I sat down with Bryan Yamami, of TAIKOPROJECT, in Quetzal Flores’ (of Quetzal) backyard before rehearsal on a recent Tuesday. As cars of musicians arrived and began to unload giant drums into the house, Yamami laced the history of these two groups into the story of their musical collaboration.
As it turns out, the link between TAIKOPROJECT, a Japanese taiko drum group, and Quetzal, a Chicano rock band, is surprisingly deep – the groups met more than ten years ago through a connection with the Aratani Japan America Theatre.
Then, a bit over a year ago, Yamami found himself at lunch with Quetzal and the Ford staff in the same week. This synchronicity led to a performance last summer as part of Ford on the Road, where each group performed existing songs from their repertoire.
Their upcoming show – which opens the Ford’s 2016 Summer Season – has the mark of a true collaboration: a drummer starts a beat, or a guitarist lays down a riff, and together the groups write a song. This process was common for Quetzal, as a rock group, but something new for TAIKOPROJECT.
Their collaborative spirit was evident in the easy atmosphere of rehearsal – seven musicians and their instruments filling every corner of Quetzal’s living room, surrounded by bright folkloric art. The musicians worked out the time on a particularly difficult bit, fluidly switching languages between the formal musical notation and making instrument sounds with their mouths, “A flat, come in after the ba-da-da, ba-da-da, you know, on measure seven.”
As they mastered the timing, Japanese flute and electric guitars weaving in and out of the melody to the pulse of the drum, one of the drummers offered the image of an anime show he liked– “This one sounds like that,” he said. “Like kicking ass!”
Yamami describes the aesthetic of the show as an exploration of emotional range. “People always think of taiko as bone-shaking drumming,” he says. “We love that but we also want to challenge the range of emotions that these instruments can make people feel, exploring the melodic and lyrical side. Here, we are honoring tradition by turning it on its head.”
This is what makes this collaboration so LA: two groups that go deep with their traditions, rooted in their histories and communities but not confined to them, in conversation as they create something new.
– To get a taste of the show and learn more – watch the video below: