Taiko in Vancouver

Inspired by a performance by the San Jose Taiko Group at the 1979 Powell Street Festival, members of Vancouver’s Asian community came together to form their own taiko group as a means of exploring and celebrating their heritage through the Japanese drum. With the formation of Katari Taiko in the fall of 1979, Canada’s first taiko group was born.

Using a taiko borrowed from the Steveston Kendo Club and beating on spare tires with sawed-off broom handles, members began learning the rudiments of the art form. Workshops with Sensei Seichii Tanaka of the San Francisco Taiko Dojo and Kenny Endo soon followed, as did a trip to Japan to learn from established groups such as KODO, Oedo Sukeroku and Osuwa Daiko. Over time, using a collective model with rotating leadership, Katari Taiko came to represent the emergence of a distinctive Asian Canadian voice.

The group gave its first public performance in Faro, Yukon and was soon performing at events throughout the lower mainland and across Canada. As word spread, the group was asked to give workshops in Japanese Canadian communities across Canada. These workshops led to the formation of groups in cities like Winnipeg, Edmonton and Toronto.

Katari Taiko at the Vancouver Folk Music Festival, circa 1983. Photo by Tamio Wakayama.

In time, as members came and went, Katari Taiko gave rise to a number of splinter groups in the lower mainland. Present-day ensembles Uzume Taiko, Chibi Taiko, Sawagi Taiko, LOUD and Sansho Daiko can trace their lineage directly back to the early days of Katari Taiko.

A new generation of taiko players is starting to assert itself as the children of some of the original players, who have played the drums since they were young, are coming into their own. As well, newer groups like Yuikai Ryukyu Taiko–an ensemble with roots in Vancouver’s Okinawan community–are beginning to emerge, injecting a new energy and new ideas into the local taiko scene.

Today, Vancouver’s many taiko groups are part of a burgeoning world music scene on the west coast. Connections to other taiko groups and players from around the world are maintained through participation in the North American Taiko Conference–held every two years in Los Angeles–and the Regional Taiko Gatherings, held alternating years in either Seattle or Vancouver.

The Vancouver Taiko Society was formed following the 2002 Regional Taiko Gathering, held in North Vancouver, with representatives from several of the city’s taiko groups making up the board of directors. The society organized the Regional Taiko Gathering in 2008, also held in North Vancouver.