Getting Your Bang On
San Jose Taiko brings drum power to CSUMB.
Thursday, September 30, 2004
To awaken the tribal warrior that lurks down deep—even if it’s just to do battle with the dandelions disrupting an otherwise pristine lawn—sometimes a little more encouragement than a double latte can provide is needed. That’s where Taiko drumming can come in handy.
On Thursday night in CSU Monterey Bay’s World Theater, a two-hour dose of Japan’s most emblematic musical tradition will provide the Taiko–brand spiritual jumpstart.
Started by a group of Sansei (third-generation Japanese-Americans) San Jose State students looking to explore their culture musically, the group formed in 1973, making it only the third Taiko ensemble in the nation.
“There wasn’t a whole lot of information, so we were really on our own,” recalls managing director Roy Hirabayashi, who runs the group along with his wife PJ.
They also didn’t have a lot of money. Taking a tip from one of the existing US-based Taiko groups in Los Angeles, San Jose Taiko began making their own drums out of wine barrels—something they still do today.
“We’ve kind of developed that into an art form over the years,” Hirabayashi says. “Buying Taiko in Japan was just too expensive.”
Another thing the group had to overcome was the reaction of their second-generation (Nisei) parents, who were interned during World War II.
“When we started talking about moving the group into a professional ensemble and doing this as a full-time thing, they were kind of leery about that—doing an art form that no ones knows about.” Hirabayashi says. “It was kind of like I was a jazz pianist or something. Where there’s some chance of getting some work.”
Turns out Hirabayashi’s parents had nothing to worry about. After thirty years, the group’s core of four full-time members and eleven part-time drummers have beaten a path to music festivals, primarily featuring “world music,” all over the world. They’ve also warmed up the crowds at San Francisco Giants, San Jose State Spartan, and Golden State Warrior games, and even appeared on the old Arsenio Hall late night talk show. Thursday’s show will feature all fifteen drummers in the group performing original compositions.
What separates San Jose Taiko’s sound from other Taiko groups is that while their repertoire is steeped in the Japanese traditions of the music, they explore rhythms from other cultures as well—like African, Balinese, and Latin jazz influences.
“When the group got going, it was predominantly third generation and most of us hadn’t even been to Japan, so our musical experience really was kind of listening to what everyone else was listening to around here,” Hirabayashi says. “There was a real strong jazz, African, Cuban, rock ‘n’ roll, whatever involved in what we were trying to do.”
The group’s adventuresome style also incorporates the use of instruments not usually associated with Taiko. In addition to the drums ranging from the aforementioned wine barrel size down to hand-sized ones, the Japanese bamboo flute, Philippine gongs, and the didgeridoo from Down Under will also be played.
Of course, Taiko isn’t just an auditory experience: watching the drummer’s highly choreographed movements is also a feast for the eyes. Members have to be in shape.
”There’s a lot a physical things that are required like flexibility and stretching,” Hirabayashi says. “It’s a combination of dancing, music and movement. Some might call it a martial art, playing Taiko.”
San Jose Taiko performs Thursday, Sept. 30 at 7:30pm at CSU Monterey World Theater, 6th Avenue and A Street, Seaside. $10/students, $25/general. 582-4580.