The Mount Allison Performing Arts Series hosts a performance of thunderous proportions Tuesday night when it welcomes the Winnipeg-based taiko drum ensemble Fubuki Daiko (translated, their group name means “Blizzard Drums”).
Their live show encompasses martial arts, choreography, athleticism, meditation and, of course, a healthy dose of rhythm.
Although the origins of taiko drums date back more than 1,000 years, the modern style of taiko drumming originated in post-Second World War Japan. It has experienced phenomenal growth over the last 50 years; it is estimated that there are more than 8,000 taiko groups in Japan.
While almost any drummer will tell you that their musical instrument is one of the most physical of all instruments, taiko drumming takes that to a whole different level. As opposed to the “traditional” drummer who uses his arms and feet to play, taiko drumming is a full-body experience.
The founding members of Fubuki Daiko, Hiroshi Koshiyama and Naomi Guilbert, have more than 20 years of taiko experience under their belts. This includes four years of apprenticeship under Grandmaster Seiichi Tanaka, generally known as the father of North American taiko.
Their music has taken them across Canada and the United States and as far away as Poland and Mexico. They have played festivals, concert halls and schools, collaborating with a wide array of groups including choirs, ballet companies and jazz groups.
“Naomi and I met after we trained together in San Francisco,” Hiroshi says. “We ended up wanting to be together and so I moved to Winnipeg, launching the group in 1995.”
Fubuki Taiko is rounded out by Giselle Mak and Bruce Robertson. Bruce was a part of the same San Francisco dojo that brought Naomi and Hiroshi together. And though he initially travelled between California and Winnipeg, he ended up relocating to Canada to join the group on a full-time basis.
Giselle first met the group after seeing them perform at a Winnipeg Fringe Festival about 15 years ago. She joined the group as a student three years later and has been actively playing with the group for the last eight years.
The group maintains a schedule of 80 to 100 shows each year. A big component of their careers is the educational aspect that goes along with taiko drumming. Hiroshi estimates that the group spends upwards of 15 weeks annually travelling through Manitoba’s schools, teaching students about taiko drumming.
“It is so incredibly satisfying to be able to share this knowledge with students,” he says. “It is particularly satisfying to see how well kids who might be troubled take to the drumming. Teachers are constantly amazed at the way a student who typically has trouble ends up thriving in this kind of learning.
“And because the way we teach taiko is based upon tradition, learning is completely regimented and so a child in the autism and Asperger’s spectrum responds especially well. The way we explain the technique matches the way that their minds work.”
Outside of the school system, Hiroshi says that the group teaches classes twice a week to students who range from 14 to 65 years in age. Because there is no written music for the students to learn, Hiroshi notes that it takes a lot of discipline to become an effective taiko drummer.
“It is a lot of practise and training but our student group actually performs fairly regularly,” he says. “We are always keeping an eye on students that show an inclination to performing as much as possible.”
Hiroshi says that one of the best perks of performing as a part of Fubuki Daiko is the wide array of shows that they are able to perform. He says that the group is fortunate to be received so well whether they are performing for pre-school children, a punk festival or with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra.
“The primitive nature of what we do allows the show to be almost universally appreciated wherever we go. But like the show that we will be performing in Sackville, there is a lot of variety to the program with respect to the intensity of the pieces we play.
“The show isn’t just two hours of relentlessly loud drumming,” he laughs. “We also include a lot of soft, melodic interludes as well as full pieces throughout the show.”
Fubuki Daiko has released two albums to date: their self-titled debut (2000) won the group the Prairie Music Award for Outstanding Instrumental Recording. Four years later, the group released Zanshindo.
Although the group enjoys the process of recording music, making and manufacturing records can be a time-consuming and expensive project.
“The combination of managing the time and finances associated with getting a record completed can seem quite daunting at times,” Hiroshi says. “It can be a fun venture too of course but the live show really provides the best representation of what we do. Having the opportunity to see the visual aspects associated with the show provides the audience with a much richer experience.”
What: Fubuki Daiko
When: Tuesday, Feb. 4, 8 p.m.
Where: Brunton Auditorium, 134 Main St., Sackville
Tickets: Single event tickets are $28 for adults, $15 for students. To order tickets, call (506) 364-2662 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Free youth tickets (for ages 4-18) are available as part of the “Bring a Child Free” program.