KAUAI, HAWAII — When a master strikes a Taiko drum, you can feel the vibrations corse through your body. When you strike a Taiko drum you feel like you become those vibrations.
And at the Lawai International Center in Kalaheo, Kauai, visitors and residents alike can get on those wavelengths during drum lectures and workshops with Ray Nitta, leader of Taiko Kauai.
“Drumming goes beyond back beyond birth to the steady heartbeat of mother,” Nitta said. “It’s present in every native culture and there are even some who drum on their bellies.”
Taiko is a style of traditional Japanese drumming that involves the entire body of the drummer. Group Taiko requires drummers to maintain their own rhythm, while working with others to create a polyrhythmic experience.
“It’s very well rounded and involves your mind, body and your spirit,” Nitta said. “It’s awesome stress release and is great at balancing out energy.”
Lawai International Center was created in 1904 by Japanese immigrants as a healing sanctuary and Nitta’s polyrhythmic vibes are combined with the presence of 88 shrines on the hilltop.
On a sunny afternoon in September, Nitta and his drummers brought 20 handmade Taiko drums to the workshop and set them up in a circle underneath the white tent. A silent auction surrounded the edges.
Nitta took 15 or 20 minutes to talk about the history of the Japanese art before he started the workshop by demonstrating the posture of a Taiko Drummer.
“You stand with your legs wide and your whole body is part Taiko drumming,” Nitta said, “and you grasp the bachi, or drumsticks, with strong hands.”
There were nearly 100 people in attendance at the Sunday workshop, so everyone took turns standing in a circle behind a drum, striking out simple patterns.
Eventually, Nitta split the drummers up into four different groups and each got their own rhythm. Together, it created that ancient polyrhythmic experience, even though most of the drummers had never before picked up a set of bachi.
“What an amazing experience, said Debra Valentina, from Kapaa. “This is just so much fun.”
The final piece to the workshop can be compared to musical chairs. Drummers were placed on either side of each drum in the circle. They began a rhythm and, throughout the drumming they would shout. Those stationed inside the circle would jump to the drum on their left, and those on the outside would jump to the drum on their right.
“It’s so invigorating,” said Anni Law, visiting the island from California, “jumping and drumming – this really involves your whole body.”
Some folks really got into it, others had a hard time finding their place in the ongoing hodgepodge of rhythm and movement.
“That’s the way it is sometimes,” Nitta said. “Some people can feel the beat right away, others never get it, but Taiko Drumming, it takes a lifetime to master.”
Students of Taiko drumming said the art helps them reconnect to themselves and release life’s stresses, as well as find a way to create something beautiful with other people.
“It balances out energy fields and you work with others, too, “ said Linda Oshiro, a member of Taiko Kauai. “I absolutely love it.”
Nitta said Sunday’s workshop was the first he’d done in five years and is a way to garner more students for Taiko Kauai. Currently the group is around 17-members strong, and Nitta said ideally he’d like to have 25 students.
“It works best with a good, strong group of people,” Nitta said. “So we’re recruiting.”
Article written and photos taken for The Garden Island Newspaper, September 2015.