Taiko is a Japanese word that means “big drum.” It is said that in ancient Japan, the size of a village was determined by how far away one could hear the village taiko. Other uses included calling for rain in times of drought, drumming soldiers onto the battlefield and giving thanks to the gods for a bountiful harvest.
Taiko was brought to North America in the sixties by Seiichi Tanaka, who formed the San Francisco Taiko Dojo. Other groups soon followed and there are now many groups spread out across the United States and Canada.
The first Canadian group, Katari Taiko, was formed in 1979, following a performance at the Powell Street Festival by the San Jose Taiko Group. 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.
As the group’s popularity spread, members were 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.
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.