Taiko, which means, “drum” in Japanese, has a history in both Japan and North America. Since ancient times in Japan, taiko has always been regarded as sacred. The Japanese people used taiko to bless their seasonal crops, ensuring a bountiful harvest. The powerful beating of taiko, which imitates the sound of thunder, was thought to summon rain and drive away harmful pests. Taiko was also played in Japanese villages during festivals and celebrations and served important functions in both religion and the military.
Taiko drumming in North America has evolved into a purely Japanese American art form. Although the drums themselves originated from Japan, many ideas and concepts of stage performance of kumi daiko, or “group taiko,” were developed in the 1960’s during the Asian American Movement. Playing taiko became a way for Japanese Americans to channel their frustration and repression into positive energy and expression. Taiko drew the Japanese American community together and inspired cultural awareness and pride among many individuals.
In 1968, Grandmaster Seiichi Tanaka founded the first taiko group in the United States – San Francisco Taiko Dojo. A year later, Kinnara Taiko of the Senshin Buddhist Temple was formed, becoming the first taiko group in Southern California. Today, there are an estimated 500 taiko groups throughout North America. Some are professional touring ensembles like San Francisco Taiko Dojo, San Jose Taiko, and New York’s Soh Daiko; other groups are more recreational and community-based. Although each taiko group has its own unique styles, songs, and techniques, they all share the same love and respect for the drum.
Kyodo Taiko is the first collegiate taiko group to form in North America, founded in 1990 by Mark Honda under UCLA’s Nikkei Student Union (NSU). Kyodo has two meanings – one is “family, “ and the other, literally, “loud children.” Originally, members practiced without drums and became very familiar with the ubiquitous North American art of “air-bachi.” In 1991, with generous help from Tom Endo and Kinnara Taiko’s Kevin Higa, members built their own drums – 4 chu-daikos – that are still part of the group’s primary instruments today. The commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Japanese American internment in 1992 marked Kyodo Taiko’s first major performance. This special performance paid tribute to the 175 UCLA students who were interned during World War II.
Comprised entirely of college students, Kyodo Taiko is in a perpetual state of turnover and transition, with no fixed sensei. In addition, most members have no prior experience with playing taiko. To counteract the group’s inexperience and lack of a constant teaching source, it is a main priority that all members cooperatively learn the different aspects and traditions of taiko, along with those of the group, in a very short period of time. This continuous learning process fosters fresh ideas and constant innovation, while seeking to preserve and expand upon the traditions and knowledge of previous years. All of Kyodo Taiko’s pieces are either written or arranged by its members and many songs exhibit a variety of ideas and influences. In our peer-driven environment, there is a sense of freedom to experiment, to express and explore with taiko with few reservations or repercussions.
Many of Kyodo’s members are not of Japanese descent – the varied backgrounds and experiences of our members, coupled with the Japanese American perspective of taiko, create diversity in composition and performance. Our performances include various campus and community events, outreach programs, K-12 school presentations, and private functions. Kyodo Taiko continues to participate annually in NSU’s Cultural Night, as well as in the Intercollegiate Taiko Invitational. In the spring of 1997, 2000, and 2003, we were honored to have hosted the Intercollegiate Invitational Concert and look forward to hosting again in 2006. Originated by Stanford Taiko in 1995, the Invitational offers workshops and promotes interaction between the collegiate taiko groups and is always one of the highlights of the year. We have been annual participants of the Nisei Week festivities, L.A. Tofu Festival, and in recent years, the Lotus Festival and the First Annual USA Sumo Open. Kyodo members have also been the founding members of the Nishikaze Taiko Ensemble, which performs professionally at various venues, including an entire season at Downtown Disney in Anaheim, CA. The life of taiko is not over once the members graduate either – many of Kyodo’s Alumni can be found in Professional Taiko groups such as Prota and Taiko Project.
Striving to live up to the group’s name, Kyodo Taiko functions as a family, sharing the joy and spirit of taiko with more and more of the surrounding community each year.
IKUZO! GAMBARUZO! MAKENAIZO!
Looking to join the Kyodo Family? We hold a tryout process each Fall!
No experience necessary, and you get free taiko workshops with Kyodo. Contact us in the Fall for more details!