Friday | November 24, 2017
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Feel the beat


Tribune-Herald staff writer

If you’re looking to drum up some excitement this weekend, there’s no beating the Big Island Taiko Festival 2013.

Shows are Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. at the University of Hawaii at Hilo Performing Arts Center. Tickets are $10 general, $5 seniors, students and keiki, available at the theater’s box office or online at

Four local taiko groups will perform in the event, which has been held every other year since 2009. They are: Taishoji Taiko; Hui Okinawa Kobudo Taiko; Puna Hongwanji Taiko Club; and Kona Daifuki Taiko.

“We’ve been practicing and developing songs for this festival for over a year already,” said Chad Nakagawa, Taishoji Taiko’s leader. “It’s kind of a big deal. It’s an opportunity for the groups on this island to showcase what we’ve got and to show what taiko can be throughout the islands.”

Troy Sakihara, leader of Hui Okinawa Kobudo Taiko said his group’s style is based on kobudo, an ancient Okinawan martial art similar to karate.

“That’s what makes our style of taiko unique from others,” he said. “There’s a very strong martial arts influence on our style of playing. It’s a mixture of both the kobudo style of drumming and the traditional Japanese style.”

Sakihara, who has been with the group since its beginning 11 years ago, said the appeal of taiko is “something that’s primal.”

“The first thing that an infant hears is the heartbeat of its mother, so it’s something that’s instinctive and borne within us,” he said.

Paul Sakamoto, leader of Puna Hongwanji Taiko Club, said most of the members of his group who’ll perform are students at Keaau High School, where he is a teacher.

“Since the temple where we practice is close to the school, the kids walk over after school and I run over as soon as I can after the bell rings and we make a lot of noise,” he said.

“We train our drummers with a lot of heart and a lot of joy and try to let the audience feel that, as well. Hopefully, that’s what the audience gets out of it.”

Sakamoto has been with the group since its inception a decade ago, and said his drummers will be “pulling out all the stops, since this concert is something that only happens every other year.”

He said he took up taiko as a way to honor his Japanese heritage.

“That’s what got me into it,” Sakamoto said. “What keeps me there now is to provide opportunities for the kids, but also to prove that there’s a lot of positive stuff that goes on in Puna.”

Akemi Iwamoto was a founding member of Kona Daifukuji Taiko in 1989, and has been the group’s leader for 10 years. She said the group started after a San Jose Taiko concert in Kona that her Young Buddhist Association group attended.

“When we went back to a meeting the following week, we told our sensei, who was my previous teacher, ‘Can we do that?’ That’s awesome!’ And he said ‘sure,’ not knowing what he was getting himself into,” she said and laughed.

All agreed that the taiko festival — which happens in odd-numbered years — is the biggest taiko event on the Big Island.

“Other than this, our biggest event is the Kona Coffee Festival, which we do every November,” Iwamoto said. “We’ll be renting a U-Haul to bring all our equipment over and we’ll be caravaning over with all the kids.”

Nakagawa, who has been a taiko drummer for about two decades, said that taiko has exploded in popularity in recent years.

“I think a lot of it stems from YouTube and our way of playing taiko now is a little different,” he said. “Before, it was real traditional. I think taiko now is becoming a lot more mainstream. I think we’re probably going to see even more taiko as years go by. I see taiko on music videos now. I see taiko at least once a month on regular TV. It’s really interesting how popular taiko has become, especially in the past 10 years.”

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