By Alex Cooper, special to the Review
Bonnie Soon wasn’t sure about joining Uzume Taiko when she was first invited into the group nearly 30 years ago. A Chinese-Canadian, she was hesitant to become a member of a group that plays traditional Japanese music.
It was only after researching the history of taiko and discovering its Chinese and Indian roots that she became comfortable with taking part.
“That made me more comfortable in knowing I wasn’t appropriating the culture. I was part of it and ancestrally it was all linked,” she said by phone from Vancouver. “As long as I tell people my true heritage and that this is Canada and we are allowed to explore, I adopted the art form as something special.”
Soon is the artistic director of Uzume Taiko, a Vancouver-based performance group that plays with anywhere from two to 17 members. The name of the group comes from Uzume, the Japanese goddess of laughter, and taiko, the Japanese word for drum.
They play a distinctly western Canadian version of taiko, a style of music based in Japanese drumming and martial arts movements. It is heavily rhythmic and melodic, and performances are fluid and active.
“You’re channeling energy from the earth through your legs up to your arms and back. Instead of using your biceps, you’re using your entire body,” said Soon. “Taiko drumming is about playing the space as much as hitting the drum … You carve through space like you would with a sword. You can see the energy radiate beyond our bodies because that’s how we’re playing.”
Revelstoke will be able to experience Uzume Taiko when they come here this week for three days of workshops at the community’s elementary schools, followed by a show at the performing arts centre on Saturday, April 21.
In Revelstoke, Soon will be accompanied by Jason Overy, the groups musical director and a martial artist.
Soon joined Uzume in 1991 after she danced in a joint production with the group. She became the groups artistic director in 1999, a position she’s held since.
“I was dancing as a masked character so he asked me to audition,” said Soon, who was a dancer before joining the group. “Physically I could create form … I had to learn how to become a drummer.”
Overy is a passionate and experienced drummer with a background in martial arts, and both his talents are on display when he performs on stage.
“We also have a healthy love of theatre, and so we combine theatrical elements and movement and drumming to create our work, which is special because it’s a Canadian composition of taiko,” said Soon. “We like to combine our love of all music styles – rock, classical, and jazz – and be creative with the drums because that’s the nature of our group.”
When they visit the schools, Soon and Overy will teach students taiko drumming and give them a chance to try it in order to share the experience of taiko. “It’s really rewarding to hear and watch the result you can get in a very short amount of time,” said Soon.
When they perform for the community on Saturday, they will also talk about the history of their songs in a show that’s designed to entertain everyone from pre-schoolers to their parents. And, given that the group is named after Uzume, the Japanese goddess of laughter, expect a light-hearted show with some humour mixed in.
“Because we’re Uzume, we take her inspiration and we try to affect the audience through making good music that creates happy, joyful people, because that’s our namesake and we always keep that in mind,” said Soon.
Uzume Taiko will take the stage at the Revelstoke Performing Arts Centre on Saturday, Apr. 21, at 3 p.m. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for children, and are available at the Visitor Information Centre or online at revelstokeartscouncil.com/uzume-taiko.