Aki Takahashi – celebrating 20 years of connecting through music
Aki Takahashi is a taiko & shamisen player and folk singer based in Toronto. Born in a small fishing village on Shodoshima, a small island in the Inland Sea of Japan, she left home to study minyo – traditional folk music – in Kyoto. Aki began her studies with the three-stringed Tsugaru shamisen and folk singing and was able to make the acquaintance of other musicians like her who were trying to keep this traditional music alive.
Aki moved to Canada in 2000 and in 2003 became a member of Nagata Shachu, Canada’s preeminent taiko group founded by Kiyoshi Nagata, where she is co-artistic director and composer. At the same time, she founded of the Japanese folk ensemble Ten Ten, creating her own original compositions and choreographing pieces to accompany her music. Over the years she has performed with numerous artists from a variety of other cultural backgrounds and traditions.
In February 2020, Aki was part of the cast of HERbeat: Taiko Women All-Stars, the first concert produced and performed by all women taiko artists from all over the world. Preparations for the concert were documented, along with the concert itself, and have been released as a film, Finding her Beat!, which will be screened on February 18, at SFU Goldcorp Centre for the Arts in Vancouver. The film will be preceded by a free performance by Sawagi Taiko, Canada’s first all-female taiko group, at Woodward’s Atrium. The night before, Friday February 17, Aki will perform solo shamisen in a joint concert with the Mohamed Assani Trio at the Fox Cabaret in Vancouver.
Bulletin Interview: Aki Takahashi
People in Toronto will be familiar with your work, but not so much on the west coast. I’m really excited that you’ll be appearing in Vancouver later this week. Were you always interested in music? And what drew you to minyo in particular?
I was most inspired by my grandmother, who taught me to sing. When I was young, I would tag along with my grandmother who gathered at the temple almost weekly with other elders from the village. They would sing traditional folk songs but also create their own versions of these songs. This was how I learned about creating my own songs. Later on, I picked up the shamisen, primarily to accompany my vocals. I love the raw and lively style of all minyo as it reminds me of how my grandmother and the other elders entertained themselves and each other at the temple.
Tell me a bit about joining Nagata Shachu and forming Ten Ten.
I met Kiyoshi Nagata in 2002 when I was invited to be a guest shamisen performer for his annual concert in 2003. I formed Ten Ten at the same time I joined his group. I am a co-artistic director of Nagata Shachu and still enjoy performing as a taiko player, thanks to Kiyoshi.
Have you performed on the west coast before?
I have performed on the west coast a number of times over the years, as vocalist, shamisen and taiko player at the Powell Street Festival, Regional Taiko Gathering and The Voice ++ Festival in Victoria, BC.
Tell me about your approach to performing.
One thing I love to do when I have an opportunity, is to play out in the streets where people may not know my music or understand the language of my songs. When I have done this, I can receive immediate reactions from the audience who are responding to my emotions, music and sounds. At the Fox Cabaret, simply people will hear my vocal expressions through songs and the beauty and character of the shamisen.
This year is special to you, why is that?
This year, 2023, marks the 20th year of my group Ten Ten and my work with Nagata Shachu. I decided to challenge myself and do 20 solo performances outside of Toronto during 2023. It’s my 10-10-20 project. The very first show I did was at Tonari Gumi in Vancouver on February 10. In March, I will be in Hawaii to continue my “101020”.
Friday February 17, 7:30pm (Doors 7:00pm)
An Evening of Shamisen and Sitar
with Aki Takahashi & Mohamed Assani Trio
2321 Main St, Vancouver, BC V5T 3C9
Tickets in advance (sliding scale): $15 | $20 | $25
Tickets at the door: pay what you can
Tickets at the door are subject to availability.
Purchasing tickets in advance is highly recommended.
Toronto’s Aki Takahashi will perform a solo set featuring shamisen and vocals for her project 10-10-20. In commemoration of her 20th anniversary of performing in Canada, she is planning 20 solo performances this year. ten ten is an evolving art experiment with its roots in the Japanese folk tradition. In the Japanese alphabet, “ten ten” refers to two dots used to change the sound of a syllable. In the same spirit, ten ten strives to create its own unique voice for Japanese folk music, breathing new life into this traditional art form.
The Mohamed Assani Trio takes music to new realms while remaining committed to the rich roots of South Asian traditions. Mohamed Assani, twice Western Canadian Music Awards nominated artist for Instrumental music, is a dynamic performer and composer known for his genre-defying music.
Saturday, February 18
Finding Her Beat: Taiko Sisterhood in Vancouver
Presented by the Powell Street Festival
12noon: free public taiko performance by Sawagi Taiko at Woodward’s Atrium.
1:30pm: Finding Her Beat at Djavad Mowafaghian Cinema
A documentary about a drum master from Japan and a Korean adoptee from Minnesota boldly convening an all-female troupe to perform taiko. The screening is followed by a 30-minute post-film discussion.
Tickets are $10-15 dollars (plus fees) on a sliding scale
4:00pm free, informal talkback at with Jennifer Weir and Vancouver Taiko Society
KW Studios Production Studio
Info & Tickets: powellstreetfestival.com/finding-her-beat-23