Taiko Band Represents in Las Vegas

Pons Maar Maze Daiko, Alameda’s resident taiko band.

Alameda’s own Maze Daiko ensemble performed at the 2015 Taiko Jam, the highlight concert of the North American Taiko Conference, on June 13. Held this year at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, the conference draws hundreds of taiko players from around the world and virtually all North American taiko community leaders annually, according to conference promoters.

Taiko is the Japanese word for drum, and taiko music refers to the art of Japanese drum performances. Maze Daiko, named after derivations of the Japanese words for mix and drum, combines traditional taiko drum sounds with non-traditional instruments such as marimbas and violins. The group adds non-traditional beats, including Afro-Cuban and Middle Eastern sounds to the mix. Janet Koike, Kathryn Cabunoc, Tina Blaine aka Bean, Carolyn West, and Jeannie Mckenzie comprise the ensemble.

Playing at the Taiko Jam represented the culmination of many years of performances at other venues for Maze Daiko.

"This is a huge honor, a pinnacle moment of any [taiko] group," said West, one of the ensemble’s instrumentalists. In years past the ensemble played the Taiko Ten, a free, outdoor warm-up show preceding the Taiko Jam. This year, the ensemble played the 1,800-seat Artemis W. Ham Concert Hall for aficionados to see "world-class" performers.

The ensemble held its own with the world’s finest. "The audience was on their feet; they truly enjoyed it," West said. After the show, she overheard an audience member ask, "Can you believe that was only five people ... all that music and only five people?"

Maze Daiko’s set was a compilation of several pieces connected with the motif of an old-fashioned Japanese steam train ride. With songs written and choreographed by Koike and Cabunoc, the train stops at a seashore, a village, and a relocation camp, and music evoking each place is played.

Mallets pleasantly striking the wooden bars of marimbas come to symbolize progression along the train’s journey, and small, medium and large elevated drums bring forth the joys of the marketplace and the emotion of internment. In addition, group members added to the performance’s artistry with precise movements striking drums and rearrangements of instruments around the stage throughout the show.

Maze Daiko held invitation-only shows leading up to the Taiko Jam at Alameda’s cultural center, Rhythmix Cultural Works. The ensemble regularly practices and performs at Rhythmix.

In addition to performing with Maze Daiko, Koike founded and helps run Rhythmix Cultural Works with Blaine and West, both Alameda residents. Since 2007 Rhythmix has aimed to bring people of all ages together for high quality arts experiences in music, dance, theater, exhibits, and art education.

If you weren’t able to see the ensemble in Las Vegas, you can experience a Maze Daiko performance on Saturday, Aug. 22, at the Wine, Women, and Song event at Rhythmix. For more details and tickets, see http://rhythmix.org.

Chris Ringewald is an Alameda Sun intern. He can be reached at editor@alamedasun.com.