Korabo Taiko

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A Blog Post

Korabo Turns Three Today!

October 10, 2013

Korabo was born three years ago today. The six of us — Matt Chun, Dave Cheetham, Kana Hironaka, Jen Kong, Gene Sugano, and Kathy Thomas — all with the desire to play taiko, teamed up to form our own kumidaiko. In order to effectively form our group, we had to build our own taiko and build a company to stand upon.

But what to name the company? We racked our brains for the perfect name to represent our group, a conglomeration of talented, driven folks, all interested in perpetuating the art of taiko through various channels of art and music. I must have written down dozens of stupid names. And then one day, as simple as taking a breath, Kana said: KORABO. We all knew in an instant, it was unanimous. There was no argument, Korabo it was. Dave put it best: “Kana wins.” Korabo, the name that embodies the essence of our group: a meeting of creative minds in an collaborative effort to learn and share taiko, democratic and encouraging, playful and experimental, powerful and graceful, traditional and innovative.

For a time, before we had our own taiko, we met in Desert Breeze park and pounded on the bottom of Rubbermaid trash cans or practiced percussion rudiments on drum pads. But we could not wait to put bachi to kawa on our future taiko.

In September 2010, we purchased ten wine barrels that would become our first fleet of drums. One of these barrels went to San Jose with Julie Asamoto, who has always been one of our biggest supporters and whom we consider an honorary member of Korabo. However, our very first taiko was a rope shime we made with the assistance of Sylvaine Marcotte. This event marked the official birth of our group on 10-10-10.

Three months after we received our wine barrels, we had already transformed four barrels into playable taiko, just in time for our very first gig, a Lena Prima show at the Suncoast showroom. We had the privilege of performing “Sing Sing Sing” by the legendary Louie Prima, Lena’s father. Not only was this performance an exciting opportunity, it was the beginning of an amazing friendship with Lena and her family that still carries on today. Lena has since moved away from Las Vegas, but returns periodically for performances. Last month, Lena was back at the Suncoast for a show and invited us to share the stage with her once again. It brought back so many memories and we are so honored to still be able to perform alongside Lena.

Not only did we have to quickly ready a set of drums for this performance, but we also needed costumes. So Kathy designed and executed the costumes for this very first performance, a sharp set of five black happi, tekko, obi, and interchangeable sashes. Not only does Kathy sew like a pro, she is also a talented drum-maker.

Kana and Matt have since moved to Portland and we are so sad they no longer play with Korabo. But they both are performers with Portland Taiko, one of the most renowned professional taiko groups in North America. We are so happy for them and proud that Korabo is part of their taiko resume.

Since our inception, Korabo has performed at various commercial and community events, including the Las Vegas Spring Festival, Springs Preserve Asian Harvest Moon Festival, Las Legas Aki Matsuri, Shuichiro Ueda in concert, UNLVino’s Sake Fever, St Rose Dragon Boat Regatta, and the Henderson Heritage Parade.

We currently have thirteen taiko, nearly all of which we made ourselves. We have nine performers and many more rising stars. And we teach classes four days a week.

In addition to Korabo making our own drums, we also take commissions from other groups. Headed by Dave Cheetham, Korabo’s equipment department has made three taiko and accompanying stands for Mugen (a New York high school taiko club) and an odaiko (very large drum) that collapses in to smaller, more manageable pieces for TaikoProject. We have employed traditional taiko-making methods, but also pioneered new methods and approaches.

Our drive gets us only so far, but we truly could not have excelled as we have with out the gracious and unconditional support of our family and friends. Thank you so much for putting up with the noise, staying up late with us, letting us borrow your car, helping us with load-ins and load-outs, for sewing costumes, for cleaning costumes, for dropping us off and picking us up at indecent hours, for making us onigiri, for helping us study new songs, for responding to emails and text messages, for putting up with last-minute changes, and mostly for understanding that this strange activity that we call taiko is so dear to us.

Check out our Three-Year Anniversary Throwback set on Flickr for more pictures.