In ancient Japan, priests used drums to banish evil spirits; farmers used drums to bring in the harvest; warriors used drums to give them courage in battle.
Taiko, the Japanese drumming art form, may not serve all those purposes today (although drums are still employed in Shinto ceremonies). But it's by no means dead. In fact, it's thriving. Since the 1950s, when taiko became a contemporary performance form involving drumming, movement and vocalization, the practice has flourished not only in Japan, but also in North America. Among the nearly 200 ensembles in the United States, there's a professional-level group here in Tucson, and another in Minneapolis.
You can see them both perform, along with other drummers and dancers, at the second annual Southern Arizona Taiko Showcase. The extravaganza is being held at 8 p.m., Friday, May 5 at the TCC Leo Rich Theatre, 260 S. Church Ave.
It's being produced by Tucson's Odaiko Sonora, in association with Rhythm & Roots. The local group came together in 2002, and quickly drew a core group of students and a large public following. It's pounded its way to success so quickly that co-founder Karen Falkenstrom quit her day job a few months ago to manage the group full-time. Not only does Odaiko Sonora give the usual sorts of performances and offer classes for casual as well as serious practitioners; it's started conducting team-building workshops for corporations and community groups.
That history of drumming away evil spirits must come in handy in the corporate boardroom.
For the showcase, Odaiko Sonora will be joined by its students, as well as the professionals and students of Phoenix's Fushicho Daiko, a five-member troupe led by founder Esther Vandecar. Also from Tucson comes a taiko ensemble from within the Japanese dance troupe Suzuyuki-Kai.
From Minneapolis come this year's special guests, Mu Daiko, directed by Rick Shiomi. Although Shiomi founded this 12-member professional group as recently as 1997, he's been immersed in taiko since the 1970s, having helped it develop in Vancouver, San Francisco, New York and Toronto. Mu Daiko's performances apparently reveal the group's connection to its parent company, Mu Performing Arts, through their theatricality and allusion to Korean mask dance.
Almost coincidentally, the taiko showcase ties in with Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, otherwise known as May.
Tickets to the showcase cost $17 in advance at Antigone Books, 411 N. Fourth Ave.; CD City, 2890 N. Campbell Ave.; and Enchanted Earthworks, in Plaza Palomino at Swan and Fort Lowell roads. You can also drum up tickets online at www.rhythmandroots.org, or by phone at (800) 594-8499. Tickets are $20 at the door.