Mother-daughter duo's thunderous taiko drum performances echo in the Okanagan

·3 min read
Naoko Nakamura, right, now the president of Yamabiko Taiko in Kelowna, B.C., joined the performance group in 2010. Her mother Koko, left, jumped in several years later to share the joy of playing the traditional Japanese percussion instrument.   (Tyler Messervey/CBC - image credit)
Naoko Nakamura, right, now the president of Yamabiko Taiko in Kelowna, B.C., joined the performance group in 2010. Her mother Koko, left, jumped in several years later to share the joy of playing the traditional Japanese percussion instrument. (Tyler Messervey/CBC - image credit)

Aside from embroidering and gardening in their West Kelowna, B.C. home, Naoko Nakamura and her mother Koko share a love for another hobby, which they say brings them even closer.

For the past seven years, the pair has been performing with Japanese taiko drums with other members of the Yamabiko Taiko group based in the Okanagan.

Founded in 2003, Yamabiko — which means "mountain echoes" in Japanese — is one of many taiko ensembles that have been thriving in North America since the 1960s, thanks to efforts of the late Japanese jazz player, Daihachi Oguchi, who helped transform the traditionally solitary art form into one that emphasizes teamwork.

Nakamura, along with her parents and brother, immigrated in 1993 to British Columbia from Hyogo Prefecture in western Japan. She says she never saw a taiko performance in Japan, and became familiar with the thunderous music genre only after she began her music studies at the University of Toronto in the early 2000s.

Tyler Messervey/CBC
Tyler Messervey/CBC

Trained in classical music such as piano and oboe since elementary school, Nakamura says she experienced a bit of an emotional struggle when deciding to choose taiko drumming as part of her undergraduate studies.

"They [taiko drums] are actually considered lower-class musical instruments [in Japan], compared to Western classical music where you have to have money to study," she said.

But Nakamura says she later developed more respect for the Japanese percussion instrument, and that she loved it so much that she joined the Yamabiko troupe soon after relocating to Kelowna to reunite with her parents in 2010.

Mother shares daughter's passion

Koko Nakamura says she became part of the troupe several years after seeing her daughter enjoy what she describes as the physical aspect of the instrument.

"At that time, I had some health issues, which [are] high blood pressure … workout is good for [controlling] high blood pressure," she said.

Tyler Messervey/CBC
Tyler Messervey/CBC

The younger Nakamura, now the group's president, says over the years she has received a lot of emotional support from what she describes as an encouraging, non-judgmental mom. She says her mom has also advised her on other life decisions, such as whether to study graduate school and pursue a career in music.

"I studied music for many, many years … but at the end of my bachelor's, I was having a lot of mental health problems, so I just wanted to quit music at that point — I just didn't want to play music.

"I felt so guilty … even telling her that I wanted to quit, but then all she said was like, 'Oh, that's fine. Just quit — you don't have to do what you don't want to do anymore,'" Nakamura said. "I felt so relieved that she didn't say anything bad about me quitting."

Tyler Messervey/CBC
Tyler Messervey/CBC

The group's secretary, Drew Makepeace, who has played taiko drums for more than a decade, says the Nakamuras are a unique mother-daughter duo that he hasn't seen in other taiko troupes that he knows of in Canada.

Makepeace says his mother lives in Ontario and hasn't visited him in the Okanagan since 2010, but she has been able to watch her son's taiko performances on YouTube.

"She seems very positive and she seems intrigued by the amount of action," he said.

Tyler Messervey/CBC
Tyler Messervey/CBC

Makepeace says the Yamabiko Taiko group will launch beginners' classes in June to invite more people across the Okanagan to play the traditional Japanese music instrument.

The group is also raising funds to invite a Japanese taiko instructor to come to Kelowna this summer to teach in-person lessons.

Last month, the group performed in Penticton, B.C., their first in-person performance after two years of pandemic hiatus. They've also been scheduled to perform across the region in the upcoming months.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting