THE YIN AND YANG OF SENRI KAWAGUCHI

She looks like a typical wholesome young lady in her cardigan, loose shirt, and sneakers, her hair in bangs at the front and ponytail in the back, and her frame slight, almost delicate. Were it not for the guests expecting her and the Yamaha executives by her side, she would be unobtrusive, invisible even, as she is soft-spoken and quiet, attributes magnified further perhaps by the face mask she adorns in light of the global coronavirus scare. She picks up a pair of drumsticks and tries to find a comfortable angle on the drum stool.

She hits the snare—a Yamaha Absolute Hybrid Maple—and extracts a loud fat snappy tone that rattles the room. She then plays the entire kit with a mid-tempo funk groove so taut you could practically hang a couple of shirts that would consequently flap with each rapid double kick accent. The Recording Custom kit is barely in tune, the tom angles yet to be adjusted but she immediately is in command of the instrument: her pulse is forceful.  For eight bars, she transformed into a monster, albeit still a delicate one, as she made the drums sound like thunder. She stops, points out a couple of immediate adjustments to be made. After basic tweaks are made and a few more groove-tests, she reverts back into being someone her age, lightly giggling and standing shyly, awkwardly even.

She gamely poses for pics with the Lyric staff; she removes her mask and smiles hugely like a typical Japanese kid—yes, she is kawaii– except she isn’t really that typical: who among Senri Kawaguchi’s peers made it to Drummerworld.com’s Top 500 Drummers list at age 14?

Yamaha in cooperation with Lyric brought the now 23-year old drum phenom for a Drum Clinic at Teatrino, Promenade, Greenhills on Feb 22, 2020. The drumming community was immediately abuzz mere hours after the initial announcement was made in early Feb, as were fans of Japanese pop culture. Of the former, veteran drummers such as The Dawn’s JB Leonor were drawn to her performance videos;  Leonor in fact says he “recently copped this fast sextuplet thing she does with the cymbals, double kick, and snare from her Drumeo channel!” The latter community discovered Senri when she did drum cover videos of songs from the anime series K-on when she was 14 (anime songs tend to be metallic high energy, fast tempo affairs). The Drum Clinic attendees informally represented both communities; career-wise, Senri has mostly leaned toward upbeat jazz and high energy fusion particularly in the virtuosic Senri Kawaguchi Triangle with keyboardist Philip Saisse and bassist Armand Sabal-Lecco.

As evidenced on most of her video-documented live performances, Senri is a technical tour-de-force. Live, her power is astounding, at once ferocious and fluid, delivering sextuplet rolls with ease. Her arms are toned, the musculature manifesting with nearly every stroke; power and grace in equal measure. Yup, you can see where the power is coming from despite her slight frame. She gleefully expressed that she felt extra powerful on Clinic day due to the enthusiastic crowd response and, humorously, her sinigang dinner (she loves it) and technique-wise, she holds her sticks near the base, presumably letting the momentum deliver the extra punch. For fast rolls, she demonstrated how she moves and adjusts her grip closer to the middle of the sticks. She does not consciously start with the mindset of playing fast; Senri says she practices paradiddles (and what she refers to as paraparadiddles and paraparaparadiddles) and distributing specific accents to each  drum of the kit. She demonstrated these slowly before going to performance speed.

Senri acknowledges that, like her heroes  Ian Paice (of Deep Purple her first proper drumming idol), mentor Kozo Suganuma, Dave Weckl, and Akira Jimbo, she is known as a note-y drummer. And then she was in front of Steve Gadd who played just one note.  She recalls saying “I’m so sorry!” immediately and kept her head bowed for a long time. The audience laughed with her at the humbling recollection.

From the Recording Custom kit (which by the way was amplified by a Yamaha EAD system), she moved to the electronic DTX452. Senri started playing drums after her dad, a mecha-otaku, bought a DTX set just to find out how it worked. She was given the set when she was 5; she says she treated it simply as a toy she could play with. Needless to say she ripped on the DTX452 with no problem, playing full-steam ahead along with pre-recorded material from the Milesexperience (‘What Goes Around’) and K-on (‘Go Go Maniac’).

What makes Senri an infectious drummer is the sheer joy she brings to the instrument. Beneath all the firepower and finesse, her relaxed concentration is wonderfully broken by the toothsome smiles that show whether she is approaching or coming from a difficult fusillade of notes. There is a Zen-calm at work, an awareness of the here-and-now beyond the kit. Near the beginning of the Clinic she was already firing on all cylinders; a wingnut flew from one of the cymbal stands and despite being in the middle of a complex run, she saw it, laughed and tried to call attention to the problem without, literally, missing a beat. Later, two pieces of confetti most likely left over from a previous event at Teatrino were liberated from the rafters thanks to the sheer volume of her playing; Senri saw one falling hopelessly and laughed. The only apparent moment of panic was in the middle of the clinic when she saw that one of the snare’s wires had snapped; unbeknownst to her, it broke halfway through the first song.

Maybe that’s the real secret to her drumming. For all her technical advancements, she still looks at the drums as her favourite toy, and the stage her playground. She’s playing in the truest sense of the word, and it’s a lesson worthy of any musician.

Click on the gallery for more of Senri and her Drum Clinic (photos are owned by Lyric Philippines; unauthorized use is prohibited).

words by Francis Brew Reyes

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