When you hear the term “folk music”, what do you think of?
I think of banjos and old people. . .two things that aren’t necessarily my cup of tea. So, when a ticket for theÂ Vancouver Folk Festival 2011was handed to me, I was a little reluctant. Since I had no idea what to expect from a “folk” event, I assumed it would essentially bore me to pieces. But, after attending the Friday evening portion of the 2011 Vancouver Folk Festival, I realized that I had spoken to soon. I found myself in a relaxing, enjoyable atmosphere surrounded by crowds of people ranging all the way from infants to the elderly. It was an evening filled with great music, bare feet, delicious food, organic refreshments like Guayaki Yerba Mate, and awesome shopping (I managed to find an amazing dress, so if you see me wearing it Out&About and I look better than you, donâ€™t be surprised). Babies refrained from crying and young children kicked around soccer balls, passed around hacky sacks, and danced with their parents to the sounds of Feet and Fiddle Express. I was blown away by the large attendance of youth on the grounds ofÂ Jericho Beach Park, and how involved with the performances they were. Coming from a girl who’s obsessed with the Backstreet Boys, I had the pleasure of taking in brand new sounds that I have never considered letting in; all of which I thoroughly enjoyed and Youtube’d afterwards. The sultry vocals ofÂ Digging RootsÂ and the upbeat energetic groove thatÂ Freshly GroundÂ exhibited were aspects that I obviously didn’t expect to see at a folk festival. The crowd energy was contagious, and it was hard not to dance to the music.
Taiko for TohokuÂ surprised me the most. This large ensemble of performers combined aspects of musicality with physicality, and offered a wide range of diversity onstage. Taiko (meaning Japanese drum) first emerged in the early eighties because of invisibility that the Japanese community had felt after the war years. Since Taiko groups are all for communal solidarity, all of Vancouver’s Taiko ensembles came together after Japan’s devastating earthquake to form this ensemble. After performing together for the first time at the Queen Elizabeth theatre for a fundraising concert for Japan, they were asked to bring it back for the Folk Festival. I got to sit down with some of Taiko’s youngest and most dedicated members,Jordy RileyÂ (22) andÂ Emiko NewmanÂ (17), and hereâ€™s what went down. . .
What do you like most about performing with this particular group?
Jordie: It’s rare for all of the Taiko groups to come together to play. There are probably about 7 or so that work together, and usually we donâ€™t see them very often. Our performances are often separate. Events usually want one Taiko group, so they choose between us. It’s not that were competing; it just means that we don’t see each other very often, so it’s nice to be playing together.
Emiko: Rather than playing with the younger groups where youâ€™re like the leader, you’re playing with more experienced players, and they’re professional players so it’s a good opportunity and good way to learn.
So tell me about your experience with the Vancouver Folk Festival.
E: I’ve been coming since she I was a baby. I come every single year, and I love it! It’s one of the biggest things I look forward to every year. It’s fun to just walk around, talk to people, eat and go shopping.
J: I’ve only been to a few other folk festivals but this year, I appreciate it more. I have a greater appreciation for the music.
How do you think playing at this particular festival is going to affect your audience and how they feel about the issues you guys perform for?
J: I think it’s more of the concept of these groups getting together for a common cause. Even if we have to come together for such a terrible event, at least we can support the cause together. Our name has Tohoko in it, so were trying to bring awareness to that.
E: It’s nice that everyone can see all of these different groups coming together when we don’t normally so it’s really different for us and will hopefully have a stronger effect.
How do you think the festival is going to work for you guys in terms of your groups’ success?
J: We have a large audience today. Often the performances we do aren’t as big, and are for smaller festivals. Some of our performances are even private, and usually the demographic is different. We don’t play for this type of audience. Quite often it’s an older audience, or almost only Japanese audience for some of the festivals, so it’s definitely something different for the group of people were playing for.
E: It’s nice having a huge crowd with young people. Â I think you can inspire others we can inspire others.
J: Younger people tend to respond more when we’re playing. Theyâ€™re more likely to cheer. And if you look up and interact, you can see them interact back.
E: I like how Taiko is one of the more unique groups at this festival . You don’t see it every day.
You probably already know this, but your performance was pretty sweet.
J: That’s what Taiko’s good for. It’s good for bringing everyone together, that loud booming sound they can hear from far away.
E: I love it when people come up to you and they’re like “I’ve never seen anything like this before!” It’s fun and it’s good exercise
J: It’s one of the more types of physical music. Taiko has athleticism, musicality, and everyone can play it. There are people who played today who were well into their 50s, but people start it at that age too. You don’t have to start at 5 or 10 years old.
Thank you to Jordie and Emiko for reassuring me that folk festivals are not all about banjos and old people. Rather, it is a ground for people to come together and celebrate certain topics through music, dance, or Taiko.