Late last summer, I wrote about the connection between taiko (a form of Japanese drumming) and jazz, and vaguely alluded to the history of taiko in North America and how it was connected to political movements brewing in North America at the time. I’m in the midst of applying for an arts grant right now for taiko, and thought I’d cut & paste a paragraph from it because it reminded me that I never followed up on last summer’s entry about taiko and jazz (and let’s be honest: I’m procrastinating right now!)…
After taiko was brought over to North America by Japanese immigrants in the 1950s/1960s, taiko proliferated across the continent. The awakening Asian American movement was pivotal in the spread of taiko groups in the 1960s and 1970s as many third generation Japanese-Americans/Canadians embraced taiko drumming because they were looking for a means to proudly express their identity (particularly after the history of internment during World War II and its lingering after-effects). The Asian American movement developed with a sense of solidarity between Asian people who believed in social change, and taiko was embraced by other Asians as a way to express pan-Asian solidarity and identity.
Alongside the Asian American movement’s role in the spread of taiko across the continent was the invention of the wine barrel drum. Traditional taiko are made from special hollowed out tree trunks, crafted by master artisans in Japan. Because of this, they also happen to cost a fortune. Some of the first taiko groups in the U.S. began to discover that it was possible to fashion drums out of wine barrels (in abundant supply in California where taiko first took root in North America) for a lot less than it would cost to purchase a “real” taiko drum. This distinctly North American method of making taiko (alongside the Asian American movement) helped give rise to the growing North American taiko movement, suddenly making this art form a lot more accessible.
To this day, the vast majority of taiko groups in North America play on wine barrel taiko, including my group who made our own current set of drums in 2004. Some groups make their own drums, while others purchase them from wine barrel drummaking artisans that honed their craft over the years on our very own soil.