Survey Conducted: Sat, 2008-11-15
Creator: Soh Daiko
History: Soh Daiko was founded in 1979 as the first taiko group on the East Coast. Originally formed by members of the New York Buddhist Church, the group now consists of members from diverse backgrounds and professions. Members receive instruction on drum building, basic taiko skills and philosophy from senior members and visiting expert drummers. The group currently operates as a collective in which decisions are made by consensus; however, the group structure allows for elected officers who serve in the capacities of Chairperson, Treasurer, Secretary, Practice Committee, and Practice Leaders.
Taiko has deep roots in Japanese culture—in its ancient agricultural rites, in the music of Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples, and in its folk art traditions—but in North America, it is a young movement. It was first introduced in 1968 by drum master Seiichi Tanaka when he immigrated to San Francisco from Japan. Taiko groups, including Soh Daiko, have since sprung up and flourished under his influence. In addition to Tanaka’s influence, Ron Miyamura of the Midwest Buddhist Taiko (Chicago), Reverend Masao Kodani of Kinnara Taiko (Los Angeles), Russell Baba (Mount Shasta), Kodo (Sado Island, Japan), were instrumental in guiding and developing the formation of Soh Daiko.
Currently, there are over a hundred taiko groups in the United States. Soh Daiko’s varied repertoire includes traditional, adapted, and original pieces composed by Soh Daiko members. In addition to the traditional drums of varying sizes, the group also incorporates fue (bamboo flute), atarigane (brass bells), horagai (conch shells), dora (gong), African shekere, and Tahitian toere (wooden slit drum). The result is their own unique sound that, while preserving an ancient tradition, also blends energetic sounds, movement, and rhythm to produce an art form uniquely Asian American.
Founded at a time when Japanese Americans and Asian women were stereotyped as “quiet” and represented by the tea ceremony and flower arrangement, taiko offered a striking and powerful rebuff. The group’s members come from a variety of ethnic backgrounds, and membership is open to everyone regardless of ethnicity or religion.
Soh Daiko has performed at many prestigious venues, including Carnegie Hall, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, the Japan Society, Jacob’s Pillow, and the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. It has performed at festivals including the Asian Pacific American Heritage Week Festival (New York, NY), the Black Ships Festival (Newport, RI) and Sakura Matsuri (Cherry Blossom Festival) at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and at benefit concerts for the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Asian Women United, and the Asian American Federation. The group has also appeared on several television shows, including Reading Rainbow (1987), Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? (1992), Sesame Street (1994), The Food Network (2001), MTV (2007) and with Kanye West on the Late Show with David Letterman (2008). It has received favorable reviews by such publications as the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, and Dance Magazine. In 1993, Lyrichord Discs released Soh Daiko’s self-titled debut recording.
Sources: “Soh Daiko – History.” Soh Daiko. Accessed February 4, 2015. http://www.sohdaiko.org/history.html.
“Soh Daiko, the Fine Art of Japanese Drumming.” New York Times. 2 May 1986.
Martin, Douglas. “Banging the Drum Not So Slowly” New York Times. 22 October 1995.
Summary: The collection contains administrative records, including minutes and bylaws; grant applications; clippings; subject files on the history of Taiko and Soh Daiko; financial information, including fundraising and tax-exempt status filings; and performance programs and flyers. Also included are cassette and video tapes (mostly VHS) which document Soh Daiko performances and rehearsals, as well as other Taiko groups and performers. Two 16 mm films titled “The Demon Drum” and “The Sound of Japanese Drums” are also included. The collection also contains a substantial number of photographs, including both publicity and performance shots. Ten vinyl LP records, which appear to be Japanese imports, are also included in the collection, as are 5 framed photos and posters from Soh Daiko events.
Total Size: 21 linear feet and 15 boxes
APA-related Size: 21 linear feet and 15 boxes
Languages of materials: English and Japanese
Location: In transfer
Bibliographic Control: none
Conditions Governing Access: Currently inaccessible to the public.
Preservation Note: Photographs are at risk due to improper housing. Film materials appear to be in stable condition.