When Grand Master Seiichi Tanaka founded the San Francisco Taiko Dojo in 1968, he brought to American shores an art form more than 4,000 years old. Tanaka now has a devoted following that studies this ancient style of Japanese drumming three nights a week, 52 weeks a year. In the episode, “Percussion,” Spark checks in on Tanaka’s world-renowned studio as his students prepare for the 2004 International Taiko Festival held at UC Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall.
In ancient Japan, taiko was considered a sacred representation of the voice of Buddha. It was employed in a variety of rituals, including those used to drive away evil spirits from crops, send samurai into battle and define the boundaries of a village. Its thunderous pounding was also believed to incite the clouds to begin to rain.
While taiko finds its roots in these folk traditions, the modern version has evolved into a powerful, sophisticated synthesis of rhythm, harmony and choreography. Tanaka, who has performed with such jazz luminaries as Art Blakey, Max Roach and Tito Puente, has crafted his own style of taiko, which combines traditional songs with Western jazz and Latin rhythms.
At the International Taiko Festival, the San Francisco Taiko Dojo performs a series of works, including Tanaka’s most famous composition, “Tsunami” — a roaring, energetic piece that makes ample use of taiko’s most difficult instrument, the large okedo drum.
The San Francisco Taiko Dojo is composed of approximately 200 students, encompassing a range of ages, ethnicities and skill levels. The first and oldest taiko studio in America, the San Francisco Taiko Dojo enjoys worldwide recognition. In addition, the music of Grand Master Tanaka and San Francisco Taiko Dojo has been featured in major motion picture movies — including “The Right Stuff,” “Rising Sun,” “Return of the Jedi” and “Apocalypse Now.”