Formed in 1979, Soh Daiko is the first taiko group on the East Coast. At the time of its founding, Soh Daiko and taiko (drumming) offered a striking and powerful rebuff to the notion that Japanese women were “quiet.” Taiko has deep roots in Japan but is relatively new to North America. It was first introduced in San Francisco in 1968 by drum master Seiichi Tanaka and has since proliferated to more than a hundred groups across the United States.
Originally composed of members of the New York Buddhist Church, Soh Daiko members now hail from a variety of ethnic backgrounds and religious traditions. They receive instruction on drum building, basic taiko skills and philosophy from senior members and visiting expert drummers, and learn to play a varied repertoire that includes traditional, adapted, and original pieces composed by members.
In addition to the traditional drums of varying sizes, Soh Daiko 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.
They have performed at many prestigious venues, including Carnegie Hall, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, the Japan Society, and the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. They have also received much acclaim, appearing on several television shows, performing at various festivals and benefit concerts, and receiving favorable reviews by such publications as the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, and Dance Magazine. In 1993, they have even released a self-titled debut recording through Lyrichord Discs. Documenting the group’s history and performances, the collection contains event programs and flyers, videos of performances and rehearsals, photographs, vinyl LP records, meeting minutes, bylaws, grant applications, newsclippings, and subject files on the history of taiko and Soh Daiko.
To learn more about the contents of the Soh Daiko Records, located at the Tamiment Library & Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, view the collection’s finding aid.