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TaikoProject Drums Up an Entertaining Beat

Cross-cultural phenomenon to give The Granada an opportunity for (re)Generation

The 2008-2009 season of The Granada’s enTrance series of performances concludes with the TaikoProject performing its first feature-length creation, (re)Generation, at 8 p.m. Friday.

The TaikoProject has been such a smash success since it was founded, in 2000 — playing to packed houses all over America and all over the world; collaborating with such pop culture luminaries as klezmer clarinetist Leo Chelyapov, Vietnamese pop singer Bao Han, Chicano rock band Quetzal and European DJ Tiesto — that it is probably not necessary to explain who they are and what all the excitement about. But a few words of introduction might not be out of place.

The word “taiko,” for instance, is Japanese and it means “drum” — more specifically, “great drum” or “wide drum” — and it describes not only several different sizes and models of Japanese percussion instrument but also cultural events, ceremonies and rituals built around the playing of a taiko; more often, multiple drums. In a similar fashion, the word “flamenco,” which means “flamingo,” describes not only the specific dance attitude in which the dancer mimics the stance of a flamingo, but the entire context — music, choreography, costumes, etc. — in which the attitude is struck. However recently taiko has become a commercially viable public entertainment, it springs from an ancient Japanese tradition. Americans of Japanese descent began to develop a native American version of taiko as a means of connecting to their Japanese roots while clarifying their own identity within the vast and variegated American culture. Fairly soon, an inherent genius for showmanship caused the excitement generated by some of these performances to register strongly on our cultural radar screens.

The TaikoProject, one such self-formed performance group, has achieved superstardom. The group’s mission statement describes them as “an ensemble of premiere taiko drummers dedicated to promoting and advancing the American art of taiko. Through public performances, education, and outreach activities, TaikoProject is committed to preserving taiko as a dynamic element of Japanese American culture and heritage. In addition to maintaining taiko as a community-based tradition, TaikoProject also incorporates unconventional and innovative concepts to expand artistic boundaries. Through these values, TaikoProject seeks not only to entertain audiences, but also to inform them about the history and integrity of taiko as an evolving art form.”

(Re)Generation, which TaikoProject developed in 2003 and took on the road to immense acclaim, is its first extended creative piece. It is, in effect, an ethnic spectacular, a kind of Asian Riverdance, based on a drum, rather than a fiddle, and even more viscerally and intoxicatingly exciting because of it. Once the curtain rises and the first beat sounds, one is mesmerized where one sits.

Click here to order tickets to (Re)Generation online or call The Granada box office at 805.899.2222.

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor.

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