Elena Kusaka, program coordinator for the Terrace Women’s Resource Centre Society, learns how to drum at a workshop led by Sawagi Taiko members on April 13. (Natalia Balcerzak/Photo)

Canada’s first all-women Taiko group leads drumming workshop in Terrace

Sawagi Taiko was founded during the women’s movement

Canada’s first all-women taiko group, Sawagi Taiko, visited Terrace to lead a drumming workshop on April 13.

Hosted by Terrace Women’s Resource Centre at the Health Unit, the full day workshop had members of the drumming group teach a circle of people how to drum.

“It’s very energizing, a lot of people will say that it felt so good to just hit it,” says Linda Uyehara Hoffman, one of the founders and drummers of Sawagi Taiko. “Taiko means big drum and it makes a lot of noise.”

Taiko is an art form from Japan that is based on drumming on giant tree bark drums covered in cowhide. Traditionally, only men were allowed to play Taiko.

It made its way overseas to many Japanese-Canadians communities and a mixed-gender drumming group, Katari Taiko, was formed in Vancouver in 1979.

As the women’s movement begun in North America, a lot more females took up the drumming with Katari Taiko. The Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival took notice and requested the women in the group to play at their event in 1989.

Recognizing the positive feedback and impact they had as an all-women group, they then separated and created Sawagi Taiko in 1990, performing across the continent to empower others supportive of the movement.

“When Taiko came to North America, women totally embraced it… this was an opportunity to show the strength of women and also specifically Asian women,” says Hoffman. “There were certain stereotypes around Japanese women being like a “butterfly” who were so submissive… we wanted to show that there was something, that there were women that were strong, that were powerful who made a lot of noise.”

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The Taiko drum requires the drummer to use their entire body. There’s a certain way one must stand, move and pound to make its distinguished bellowing sounds.

“There’s a whole discipline, there’s a form you have to follow, there’s a way you hit the drum, there’s a relationship between you and the drum,” Hoffman says.

When it comes to the Taiko drum, it’s more than just an instrument.

“In Japan, the body of the drum is made from a tree trunk so a tree has to be cut down in order to make that… a cow has to die in order to have the skin and so you have a relationship,” says Hoffman. You honour the tree, you honour the cow. These sacrifices have been made in order for you to make music.”

In Canada, it’s difficult to find tree trunks fitting for a Taiko drum so barrels are often used instead. The tacks that keep that cowhide in place can only be bought in Japan as any substitute is unable to take the beating of the drums.

As they can be expensive to purchase for classroom use, the workshop made their own Taiko-inspired drums using tires, plastic covering and duct tape — which echoed a similar sound of its originator.

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The Taiko drumming workshop was partially sponsored by the Terrace Women’s Resource Centre Society (TWRCS) and through a grant given by the National Association of Japanese Canadians (NAJC) to help preserve and teach others about Japanese culture.

Elena Kusaka, program coordinator for TWRCS, was the key person in bringing Sawaki Taiko to Terrace for the first time.

“They’re the first all-women Taiko group in Canada so it was very important for us as a women’s centre to bring [them],” says Kusaka. “They are [also] a multi-cultural group, there’s different east-Asian women as well as Indigenous women… it’s kind of morphed in and been adapted into the Canadian culture in its own way.”

Kusaka adds that she is determined to start up a Taiko drumming group in Terrace and would like to collaborate with other drummers in the area once they’re established. There’s also a lot that the community can get out of it.

“These loud big drums will infect anybody so I wanted to learn how to play them,” she says. “There’s been a couple of studies on Taiko and its benefits… it’s kind of like music therapy but it is very physical, you’re using cardio, you’re using stretches, you’re using breathing and all of that is beneficial to anyone.”

Although this is the first time that Sawagi Taiko has visited Terrace, Kusaka says she hopes it’s not the last.

“I really hope they can come back and even do a performance. If we get our Taiko group started, maybe we can perform with them.”



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