Meet female drummers who keep the Japanese art of taiko strong

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A year later, she founded Sacramento Taiko Dan to keep pace with Japanese culture and community in her hometown. “I realized that it was really accessible and very popular and people could find a sense of joy, fulfillment and empowerment in it,” says Tamaibuchi. “One of the best things about it is that it doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from… You can play taiko.”

Just off I-80 in Sacramento’s Arden Arcade industrial area, sandwiched between a shipping container facility and body shops, Sacramento Taiko Dan has occupied nondescript warehouse space for nearly 20 years. . At one end of the dojo, about 50 drums of various sizes are ready for those wishing to learn how to play. This space is also currently home to the largest traditionally made odaiko in North America, on loan to Tamaibuchi from 413-year-old Japanese maker Asano Taiko.

Tiffany Tamaibuchi plays the largest traditionally made odaiko in North America. (Elie M. Khadra)

Tamaibuchi pays homage to the 780-pound drum with a light bow before starting to play, planting his feet firmly and taking a grounded inhale. She strikes her bachi, or drumsticks, powerfully against the drumhead, pausing with her arms in the air to give space to the reverberation before striking again – a fascinating duet of decisive movement and resounding sound .

“It’s more of a feeling than a thought,” says Tamaibuchi. “I attain this state of no-mind. In Buddhism it’s called mushin, a state of emptiness of mind, so that I’m not just reacting to what’s happening, but being open and connected in some way.

Today, Vice Principal Sascha Molina leads Sacramento Taiko Dan’s educational component, teaching four classes a week for students ages “five to 89,” Molina says. After coming across a YouTube video of Kodo, another professional taiko group from Japan, “I saw it and was immediately drawn to it and thought, ‘Oh man, I want to do this'” , says Molina.

Coached by Tamaibuchi since 2006, Molina enjoyed playing with the band her first two years, but says she had to “get over not being Japanese” when Tamaibuchi asked her if she wanted to teach.

“I was a little apprehensive, because I’m African American and it’s a Japanese cultural art,” says Molina. “But when I started teaching, I realized that I really had a voice. Because I wasn’t a Japanese-American teaching taiko, I could be a role model – that you could learn an art from a culture that isn’t yours and show respect to it.

His colleague Nicole Stansbury was introduced to taiko during a special collaborative performance between dancers and taiko players in 2005 at the ORTS Theater for Dance in Tucson, Arizona. “I was a tap dancer all through elementary and high school – taiko mixed with my love of rhythm and dance.” In 2014, Stansbury officially began learning taiko from Tamaibuchi as a deshi, or apprentice, traveling to Sacramento from Tucson for lessons.

Three female taiko drummers raise their right hands while holding a drumstick.
Left to right: Nicole Stansbury, Tiffany Tamaribuchi and Sascha Molina play taiko drums at William Land Regional Park in Sacramento, California. (Elie M. Khadra)

Now Stansbury has mastered Tamaribuchi’s other passion, the ondeko, or “taiko demon.” It is a festival tradition originating from the island of Sado, Japan. The dancers wear oni, or demon masks, and visit homes and businesses to extract all bad energy, banish it through taiko rhythms, and invite good luck and prosperity.

“We really work to cultivate these relationships with Japanese artists and practice things like ondeko as true to origins and traditions as possible,” says Tamaribuchi, who before the pandemic traveled to Sado Island every spring. to participate in the Ondeko festival. .

The lunge, squat, leap, and drum of this grounded dance form is done while wearing a hand-carved mask with a 45-pound horsehair wig. “I was always told that I danced too much like a boy, that I jumped too much, that I was too tough,” says Stansbury. “[With ondeko,] I can be who I naturally am as a dancer. Tamaribuchi, Molina and Stansbury are all members of Kasuga Onigumi on Sado Island, which is one of the first ondeko groups to allow women to dance.

Two people on the left hold Japanese lanterns, while the woman on the right plays the taiko drum, with another woman in the center posing while wearing a hand-carved mask.
Left to right: Ezrah Molina, Claire Yee, Nicole Stansbury and Sascha Molina perform an ondeko or “taiko demon” in front of one of the last remaining businesses in Japantown in Sacramento, CA. (Elie M. Khadra)

Just before the pandemic, women in taiko celebrated an exciting milestone. In February 2020, Tamaribuchi and Jennifer Weir of TaikoArts MidWest hosted a program called “HERBeat,” bringing together women from North American and Japanese taiko groups for the first time for a two-week cultural exchange culminating in an inspiring performance. A documentary showcasing their efforts, find your rhythmis currently in production.

“I feel so lucky to be part of this legacy of awesome female taiko players that Tiffany has kind of collected and brought together in order to do magic,” Molina said. “Taiko is my joy.”

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