Feeling the spirit of the drums 

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


What: Uzume Taiko (Japanese drumming)

When: Thursday, Dec. 10, 8 p.m.

Where: MY Place

Cost: $22 adults, $19 students & seniors, $16 WAC Members

There's just something about the Japanese taiko - the "big drums" - that conjures up emotion with a single strike. The pulse of the player's blood and their heartbeat travels from the bachi (taiko sticks) into the centre of the skin and then down along the body of the drum to the floor, sending vibrations through the soles of your feet.

Bonnie Soon knows that feeling all too well. She is the artistic director for Uzume Taiko, Canada's premier professional taiko drumming group. Based in Vancouver, the troupe has been performing for audiences around the world since 1988, fusing their unconventional brand of taiko drumming with different styles of Western music and performance.

Starting out as a professional modern dancer, Soon's artistic interests transitioned to taiko drumming in her early 20s after she saw a performance at the Museum of Anthropology.

"The hardest part of drumming for me wasn't the physicalness, it was martial arts and vocal shouts - it was making a sound with my voice."

At first, Soon assumed all of the Asian taiko performers were Japanese, but when she discovered that they were actually of different backgrounds, races and cultures, she was inspired to take up the art form.

"I knew that if people saw me play, they would assume I was Japanese and I think that was right at the time when cultural appropriation was quite a debate as a topic - I'm speaking mainly First Nations - but I still was very sensitive that I didn't want to seem like a fake," she said with a laugh.

But Uzume Taiko wasn't setting out to sell themselves as a traditional taiko group.

"We're a Canadian taiko group and we're not traditional Japanese drummers, so that's very important to us because we're funded by the Canadian government. We are first and foremost Canadian and that's what's special about Uzume Taiko, I think. We can't help it - we play from where we are."

This cross-cultural attitude comes through in their performances, which often see the group collaborating with a variety of musicians.

"It's been our focus to play with other people who are in Vancouver and whose music we enjoy and that can range from Western to different cultural traditions."

Through taiko drumming, Soon found her voice.

"Growing up in Vancouver ... in the '60s,'70s, all through school I didn't really appreciate being Chinese Canadian and this was an opportunity to get involved in an art form that was closer to my Asian heritage."

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