* denotes current or former Katari Taiko member


Kinnara Taiko

In both Hindu and Buddhist belief, an ashura is figure that embodies passions such as anger, pride, or greed. In this piece, taught to us by a Buddhist taiko ensemble from Los Angeles, two “teams” of drummers and percussionists compete against each other with driving rhythms and shouts, until at last they come together and play in unison.


Kathy Shimizu*, 1999

A short piece perfect for scene changes (hence its name), Interlude is a duet for small drums in which the two parts speak back and forth, using changing emphasis to provide variety and a sense of forward motion.

Ja Sawago

Eileen Kage*, 1994

When we shout, “Ja sawago!” at the beginning of this song, we’re saying, “Let’s cause a commotion!” or “Let’s raise hell!” Inspired partially by rap music, this high-energy piece uses surreal lyrics about food, crows, bald girls, and long-haired boys, combined with multiple small percussion instruments, windmilling arm movements, and a syncopated basic rhythm to create a sense of playful abandon. Ja Sawago is a great way to start any show.


Traditional, arr. Seiichi Tanaka and Katari Taiko

The community festival or matsuri is an integral part of Japanese culture, and for hundreds of years, taiko has often played an important role in these celebrations, which include customs unique to each region, whether celebrating the harvest, honouring ancestors, or marking the passage of time. Mosttaiko groups in North America play a version of Matsuri, but each has their own style. One of the first pieces Katari Taiko ever performed, the core rhythm of “don doko don don” is said to evoke the sound of packhorses, once heard throughout the Japanese countryside.

Mou Choi

Tiffany Tamaribuchi, 2013


John Endo Greenaway*, 1982

The city we now know as Tokyo was once known as Edo, and it is believed that taiko drummers there began adopted movements and stances from the martial arts, creating a unique, flamboyant style of playing that included setting the drums on slanted stands. Oedo uses rhythms and forms that have their origins in the traditional festivals of Edo, but unlike the unison drumming that characterizes much of Japanese taiko, this piece showcases individual players, whose double-josuke solos highlight their own particular style, personality, and ability.


Seiichi Tanaka

Tanaka Sensei, founder of the San Francisco Taiko Dojo, is often credited with bringing taiko to North America, where its traditional Japanese forms encountered jazz, African polyrhythm, and other musical traditions and transformed into something new. He taught us Renshu, which means “practice,” and this is the first piece any Katari Taiko apprentice learns. It includes many of taiko’s basic rhythms, and its persistent, interlocking, and accelerating cadences illustrate the power of the drums at its most basic.


Beth Clark*, 2014

This piece was inspired by Mazo Nagano, the first Japanese immigrant to Canada. There are different stories about how he arrived here, but we can imagine that it took great courage to set out to Canada from Japan in the late 1800’s. In 1977, on the Japanese centennial, a mountain overlooking Owikeno Lake in British Columbia was named Mount Manzo Nagano, in his honour.

Nagano is said to have landed in New Westminster in 1877. He fished for salmon in the Fraser River, then travelled to Vancouver where he loaded timber onto ships. He returned to Japan for a short time, where he married. Nagano returned to North America, this time setting up a tobacco shop and restaurant in Seattle. Later on he returned to British Columbia, settling in Victoria to run a hotel and store. In 1922 fire destroyed his business. He then returned to Japan with his family, and died shortly thereafter at age 68.

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This song intertwines Nagano’s journey with that of the salmon returning to spawn. We travel across the ocean until we come to the mouth of the Fraser River. Then the salmon begin their upstream journey, as Nagano moves through each phase of his life, facing the challenges of immigrating to a new land and building businesses along the way. The final frenetic swim up the fish ladder culminates as fire destroys Nagano’s store in Victoria. As Nagano returns to Japan, the salmon return to the sea. This is a time for quiet and reflection, to retrace the past.

Shi Shi Mai

Traditional, arr. Katari Taiko

Another piece with ancient roots in the matsuri of Japanese village life, Shi Shi Mai is the Lion Dance, in which the big cat of the title encounters the vain and pesky Hyottoko, has a showdown with the playful but determined lady Okame, and dances into the audience bringing good luck – or bad luck, if he’s not treated kindly! Our lion mask was created by Vancouver’s Snake in the Grass Moving Theatre, as was his cape, which was inspired by West Coast First Nations design traditions. A great piece for kids, or any other audience who isn’t afraid to be nuzzled, chewed, or sat upon by a lion.

Talking Drums

John Endo Greenaway*, 1981

Our namesake piece (katari taiko means “talking drums”), this was Katari Taiko’s first original composition. Perhaps the most challenging piece in our current repertoire, it is a conversation between the different “voices” of Katari Taiko. From the sound of raindrops played on the shime to the rolling thunder of the big drums, from the droning and crashing of the gong to the metronome-like hyoshigi, and from the metallic ringing of the atarigane to the human voice itself, Talking Drums is a dramatic expression of the diversity of taiko.