Fushu Daiko brings Japanese culture to life in South Florida By Helene Foster
There is so much more than just the percussive drumbeats made by the members of Fushu Daiko, the taiko drum ensemble. There is a preservation of Japanese heritage. And it’s an art form that has been passed down in oral tradition through many generations. Since 1990, Fushu Daiko has been giving South Florida audiences energizing performances that also educate about Japanese culture.
Broward County resident Jennifer Hoffman first fell in love with taiko (Japanese for “big drum”) as a college student in Massachusetts. She had never seen it before, but she said that she was amazed and overwhelmed with the power and beauty conveyed. When she moved to Florida, she was happy to find that there was a similar group that performed at the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens in Delray Beach.
“I didn’t know that taiko existed anywhere outside of Kodo, the group I first saw,” she recalls. “At the museum there was information about adult classes to learn taiko presented by Fushu Daiko.” That was 2006, and with no musical or performance background, she decided to give it a try. She had minored in Japanese language and literature, so this was another way for her to connect with Japanese culture. Now, she performs regularly with the group in addition to serving as its executive director.
“Taiko is different because it is taught very differently from music or drumming,” Hoffman explains. “No musical training is needed as it is a folk art that has been around for thousands of years – in religious observances, agriculture and in festivals - and is passed down only by oral tradition. There is a lot of repetition and there is not one standard notation that someone can take home to practice.”
Each sound that is made corresponds to a word that lets the taiko drummer know how and where to hit the drum and when to pause. Audiences will notice that the performers are also often yelling while drumming. According to Hoffman, this is done for two reasons: one, which is similar to martial arts, is kiai, a “yell” that releases energy and power from the feet and through the body. The yells also encourage fellow drummers.
Fushu Daiko has been captivating audiences since 1990 and will enter its 25th year in 2015. With the help of funding from the Creative Investment Grant (CIP) from the Broward Cultural Division, it will soon present “Florida’s Big Drum: Fushu Daiko’s Story of Japanese Taiko Drumming in South Florida.” The program will take place at several libraries in Broward County as well as at South Florida Taiko Dojo, the home base of Fushu Daiko. These presentations, along with other community and library programs, will continue educating Broward County residents and visitors about the art form and pass along cultural traditions.
For more information and to see where and when Fushu Daiko will perform, visit www.fushudaiko.org.
The Volcano Group perform at Hatsume 2013, Morikami Museum and Gardens’ largest annual event.