Feel the call of the drums

The dynamic beat of Maui Taiko returns

Maui Taiko’s 20th anniversary concert will be presented at 2 p.m. Sunday at the MACC’s Castle Theater in Kahului. Leon Matsui photo

Known for performing at temples around the island during the Obon festival season, Maui Taiko will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the founding of the drumming ensemble with a special concert in the Maui Arts & Cultural Center’s Castle Theater on Sunday.

The show will also feature the internationally acclaimed San Jose Taiko, Uneme Daiko, from Japan, shakuhachi master Marco Lienhard, from New York, and the Japanese dance groups Nakayama Minyo Kai and Maui Minyo Kai.

“It’s an artistic compilation of songs and dances and performances of our last 20 year history, with five guest groups who are helping us celebrate,” explains Maui Taiko’s president, Kay Fukumoto.

Heading to Hawaii for the concert from Koriyama in Japan, Uneme Daiko is an all-female drumming troupe.

“Koriyama is a city in the Fukushima prefecture,” says Fukumoto. “We have had close ties with them since 2001, when we performed at the Fukushima Expo.”

Guest performer San Jose Taiko; photo courtesy the artist

The founder of the Taikoza group in New York City, Lienhard was a member of the world famous Ondekoza demon drummers. Studying shakuhachi under Master Katsuya Yokoyama, he became a virtuoso solo artist, and mastered taiko drumming as a member of Ondekoza from 1981 to 1994. While touring as a professional taiko player in Japan, he also studied the fue (flute) and the nohkan (Noh and Kabuki theater flute).

“He has an amazing story,” says Fukumoto. “He was vacationing in Japan and fell in love with shakuhachi music and fue music. He joined Ondekoza to learn the fue, but in order to do so he had to learn taiko. Ondekoza and Kodo created the whole movement in ensemble drumming.”

San Jose Taiko is considered a pioneer of North American taiko. The third group in the world to form outside of Japan, they are acclaimed for their synchronized choreography, eclectic musicality and joyful spirit.

“Wisa Uemura, the current director of San Jose Taiko, is a Maui girl,” says Fukumoto. “She was a member of Stanford Taiko, and years ago she came home one summer and played with us. She opened our eyes to ensemble drumming which was foreign to us being Obon taiko drummers.  Eventually my son Mitchell became part of Stanford Taiko and then he auditioned for San Jose Taiko and got in. It’s a two year audition process, quite an accomplishment.”

In the early 1900s, Japanese immigrants from Fukushima prefecture brought the song “Fukushima Ondo” to Maui. Many of them lived in the plantation village of Keahua and organized an informal group to play “Fukushima Ondo” for the annual Obon festival.

Guest performer Marco Lienhard; photo courtesy the artist

With Maui Taiko, Fukumoto continues a multi-generational family tradition of performing “Fukushima Ondo.”

“The song has been performed on Maui for over 100 years,” she explains. “When the plantation closed, the tradition continued at the Paia Mantokuji Mission. I’ve been playing the song for 45 years now. When we formed Maui Taiko the focus was to continue to perpetuate that song.”

In 1970, at the age of 10, Fukumoto became the first girl to be allowed to play the taiko drum at an Obon festival on Maui.

“Back in the day, Obon drummers were typically older men,” she explains. “My mom would take my sister and I to practices, and my dad and grandfather would be there. One day when I was 10-years-old they were taking a break and I went up and started hitting the drum. They were like, wow, she knows what to do. So they put me in the group and it’s been 45 plus years.”

Carrying on a family tradition she feels a sense of pride.

Martha Masters is one of the guitarists featured at the “Maui Guitar Extravaganza” concert at Makawao Union Church. Photo courtesy the artist

“When I became engaged to my husband he wanted to be part of the tradition,” she recalls. “It’s ironic because I hadn’t considered it a tradition until he wanted to be part of it. It was one of those things where your family is involved and you are just involved in it.”

Aside from perpetuating “Fukushima Ondo,” Maui Taiko has taken on the responsibility of continuing the legacy of “Futaba Bon Uta,” the Obon song of the Japanese town of Futaba, which became inhabitable due to its proximity to the Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Maui Taiko will continue to play it annually on Maui in hopes of one day returning it to the town.

“We visited the Fukushima area in 2012 and performed at various concerts, because they were going through such hardships,” she says. “And a couple of taiko groups came to Maui in 2014 from Fukushima and we hosted them. One gentleman came from Futaba and he was a taiko maker. He donated a taiko drum body to us which was worth thousands of dollars. We finished making the drum last year.

“Their group no longer got together and we decided we wanted to preserve their music. So we learned the (“Futaba Bon Uta“) song. A Japanese film crew has been following the story and they will be at the concert filming the last segment of this story, as we perform the song. It is our mission to continue to perform it every year and hope that we can take the music back to Futaba and give back the drum we received.”

Following the concert on Sunday afternoon, music will continue in the MACC’s courtyard.

“We will recreate Obon dancing outside, so concert goers can participate,” Fukumoto says. “We will be playing a couple of songs and remembering our ancestors.”

Tickets are $20 and are available at the box office or at www.mauiarts.org. For more information, call 242-7469.


A free 4th of July concert will be presented on the Lahaina Library’s oceanside lawn (next to Pioneer Inn).  Music begins at 5 p.m. with the Chop Suey Jazz Orchestra, with New York percussionist, LaFrae Sci. Darren Lee and the Burn’n Love Band perform at 6 p.m., followed by the 50-member Maui Community Band at 7 p.m.

At the Outlets of Maui mall free entertainment will begin with DJ Lee Norris at 4 p.m., followed by guitarist Prem Brasso, the Jazz Maui All-Star Band, and Na Ali’i Big Band until 8 p.m.  


Country legend Kris Kristofferson journeyed from Hana to the Glastonbury Festival in the U.K. over the weekend for a well-received set which included Johnny Depp playing guitar on a couple of songs and Brad Pitt enjoying the show from the side of the stage.


Guitar virtuoso Benjamin Verdery returns to Maui to hold his 18th classical guitar master class, which includes a series of concerts presented in Makawao, Makena, Kula, Kahului and Lahaina.

A “Maui Guitar Extravaganza” concert at 7 p.m. on Monday at the Makawao Union Church will feature Verdery, with fellow guitarists Martha Masters, multi-Hoku Award-winner Jeff Peterson, and Hoku-nominated Ian O’Sullivan.

A professor and guitar instructor at Loyola Marymount University, Masters won the 2000 Guitar Foundation of America International Solo Competition, and also the Andres Segovia International Competition in the same year. An internationally renowned performer, she has received critical acclaim as both a soloist and a chamber musician. An Acoustic Guitar review praised: “Martha Masters is one of the brightest new stars of her generation. She has that rare combination of unquestionably sophisticated technique and a sense of the music, of its soul.”

“Martha is a great virtuoso, a real force in the guitar world,” says Verdery. “It will be great to have her playing. She’s really revered. With Ian, Jeff, Martha and myself it’s a nice cross-section of personalities.”

The concert program will include both solo and ensemble performances.

“There will be a fair amount of Hawaiian music, including an arrangement for three guitars of Dennis Kamakahi’s ‘Wahine ‘ilikea’,” Verdery continues. “We’re honored to bring Jeff Peterson back and we’ll do a tribute to Keola Beamer. I’ll be playing some of my own music and premiering a new duo guitar version of my piece ‘Ke’anae’.”

A $10 suggested donation for the Makawao concert will benefit the Boys & Girls Clubs of Maui, Makawao Clubhouse.


Renowned violinist, Gregory Walker, will hold a free master class for area students, and an “informance” on modern music for violin on Friday at the Maui Music Conservatory in the Queen Ka’ahumanu Center. 

Presented by Ebb & Flow Arts, the event will begin at 6:15 p.m. with the master class for three students of Teresa Skinner, director of Suzuki-Maui. The informance on modern music for violin begins at 7:30 p.m.

Joining Walker will be his wife, pianist Lori Wolf Walker. They will perform George Walker’s “Bleu” and “Sonata No. 1,” Bernard Stevens’ “Sonata,” and Gregory T.S. Walker’s “La La, and the Life Goes On.” All the works are Hawaii premieres.