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Feeling the spirit of the drums

Vancouver-based Uzume Taiko embraces lightness with Taiko & Take performance



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She admired and respected the strong Asian women who took centre stage in the performances.

"They were really strong and traditionally, I think I was raised to be quiet and really respectful to my elders, which is all really great, but I actually couldn't speak until I was an adult."

While both dance and drumming require a strong connection to rhythm and the desire to engage and entertain an audience, the similarities between the two mediums basically end there.

Uzume Taiko's group drumming approach isn't true to a long Japanese tradition, though they take their essence from the festival drumming style.

"That means that instead of the drum being used to help village life or spiritual practice or to support classical theatre, it became its own art form or style," Soon said.

Their name, Uzume Taiko, comes from taiko, the Japanese word for "big drum," and from the goddess of laughter, Ame No Uzume No Mikoto, the Heavenly Alarming Female who, according to legend, started the art of taiko drumming.

Aside from the obviously powerful music of the taiko drum, the troupe's performances also include humour and dramatic choreography and staging for a well-rounded audience experience that communicates emotions, power, energy and spirit on stage, creating a live performance event that will move people.

Today, Soon performs with three other members of the troupe: Eien Hunter-Ishikawa, a drummer, percussionist, and taiko player who has lived in Japan, Michigan, and Hawaii; Jason Overy, who has studied with some of North America's taiko and percussion masters; and Naomi Kajiwara, who became enthralled with Taiko drumming after her first workshop with Uzume Taiko back in 2001.

The group has brought their unique brand of taiko drumming to stages across North America and further abroad, sharing their collective wealth of over 40 years of experience with audience members and classes.

Learning the craft was a slow process, one that involved more than physical and musical discipline.

"It really is a spiritual connection, as well, and hopefully you have to engage your soul and spirit to play when it's deep," Soon said.

"If you get the spirit involved and people actually feel how committed you are, it's like singing a song without words."

Like an army, sometimes they play in sync and in unison, conjuring up strength and power. But other times, they break off into solitary parts, enjoying some lightness.