the beat of an ancient drum in today's media
I stumbled upon this video today while putting the finishing touches on the various pages on the Taiko Connection website. I had been doing a bit of research on the many types of genres that taiko can appear in, noticing that I had a dearth of articles regarding taiko and the category of world music. It is here when I stumbled on Wynn Yamami's lecture for the Asian American / Asian Research Institute (AAARI) regarding the establishment of taiko within North American, its development, and the many conventions that taiko as a whole have encountered since the inception of North American taiko. 

Yamami's lecture is very powerful and informative though he does cover a vast amount of material in the span of ninety minutes. I would like to touch upon a few points that Yamami has brought up and discuss them adding in my own opinion focusing particularly on ownership. 


The largest incident of ownership in regards to the taiko community is the performance of the Oedo Sukeroku Taiko piece "Yodan-Uchi" by Kishin Daiko with the misdemeanor of improper citation of credit to the original performers and composers of the piece. Yamami provides details about the legal measures Oedo Sukeroku Taiko had taken in order for groups to use their repertoire or equipment, also briefly touching upon the community-based status of the many kumidaiko groups in North America. In an article for the San Diego Taiwanese Cultural Association, Diana Wu, founder of Naruwan Taiko - a San Diego community taiko group, addresses many of the similar topics of the history, development, origins, and new expeditions of taiko; however, at the heart of her article, Wu details the experiences of the beginning of Naruwan Taiko itself and the joy the community members expressed while performing taiko in a community setting. 

Now what is this concept of community? It has been a constant discussion over the many generations of taiko to create a taiko community, lending tribute to Seiichi Tanaka-sensei's vision of taiko in the United States is to see taiko within the dictionary. A vision where taiko is known throughout the United States, and to achieve that, a communal approach to taiko must be taken. With the advent of social media, it has become even easier to facilitate conversation between two groups across the country, and coordinate large events that encapsulates the entire taiko community such as the Intercollegiate Taiko Invitational and the North American Taiko Conference (NATC). These events promote the community of taiko players as a whole, sharing their passion and love for taiko through workshops, performances, master classes, discussion panels, and socialization. To my knowledge, there are no taiko competitions within the United States but in its stead are these communal gatherings, showing the strength and unity the North American taiko community has.

The goals of a community group are to spread the love of taiko and increase awareness within the community. Though they are performers, taiko to the many members is a very passionate hobby that is a complement to the "day jobs" of the members. With limited resources and conflicts in time schedules, it can often be very difficult to rely on members to compose new repertoire and techniques; thus, community groups initially start out with open source pieces that are deemed as 'traditional' and have been taught down by renowned masters such as Seiichi Tanaka.

Taiko ownership is a very unique topic. As Yamami related with Oedo Sukeroku Taiko's issue regarding their piece and their innovative naname slant/style equipment. There has been a very large debate of copyright and ownership in regards to the many pieces in taiko groups as well as counts of plagiarism due to songs sounding and looking very similar to one another. In order to combat this, many professional taiko players such as Kris Bergstrom have adopted a 'copyleft' mentality publishing their work and music under an open source environment. Kris Bergstrom's views on copyleft policy can be found here.

Omiyage, meaning 'gift' in Japanese is an open source piece for the taiko community composed by Shoji Kameda in 2004.

Performed by TAIKOPROJECT.
Kris brings up many interesting points, and coming from a music major perspective who once had aspirations of working in the music industry, I have learned many of the conventions and standards that the music industry has on the dissemination of music and its classifications. Thanks to the proliferation of online sharing sites and downloading, the music industry has lost a large portion of their sales, and they have attempted to ban this wave of technology but also use the technology of music identification software to collect royalties and payments. This system of music identification can be very detrimental to many artists especially those who are playing live music in local venues for the act of playing music rather than profit. 

This has the ability to prove fatal for many kumidaiko groups, for one label or group could license an "open source" song and put an end to performances of a certain song. Now, this is highly unlikely but the legal red tape that the groups would have to go through to resolve this issue could be disastrous; moreover, this would be a complete disaster for the progress and unity of the taiko community. 

To reflect on Yamami's discussion on Ownership, Oedo Sukeroku Taiko was the first kumidaiko group to tour professionally. Though their goals are to help spread taiko, they are also a group that is for profit. For some, taiko is their life and their job, and infringement on their material can potentially be seen as (most likely not in the case of taiko but more for popular music) taking away revenue from the group. North American taiko is not as invested in the monetization of performances; though that is not to say that every group performs for free, it does cost money to maintain taiko as well as transportation to and from the venue. 

What is more important though is the issue of ownership and the PREVENTION of spreading the joy of learning and innovating taiko. I feel like this is a very important issue that involves all areas of music and not just taiko. But thanks to the very supportive community of taiko, it may be easier to start here than anywhere else. Wynn Yamami has a lot to say in his lecture, I encourage you to listen to the whole thing and maybe form your own opinions on the many forces acting on the taiko community.

    Jordan T.

    Student at the University of California, San Diego studying music and sound design. A taiko enthusiast seeking to explore ways in which the taiko can be used in both kumidaiko and non-traditional forms of music.


    December 2013