Drummers take the stage getting into position behind or beside massive drums. Solid, carved wood gleams beneath the stage lights, the air thick with anticipation.
A hush falls across the room as a drummer raises her bachi high above her head for a split second before bringing it down against the taut drum skin. The other drummers follow suit and soon the room pulses with the deep reverberations of drumbeat after drumbeat. The beats ebb and flow, filling every corner of the room with ancient rhythms passed down over many generations.
Stately, yet simple, this is taiko.
An Ancient Tradition
“Taiko” refers to both the instruments and the performance, and the tradition of taiko goes back hundreds and hundreds of years in Japan. Although now considered synonymous with Japanese culture, taiko as we know it today likely came to Japan through Korea, China, or India.
Early taiko was thought to have mythological origins, sprouting from a petulant goddess, and it became associated with religious ceremonies at Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. Taiko was also played in villages at local festivals and celebrations.
Historians are not 100% sure about the exact origins of taiko, but one thing that’s certain, is that taiko has become a well-respected art form all around the world.
Local Taiko, International Origins
One of the oldest drum makers in Japan, Asano Taiko, was founded in 1609 in the Ishikawa Prefecture. For over 400 years they’ve used time-honored techniques to handcraft the best drums in Japan.
But they don’t just manufacture the drums; Asano Taiko promotes and preserves taiko culture, too. They established a museum that houses percussion instruments from around the world, created a practice hall for events and performances, hold classes, and produce a newsletter all about taiko.
Now, over 400 years later, Asano Taiko is still owned and operated by the Asano family. Five years ago Katsuji Asano brought Asano Taiko to the United States, bringing with him the love of taiko.
In that short time, Asano Taiko US has become a fixture of the Torrance community. Not only do they offer classes in taiko at the Los Angeles Taiko Institute (and currently boast over 300 students), they are also home to UnitOne, a taiko group that performs at local festivals.
TOCA Backstage: An interview with Yuta Kato from the Los Angeles Taiko Institute
End of Year Recital
This performance of UnitOne and LATI is the year-end recital for the students who have been spending time learning the art of taiko. The show will be interspersed with explanations about the roots of taiko, and today’s context.
While there may be many taiko concerts and groups, the audience at the UnitOne/LATI taiko performances can expect to hear, and feel, what real taiko is supposed to sound like.
While other groups might use cheaper wine barrel drums for shows, UnitOne and LATI have the advantage of playing with handcrafted Asano drums. Plus, both UnitOne and LATI take a lot of pride in in focusing on getting the best sound quality possible out of the drums.
Tickets Still Available, But Going Fast!
Come down to the Armstrong Theatre to experience the art of taiko for yourself. And should you find yourself inspired to learn this ancient art form, you can try a class at LATI, where you’ll find lessons for all ages and levels.