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TAIKOPROJECT in Collaboration with Mexican Folk/Rockers

TAIKOPROJECT is at it again. The fast-paced, world-class LA taiko group has recently finished a nationwide tour. And now, fresh off the April release of their CD, Our Many Sides, they are busy with a new project. On September 18-19, 2015, they will perform an integrated concert with the Chicano rock band Quetzal at 8 p.m. at the Tateuchi Democracy Forum at the National Center for the Preservation of Democracy (across the courtyard from the main Japanese American National Museum building).

This will be TAIKOPROJECT’s second collaboration with the Grammy-winning Quetzal. The two groups first fused Japanese American drumming and Son Jarocho Mexican folk ballads in a smaller concert in 2004. Their unique collaboration garnered international acclaim for TAIKOPROJECT. The upcoming concert is an eagerly anticipated event for many in both the Japanese taiko- and Mexican folk- attuned communities. It represents years of planning and development on the part of the iconic taiko group, and promises to gain them even greater national and international attention.

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Bryan Yamami

When Bryan Yamami co-founded TAIKOPROJECT in 2000, he didn’t foresee the international accolades. He and Masato Baba, TAIKOPROJECT’s co-founder and current artistic director, worked diligently to place the group along its current successful path, as a fixture in the LA Nikkei community. The mission statement of the group has always been twofold: to preserve taiko as a dynamic element of Japanese American culture and heritage, and to incorporate unconventional and innovative concepts in order to expand artistic boundaries. Yamami sees tradition and innovation as concordant themes within taiko. We “chose these two ideas because both are important to us, and also the two are essential for their mutual survival,” he explained in a recent email interview. “Without innovation, traditions become static and lose relevancy. Without tradition, innovation becomes unattached and loses its original meaning.”

Yamami’s parents enrolled him in San Jose youth taiko classes when he was only eight years old. This early training was the inception of his later ascent in the West Coast taiko scene during his undergraduate college years. Yamami became involved with the USC Nikkei Association, and through this group, quickly became reacquainted with Japanese drumming. He began playing with a local group situated near campus, and at the urging of mentor Duane Ebata, he soon established the independent TAIKOPROJECT in 2000.

Yamami and his fellow drummers held the conviction that taiko is a fundamentally Japanese American art form. “Within our group,” Yamami says, we “embody an aesthetic and protocol which takes some influences from the formality and discipline of Japanese culture, but also from the American attitude towards unconventionality and creativity.” Throughout the group’s short history, its members have embodied this hybridized artistry of Nikkei heritage and American creativity in its diverse performances.

They first caught the world’s eye as the first American group to win the Tokyo International Taiko Contest in 2005. This success was followed by an appearance in a Mitsubishi Eclipse commercial that same year, and at the 2012 National Cherry Blossom Parade in Washington, DC. Yamami and Baba interspersed these Japan-related activities with a host of other innovative projects. TAIKOPROJECT performed at the 2009 Academy Awards and 2011 Grammy Awards, and appeared on Conan and Jimmy Kimmel Live. They have also recorded with such artists as Stevie Wonder, Alicia Keys, Sean Paul, and Diplo. The directors’ joint experience in leadership and original music composition grew along with this expanding resume and repertoire.

The group now seeks to engage audiences with a variety of new styles and instruments. Yamami and Baba continue to be inspired by North American and Japanese taiko greats, such as KODO, Sukeroku Taiko, San Francisco Taiko Dojo, Kinnara Taiko, and Kenny Endo. However, they have also introduced high production theatrical elements inspired by Cirque du Soleil and Stomp. They have begun to add non-traditional instruments to their pieces, including marimba, udu, high-hat, and clarinet. Audiences have responded enthusiastically to these unexpected musical influences.

TAIKOPROJECT has gained the attention of major artists and audiences around the world over the last 15 years. Its directors draw on their Nikkei heritage to forge a unique artistic voice—one which honors the Japanese American community, and represents a fresh perspective on traditional sounds. Their music is flavored with Japanese inspiration and freewheeling Nikkei originality.

The upcoming concert with Quetzal will be no exception to their history of exceptional work. After months of rehearsals, Yamami describes the resulting musical blend of Mexican folk/rock and Nikkei drums as “quintessentially LA.” Come and discover TAIKOPROJECT for yourself!

See where the Japanese American musical community is headed in the 21st century, in the Tateuchi Democracy Forum on September 18 and 19, 2015, at 8pm.

To purchase tickets >>

*Limited number of discounted tickets available for JANM members; contact memberevents@janm.org or 213.830.5646 to reserve yours.

 

© 2015 Kimiko Medlock

Bryan Yamami community Los Angeles music nikkei performers Quetzal son jarocho taiko TAIKOPROJECT