Three local taiko drum groups, Denver Taiko, Mirai Daiko and Taiko with Toni, are hosting “Heartbeat for Japan: A Taiko Benefit,” a concert to raise funds for relief efforts in Japan, on Sat March 26, 7 pm at Colorado Heights University (formerly Loretto Heights) Auditorium at 3001 S. Federal Blvd. Admission is free but donations will be accepted. This should be a terrific evening of thundering drums for a great cause.
Denver Taiko is an institution in this area — they’ve been together 35 years, and was one of the very first taiko groups to form in the US in the 1970s. They ar a large group and play a mix of traditional taiko pieces and their original compositions. Toni Yagami is a veteran of the local taiko scene, and performed early on with Denver Taiko. She’s looser than Denver Taiko and plays in a smaller combo, bringing a playfulness to her performances. Mirai Daiko is the up-and coming youngest group in the area, comprised of all young Japanese American women. Over the years they’ve become a very popular local attraction, and their music and performances have matured so they swing, with precision.
If you’ve never seen or heard taiko drumming, it’s an amazing, visceral style of music because it’s not about melody so much as it is about the booming rhythm. Imagine a great college marching band, but without the brass section. That’s just a hint of what great taiko music is like. The sound, matched with the graceful yet incredibly kinetic synchronized choreography of the drummers, is entrancing and energizing.
Taiko music has a long history in Japan (like most things Japanese, it has its roots in Chinese drumming but has become a cultural icon of Japan and especially, Japanese Americans even more so than Japanese). Taiko used to be used to invite the rains for crops in ancient Japan, and it was used during samurai battles to intimidate enemy armies. The form fell out of fashion for a time, but the modern taiko oevre got an injection of excitement when Japanese Americans picked up the bachi, or drum sticks, in the 1970s. The Japanese American National Museum produced a fine documentary titled “Big Drum: Taiko in the United States” that’s worth seeing if you’re a fan.
Here’s a video I shot of Denver Taiko last fall:
(Note: This concert is the first of at least two, perhaps more, events and performances organized by the local Japanese American and wider Asian American Pacific Islander communities to raise funds for Japan Relief. The need is grat, and will continue long after the headlines have faded from the initial quake and tsunami and current coverage of the nuclear disaster. I’ll keep everyone posted about future concerts and events.)