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Different beat to Japanese drumming

Traditional Japanese drumming harmonized with Pink Floyd-inspired soundscapes a sell-out

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What: Uzume Taiko

When: Wednesday, Jan. 18

Where: MY Millennium Place

Tickets: $20/$17

You may have caught last year’s sold-out, standing-ovation-greeted performance of Uzume Taiko, a drumming menagerie of martial arts and Japanese music.

However, this year’s flying spectacle of drummers leaping from one drum to the next – Wednesday, Jan. 18 at 8 p.m. at MY Millennium Place – embraces a more contemporary beat with traditional Japanese drumming harmonizing with Pink Floyd-inspired electric guitar and computerized soundscapes.

"Our group is known very much for being a contemporary Taiko group," said Bonnie Soon, artistic director of Uzume Taiko.

"We are interested in music that uses traditional festival style, but we like to combine it with musical influences from where we grew up, on the West Coast…. This show will sound more contemporary. We had more traditional instruments such as the pipe and flute in past shows, definitely not electric guitar. It may get a bit Pink Floydish. We grew up here and we all love Pink Floyd. We are pushing (Taiko) in a more western direction than most shows."

For the first time, Classical-guitarist Dave Corman joins the Uzume Taiko troupe of Soon, Jason Overy, Naomi Kajiwara and Boyd Grealy. Corman, a fellow University of Victoria music student with other Uzume Taiko members, first introduced his melodic and rhythmic sensibilities when recording the troupe’s newest album, Undula .

The Whistler show kicks off an album promotion tour, which flies overseas for Uzume Taiko’s fifth European tour. For more than a decade, the drumming/dance troupe has traveled the globe with its heart-stopping visual show.

Taiko, a Japanese word that translates to big drum, is a centuries old traditional Japanese art form, historically used for both religious practices and battlefields. Uzume was the first goddess of drums and dance.

Soon explained the art form is new to North America, breaching Pacific Ocean shores less than 50 years ago.

While the core of Uzume Taiko is rooted in Japanese tradition, Soon said the troupe differs greatly from a traditional drumming group in size, repertoire and manpower – or should we say female power?

"There are definitely more women playing (Taiko) in North America than men," Soon said. "Taiko in its stoic form was only performed by men."

Japanese Taiko groups generally consist of 10 to 12 drummers beating the great 42-inch diameter drums in unison whereas North American style drumming ensembles opt for smaller mixed-gender casts playing multiple rhythms simultaneously.

"It reflects our (Canadian) culture," Soon said. "We are more independent and individual minded (than Japanese culture). We will all take a different pattern (when drumming). We’ve played with Japanese Taiko groups and we’ve admitted our different approach to creating music, but the two ways are equally beautiful and wondrous."

The thundering vibrations awaken deep-rooted emotions in the listener, bringing audiences back to the first rhythms of life.

"We all had a heartbeat and grew from a seed with all of our circular system pounding around us," she said. "The drums are the heartbeat. It seems to speak to any age group. The drums hit your body. Sometimes it makes people laugh or involuntarily cry. It hits your centre. It makes you celebrate the human spirit."

Tickets are $20 for adults and $17 for students and seniors. The previous two Performance Series shows sold out, so pick up tickets early by calling 604-935-8410.

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