Taiko Legacy 8 Review - East Meets West: Japanese Tradition Meets Jazz Improvisation

Voice and drum are two of the oldest instruments of human history.  Combining thunderous drumming, traditional vocal pieces, jazz improvisations, and stylized kimono dance, the Tsukasa Taiko performed their new Taiko Legacy 8: Origins of Now 2011 on December 17th and 18th at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago.  In collaboration with the Japanese American Service Committee (JASC), Executive Producer and Artistic Director, Tatsu Aoki combines the new fast moving technological culture with the traditional performances of his country.  Featuring both male and female drummers, both young and young adult, the Taiko drumming group at JASC is now the leading community taiko ensemble in the Midwest.

Dance & Drum as One


Literally meaning “drum”, taiko is known for its thunderous sound and stunning, stylized choreography.  Its 2,000-year-old history is rooted in Japanese court, theater, religious/ceremonial, and festival music, where it was one of many instruments comprising a variety of musical ensembles.   With the mid-twentieth century, taiko evolved into ensembles made up solely of drums, a style known as cumi-daiko.  This style has become a celebrated symbol of cultural heritage for the Japanese American community.

Cumi-daiko Thunder


The Museum of Contemporary Art first presented Taiko Legacy in 1998, when Aoki was invited to experiment by combining his Asian jazz bass performance with a visual artist and taiko drummer; resulting in a groundbreaking collage of Japanese and Korean performing arts. The programs have expanded since 1998 and now include; improvisational jazz with traditional pan-Asian music and dance. The Taiko Legacy 8 performances are energetic and colorful with many musicians and drummers on stage performing in traditional attire.

Tsukasa Taiko Drummer


Also featured in the program, were the improvisational jazz tenor saxophonist Edward Wilkerson and percussionist Coco Elysses-Hevia of Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. Three generations of artists from Chicago, San Francisco, and Tokyo performed including Yoko Kimura featured on koto (a large stationary stringed instrument) beautifully singing a song based on a poem about a cherry blossom tree with the traditional pentatonic scale of much of Asian music.   Yasushi Shimazaki performed as the chindonya, the traditional Japanese street performer colorfully costumed and laden with a variety of percussive musical instruments to both entertain and traditionally to advertise.  He served as the glue between many of the more active drumming performances singing, joking, and talking with the audience as drummers changed outfits and as a break from the intensity of the drumming.  Tatsu Aoki and Amy Homma co-direct the taiko drumming that grounds Taiko Legacy 8 in an innovative cross-pollination of cultures and artistic forms.

Tsukasa Taiko Drumming Group


This was an exciting, exhilarating, and culturally fascinating performance.  Look for this group performing in various venues throughout Chicago and again at the Museum of Contimporary Art next year.  The Japanese American Service Committee is located at 4427 N. Clark St. in Chicago.  Their telephone number is 773-275-0097.




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