Taiko is a broad term for Japanese percussion, but here in the U.S., the word tends to refer to a form of highly physical drumming performance. While largely a musical tradition, the physical demands and precision of taiko ensembles means that the form often finds a second home within the dance community.
The San Francisco Bay Area is home to a vibrant taiko community, which can be traced back to the founding of the nation’s first taiko ensemble, San Francisco Taiko Dojo in 1968. Within this long history, Jiten Daiko is a relative newcomer, started in 2011 by a group of recent graduates from various collegiate ensembles. Members were looking for a way to continue to play taiko post-college and to cultivate the sense of community they found within their taiko experiences. Four current members of Jiten Daiko shared their reflections on being a part of the group.
Who is in Jiten Daiko?
Vivian Pham: A group of movers, musicians, and ambitious humans, born from the dust and risen from the ashes. A group of humans compelled to apply their talents and push their limits. Creative individuals looking to work as a cohesive unit. An ever-evolving project for collaboration and invention.
Jesse Weiner: Right now the group has ten people from various walks of life. Most members began their taiko careers in college, but some have played for the majority of their lives and one began playing with Jiten a year ago.
When did you get involved in taiko?
VP: Just about five years ago today!
JW: I took a taiko class at Oberlin College four years ago and then joined their performing group from there.
Galen Rogers: I started studying taiko when I was eight years old at the San Francisco Taiko Dojo.
Katie Chen: I got involved in taiko four years ago, playing with Emeryville Taiko and then UC Berkeley’s taiko group.
What is it like to be part of Jiten Daiko?
VP: Inspiring, moving, touching, challenging. It has been a joy growing with this group of people who really cares for one another, and wants each other’s ideas to reach fruition. There is no competition — except healthy competition of course.
JW: Jiten Daiko provides a space for creative exploration and technical improvement as well as a strong community of committed musicians, movers and friends. It is the group that keeps me grounded and challenges me to reach farther and think deeper about the kind of performer I want to be. In short it is amazing to be part of Jiten Daiko.
GR: Jiten Daiko is a constant source of inspiration and challenge. On the surface, it’s all about taiko, but the most important things that I’ve learned with this group have been about communication, compromise, the creative process, ambition, patience, endorphins, empowerment, and communication.
KC: It’s great being able to continue playing taiko, post-graduation. It’s nice to have that same sense of community.
What’s a favorite memory/story about performing with the group?
VP: In February, we had a joint performance with Gamelan Sekar Jaya at the Starline Social Club in Oakland. This was a self-produced show at a casual nightclub scene, with a no-English dance party to end the night. It was so empowering to perform premier works and have full control over how we wanted the show to go — no odd gig requests or limitations. Just two amazing performance groups joining forces to give our best show to the audience. And we’re doing it all over again in December!
JW: One of my first performances with Jiten was at the Starline Social Club. The experience as a whole encompasses what Jiten is all about. This self-produced show displayed the hard working, fun loving, eclectic group of people that makes up Jiten Daiko. What made it so “Jiten”? The dedication to the showcasing of each and every member’s incredible talent and voice. Collaborating with another percussion group. Bringing people together to share the love of live, powerful music. Making new connections. Inspiring and being inspired by passionate artists. Encouraging collective, as well as individual artistic expression and exploration. And of course dancing our butts off at the end of the night!
KC: My first performance with Jiten, at the Buddhist Church of San Francisco’s Ginza bazaar.
What is the most rewarding part of your work?
VP: Learning how to love and communicate with every single person in the group. It is rewarding to know that we are developing our understanding of each other in productive, healthy ways.
JW: Connecting and having a blast on stage.
GR: The opportunity to perform with my friends the music that we are committed to. Most of our compositions are conceived by members of the group, composed and rearranged collaboratively, and polished over a long period of time. The resulting repertoire is intimate and full of meaning.
KC: Seeing others grow to love taiko drumming and the culture as much as I have.
What is most interesting about living in the Bay Area?
VP: Summertime fog in the city… and being able to drive across the bridge to sunshine and rainbows suddenly! Very interesting micro-climates going on… Moving up to the city after growing up in Southern California, I certainly miss the sun!
JW: Being part of the drastically fast-changing place and seeing where art comes into the picture.
GR: Canyons and ridges.
KC: Each region of the Bay Area is so diverse and has so much to give. The community members are so welcoming and so willing to share their stories.
Where’s Jiten Daiko based?
VP: SF! We practice at the Buddhist Church of San Francisco.
JW: I would say Bay Area, our practice space is in San Francisco and our gigs are generally in the city, Berkeley, or Oakland areas.
What event(s) will we find you at this fall?
VP: Our next super awesome collaborative performance with Gamelan Sekar Jaya will be on December 15, 2016 at the Starline Social Club in Oakland. Come watch us play and then dance the night away with us!
First dance/music memory?
VP: Probably getting down to some Spice Girls way back in the day.
JW: Watching and rewatching Riverdance and imitating it.
GR: My older sisters used to sing me to sleep: “there is a castle in the sky….” and tape cassettes on family car rides, like Zap Mama’s “Adventures in Afropea”
KC: Tap dance and ballet in kindergarten/ elementary school!
JW: Toni Pierce-Sands, Uri Sands and Kate Weare.
GR: James Graham, the SF-based dancer and choreographer.
Shortlist of inspiring people, books, moments, classes, etc.?
VP: Gaga dance class at the SF Conservatory of Dance! The Little Prince and catching up with someone and realizing that you’ve both grown in the most complementary ways.
JW: bell hooks’ All About Love, Nina Haft, Kenny Endo, Andrea Olsen, The Fifth Sacred Thing, and the Bates Dance Festival
GR: Batsheva Dance Company, Pauline Oliveros, Gaga class with James Graham, when you lose yourself in a moment, when you bring your full self to
a moment, Gamelan Gong Kebyar.
What’s a future goal or dream that you have for Jiten Daiko?
JW: Going on a performance tour.
VP: To tour different parts of the country (or world!) and connect with different taiko groups.
GR: More self-produced shows, more experimental compositions, more engagement with marginalized communities in the Bay Area
KC: To build a larger taiko/music and arts community in the Bay Area.
What advice have you been given that you still hold on to today?
JW: Everything is impermanent. No matter how awful things are, everything is always changing, including ourselves; it could feel completely different tomorrow.
GR: Be like water and rock at the same time.
Vivian Pham has been a member of Jiten Daiko for about a year now! She always pushing to understand movement and sound in different ways, and above all challenging my understanding of how to relate and understand to different people.
Jesse Weiner is excited to continue growing as a taiko player with Jiten Daiko after playing with Oberlin College Taiko for three years. Having studied Environmental Studies and Dance, Jesse remains interested in bringing those two worlds together, connecting the body to the natural world around
us and noticing how we can better be aware of the earth’s cycles and enjoy a slower pace of life.
Galen Rogers grew up in San Francisco and has been studying taiko for 18 years. He also studies capoeira and Gaga, and is a member of Gamelan Sekar Jaya.
Katie Chen is a member of Jiten Daiko, having started playing taiko four years ago with Emeryville Taiko and Cal Raijin Taiko.