- Voltage adaptor
This past summer, I packed a suitcase for a trip to my home country of England with my travel essentials. I’ve been fortunate to do a lot of traveling in my life, and I’d like to think that I’ve mastered the art of packing a carry on suitcase. However, this time the packing list was a little different, thanks to the addition of some items I would need for a visit to a taiko dojo.
It was all a bit spur of the moment. A week before my trip, I wondered if there were taiko groups near my grandmother’s house in the rural county of Devon. There’s not a sizable Asian community out there- in fact, 94.9% of people in Devon are White British (source)- so it seemed unlikely to me that an artform with Asian roots would be popular.
I was wrong!
Being new to the taiko community, I hadn’t a clue that Devon is home to the UK Taiko Festival, an event that attracts taiko groups from all over the UK, Europe, and beyond. Nor did I know that the county is home to The Taiko Centre, the dojo of Kagemusha Taiko, Kagemusha Junior Taiko (KJT), and Tano Taiko. Thanks to Karen, I was put in touch with the founder of Kagemusha Taiko, Jonathan Kirby, who warmly invited me to the Taiko Centre.
My Taiko Centre visit kicked off with a tour of the campus that the dojo is located on, Hannahs at Seale-Hayne, led by Lucy of Tano Taiko. Hannahs is dedicated to enriching the lives of adult and young people with disabilities, and the Taiko Centre helps contribute to that mission through some of their programs and their “Have a Go” sessions. I think that taiko provides such a positive energy outlet, and I was inspired to hear that about their efforts to make the artform accessible all kinds of people- young, old, able bodied, disabled, music lovers or those who are simply intrigued by the prospect of hitting a big loud drum!
Lucy and I returned to the dojo just in time for a public class that was being led by Hannah-Jasmine. HJ invited me to pick up my bachi and join in, and she led us through some fun warm ups to get us smiling and laughing. Next, HJ reviewed the ji (base beat) of the song the class was learning, and I was concentrating so hard that it took me a minute to realize that the song we were about to play was Matsuri, a song that the Genki Spark also has in our repertoire. Many taiko ensembles play Matsuri and the basic rhythm will sound similar, but the form may differ from group to group. When the Genki Spark plays Matsuri, you’ll see us using taiko drums that sit upright (beta style), but the public class was playing Matsuri on drums on a slanted stand (naname style). Having never played naname style before I was a bit nervous, but thanks to the encouragement of HJ and crew I gave it my best shot and ended up having loads of fun.
Two days later I returned to the dojo to observe Kagemusha Junior Taiko (KJT) rehearse. KJT is a performance group of made up of young people, but don’t underestimate them because of their age- they rock! They got right down to business and ran through their sets for the UK Taiko Festival and the National Music for Youth Festival. All of them have years of experience playing taiko, and it shows. Jonathan was there to give guidance when necessary, but for the most part they ran the show and helped each other out. I asked some of the members how they first heard of taiko, and I was surprised to learn that many of them first learned about the art in school. It turns out that Jonathan has done a lot of outreach to schools and music services in the area and taiko has been quite well received.
Taiko in the UK is a very young artform. It arose in the 1980s, from a couple of pioneers. One was a Japanese man who started a performance group in London, and the other was a UK national who studied taiko drumming in Japan and started offering instruction in Scotland. Kagemusha Taiko is unique because they are influenced by North American taiko, but in my eyes they’ve put their own spin on it to create a distinct style of their own. At the same time, I noticed that the senior members ensure that everyone understands the roots of the artform and who they were influenced by. It’s clear that they hold a real respect for the drum and the taiko players that came before them.
My trip ended with a chance to meet the members of Kagemusha Taiko before they had to finish prepping for the UK Taiko Festival. They even indulged me with some very GENKI group photographs.. you know how we love group photos in the Genki Spark!
I honor my Asian heritage in particular when I play with the Genki Spark, but I’m proud of being English as well. Because of that, it made me so happy to find taiko community out in Devon. It’s hard for me to put into words exactly why that is, but it felt like I was coming full circle. I felt like two communities that I love and consider “home”- the taiko community and this little corner of England known as the West Country- were intersecting in a beautiful way.
A sincere thank you to Jonathan and all of members of Tano Taiko, KJT, and Kagemusha Taiko for making that experience possible. To learn more about them and the UK Taiko Festival, check out their website and find them on facebook (Kagemusha Taiko, Tano Taiko, UK Taiko Festival).