko in a rather roundabout fashion.

Eto’s father is a renown koto player (a Japanese string instrument similar to a zither), and the head of a traditional koto school in Japan. While Japanese custom would normally have the son follow in his father’s footsteps, the senior Eto didn’t mind what his Leonard did, as long as he lived “a life with music.” For Leonard, that meant living with rock music at first. After being introduced to recordings of Santana playing at Woodstock by his older brother, he found himself inspired by the playing of Michael Shrieve. Soon he was learning drum kit and playing with a rock band.

It was while he was a rock drummer that Eto was introduced to Kodo. Although he wasn’t very enthusiastic about Kodo’s traditional style of drumming initially, he was captivated by the communal lifestyle the members enjoyed on the isolated island of Sado. He went on to join the group, eventually becoming a featured soloist and lead performer. Eto soon began writing his own compositions for the ensemble that took the traditional taiko drums and gave them a driving, modern feel. Several of these compositions went on to be featured in several soundtracks, such as JFK and The Hunted.

After spending eight years recording and touring with Kodo, Eto went solo in 1992. After the Leo Project, which explored taiko drumming and dance, he initiated a string of musical collaborations under the name Club Leo, which he has used to push the boundaries of taiko. Exploring diverse musical styles from gospel to jazz to African, he creates funky, joyous music anchored by his propulsive drumming. Frequent use of guitar and electric violin shows that Eto still finds a particular affinity for rock. “I think that strings go very well with the resonance of taiko drums,” he says.