Friction Fiction

I’m all excited about tomorrow but I’m still sensing I have to sell the song. There is some justification that is is not ‘taiko’ – not Japanese.

The Rhythm of the Heat is special to me because its sound palette just oozes taiko and the sentiments of the song fit perfectly with playing taiko in Arizona. You don’t get much more Rhythm or Heat!

I also like the lyrical content relating to indigenous peoples. Although Gabriel is reputed to have been inspired by Jung’s fears of traveling in Africa, its tone accords very well with the classic perception of Native American culture. It reminds me of the struggles the Hopi endured when they started to share their culture with outsiders. But they are a pueblo people who have been drawn across the plainland to a place that is literally higher, though I imagine Gabriel had spiritual and perhaps narcotic images in mind when he produced it. And the Hopi very deliberately turned their back on materialism, so the lines about the radio, the camera and the watch are poignant. I am most familiar with tales of native Americans rejecting cameras as soul-stealers, but it was a common sentiment across the globe. More recently I have been struck, although I love photography, by the fact that taking photographs can actually diminish your enjoyment of the experience itself and that unless you are very lucky or skillful, the photograph is not as interesting as being there. So in a sense the camera does steal away the spirit of an event.

But lastly Jung was apparently afraid of having his psyche submerged and drowned in a primitive experience – the Dervish-like trance-state where “the rhythm has my soul.” But isn’t that EXACTLY why we play taiko?

So here is one interpretation of the song as it could appear to me to drive a rationale for a taiko version.

The Story of the Rhythm of the Heat - In the growing light before dawn, Hiro wakes in a small mud-brick room.

He hears the moaning wind hurling fierce dust in rolling red billows across the Hopi mesas. For a moment he huddles under the woven cotton blanket thinking fondly of his own familiar home where he tends the Shinto shrine among the Japanese community that cultivates flowers by South Mountain, far down in the Valley of the Sun. But then he remembers yesterday’s joyous welcome among his friends here.

Looking forward to the special day of social dances for many, many visitors to the village he gathers himself together to rise and meditate.

The world and the village come to life with the rising sun. He is moved to play the shime-daiko and the gong he brought with him in honour of the local kami. As the light grows and the wind dies down, the joy of the new day rises to his lips and he greets it with a melodious kiai in the same way that the lumberjacks of Nippon call ahead their gifts to the shrines at Ise, immortalized in performances of “Miyake.”

As his devotion ends he finds himself looking out the window of the pueblo dwelling where he shelters and he sees the red dust clear. Emerging, he looks around. High upon the red rock at the village edge, silhouetted in the sunlight stands a shadow with a spear, where a Hopi keeps watch over the approaches to the village.

As his body stretches he becomes aware of his pulse and the life-affirming double-thump of his heartbeat. Flute in hand, he stands upon the mesa in the increasing heat of the sun and contemplates his surroundings.

The land here is strong. It feeds the Hopi. Its high walls protect them. They live here unmolested and they give back to the earth their generations. The land is strong beneath his feet. It feeds on the blood of the Hopi forebears through countless generations. It feeds on the blood of the desiccated corpses of those who do not know its secrets. It feeds on the relentless heat of the desert sun, keeping out those unfit, but nurturing the corn, beans and squash needed for life.

But the world is not still. It pulses with life. The rhythm of the seasons is in the rock below him, the rhythm of the heat of summers coming and going.

Dark crows feather their hypnotic circles in the air currents over the cliff-edge. Footsteps sound steadily along the paths in traffic with the fields, the cadence of voices softened by distance almost into melody. The regular thump of a comb on a loom compacting the fibres of a growing wedding robe reaches him from the house of a fond uncle. Mano scrapes rhythmically on metate as the women grind corn in the shade. The laughter of these crazy Hopi ladies is so frequent it almost has a pattern.

The preparations are completing. All activity turns in one direction. The village gathers, Holiday clothes and food are ready. Seats are found, children controlled, guests welcomed.

The rhythm of the universe surrounds him in all the activities of growing and living and now it echoes all around the courtyard from the drums. People stand, local and visitor, host and guest and they begin to move as the event sweeps them up. The rhythm is around him and as the dance becomes more confident and he is swept into its movements, the rhythm has control.

The dance continues with no shape and no end until he is lost in its grip, moving unguided in time with the beat, the community and the world they are so deeply a part of. The rhythm is inside him. The rhythm has his soul.

For this social dance visitors have come from far and wide, up onto the mesa and together into a circle around a symbolic fire. They reverence the sun with their movement, their breath and the moisture of their bodies. Their movements at first cool and slow grow more confident and fervent as their sense of community and common purpose grows.

Drawn across the plain-land

To the place that is higher,

Drawn into the circle

That dances ’round the fire,

We spit into our hands

And breath across the palms,

Raising them up high,

Held open to the sun


In the midst of all these folk from another land, aware of the regard of their alien kami and the uncomprehending gaze of the gawping white spectators, he falters for a moment. The dance-trance broken, self-conscious, uncertain, he is showered with the dust churning around him, settling on his clothes, his hair, eyes and lips. Then the acceptance of his hosts and the power of their kami transport him. The spirit enters into him and he submits to trust.

He sees the anglos poring over the photos they have taken. He does not recognize in those flat, soulless images the meaning and the power he felt moments before when the spirits moved him to ecstatic communion. All the life has been sucked out of the occasion. He is dispirited by the urgent demands of parents looking at the time and bundling their kids into cars before the ceremony is half over. They drive away, radio thoughtlessly blaring voices from a world that has no place here. He sees the elders shaking their heads sadly and hears disgruntled mutters.

Smash the radio

No outside voices here

Smash the watch

Cannot tear the day to shreds

Smash the camera

Cannot steal away the spirits

The hours pass and he rejoins the endless dance, finally regaining the power and joy he had before as he gives himself to the rhythm and is accepted into the accelerating tide. Once more the rhythm is around him, the rhythm has control. And finally the rhythm is inside him, the rhythm has his soul.

Perhaps he belongs here.


This fiction of mine is inspired by my respect and affection for the music of Peter Gabriel and the culture and spirit of the Hopi and Japanese peoples who I greatly admire. Any error in the understanding or representation of those sources is mine and is subject to re-education.

Leave a Reply