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Guide to the Soh Daiko Archive Records and Videotapes TAM.634

Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archive
Elmer Holmes Bobst Library
70 Washington Square South
2nd Floor
New York, NY 10012
(212) 998-2596
special.collections@nyu.edu


Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives

Collection processed by Erika Gottfried

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on November 25, 2019
English using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

 Edited by Heather Mulliner to reflect inclusion of 2017 accretion edited by Nicole Greenhouse for additional administration information and the incorporation of archived website  , August 2017 , November 2019

Historical/Biographical Note

Soh Daiko (which means "peaceful, harmonious drum" in Japanese), founded in New York City in 1979, was the first taiko group in the Northeastern United States. Taiko is a kind of traditional Japanese drumming used for ritual celebrations and festivals, which also became a contemporary performing art of mass drumming in the in the 1960s. Soh Daiko began as a youth activity organized by members of the New York Buddhist Church who were inspired by a performance of a Chicago taiko group at an Eastern Young Buddhist League convention. Created by membership chairman Mamoru "Mo" Funai and adult advisors Jim Moran, Merle and Alan Okada, the group started with a grant from the Church. With this small grant, they learned to make barrel drums and learned basic taiko techniques with help from taiko instructors from Chicago and Los Angeles. Within a short time Soh Daiko evolved from a youth group to an adult group. With funding from a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, Soh Daiko pursued more advanced training from Seiichi Tanaka of San Francisco Taiko Dojo; it also received instruction from from members of the Tachibana Dance Group and members of the Kodo taiko group visiting from Japan. The association with Kodo resulted in joint concert, "Kodo/Soh Daiko: A Taiko Celebration" at the Japan Society in New York in 1987. Shortly afterwards, Soh Daiko took its first trip to Japan, including a stay with the Kodo group on Sado Island.

Soh Daiko expanded its repertoire to include traditional compositions from Shinto music tradition, adapting existing taiko compositions, has drawn inspiration from other world cultures, and performed original arrangements by its own members. More than percussion, Soh Daiko's performances feature the visual element of movement and choreography, requiring physical strength, endurance, and energy, its musicians playing drums ranging from a little over a foot in diameter to some almost as large as the person playing it. In addition to drums, the group incorporates accessories such as bamboo flutes, brass bells, conch shells, gongs, African shekere (gourd percussion instrument), and Tahitian toere (wooden slit drum). The number of performers in Soh Daiko has varied from about 11 to 16 members; the total number of participants since its inception through 2014 is about 75. Its members have had diverse backgrounds and professions, and an equal number of women, if not more, have belonged as well as men. While its makeup has been mainly Asian American, Soh Daiko has included members of other ethnic origins. The group has operated as a collective. Soh Daiko has participated in many local New York City cultural festivities such as Brooklyn Botanic Gardens' Cherry Blossom Festival, Smithsonian's Folk Life Festival, the annual Asian/Pacific American Heritage Festival, Japan Day Festival in Central Park, and Summerstage and at celebrated venues including Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival, the American Museum of Natural History, and Radio City Music Hall. It has also performed across the United States and Puerto Rico, as well as in Canada and United Kingdom. The group has also been featured on public television's children's programs Sesame Street and  Reading Rainbow, National Public Radio's  All Things Considered, and with artists such as Korn, Rob Thomas, and Kanye West. It has received critical acclaim from the  New York Times, Dance Magazine, and the  San Francisco Chronicle. The group's debut recording, "Soh Daiko," was released by Lyrichord Discs in 2005; a documentary video about the group,  Soh Daiko: Taiko in New York, was produced in 2011, featuring interviews with members past and present, and performance footage.

Sources: Soh Daiko website: http://sohdaiko.org/

May 2, 1986 article in the, "Soh Daiko, the Fine Art of Japanese Drumming," New York Times. May 2, 1986.