With Japanese drums at the foundation of its world fusion mix, On Ensemble takes the ancient instruments of taiko into new realms. Infusing the powerful rhythms of ensemble Japanese drumming with influences ranging from hip-hop and electronica to Tuvan throat singing, On Ensemble's unique sound has been praised as "completely original and brilliantly conceived."
Modern Drummer magazine calls On Ensemble "an exciting taiko ensemble looking at new ways to apply traditional Japanese drums."
On Ensemble's four members are individually recognized as leading artists in their field. Sought after as teachers, composers, and perfomers - Masato Baba, Shoji Kameda, and Eien Hunter-Ishikawa, have over 60 years of combined of taiko experience. All have studied traditional performing arts in Japan. Abe Lagrimas Jr. is a multi-instrumentalist proficient on vibraphone, drum kit, and ukelele.
Masato Baba and Shoji Kameda started as children with Shasta Taiko and have been perennial ShastaYama and Shasta Taiko In Concert featured guests. ON Ensemble has performed three times before in Siskiyou County as featured artists for the successful Shasta Taiko In Concert series at the College of the Siskiyous and as ShastaYama 2008 headliners.
Michelle Fujii & Toru Watanabe
"We always talk about taiko as part music, part dance...(I get to move around it). Taiko can become an entire picture with sound."
Michelle Fujii - UNIT SOUZOU
UNIT SOUZOU (pronounced "soh zoh") is Portland, Oregon's newest professional taiko company. With over 20 years of professional experience and at the forefront of a growing artistic movement within the world-wide taiko community, Michelle Fujii and Toru Watanabe, co-directors of UNIT SOUZOU are relentless innovators known for their fusion of taiko and Japanese folk dance.
"Souzou" has three meanings - "creation," "imagination," or "noisy." Inspired by these words, UNIT SOUZOU focuses on building new works for the art form of taiko placing "traditional" ethnic art as an active force that can continue to inspire and evolve.
Korekara Taiko is UNIT SOUZOU's taiko school, a program that includes residencies, performances, and classes for public schools and the Portland community.
Toru Watanabe & Michelle Fujii
Michelle Fujii & Toru Watanabe
Russel Baba, Gary Fitzgerald, & Jeanne Mercer
Russel Baba & Masato Baba
"...Russel Baba has managed to endow his alto saxophone with the timbre and flexibility of a violin. His new sound is extra-ordinarily beautiful."
"...a strong musician who in playing his own compositions is playing himself ... projects a fierce, uncompromising integrity."
Russel Baba & Jeanne Mercer
Tadaima (now, at present; I am here! / I am home!) is a creative musical ensemble that performs original compositions that include world, jazz, improvisation, and new music influences.
Tadaima combines taiko with a variety of musical instruments and artists to create and explore new directions and possibilities for music and the arts.
Russel Baba is a noted saxophone and flute player, a pioneering American taiko artist, and is known for his originality in playing and composition writing. He has toured and recorded original compositions with jazz legends drummer Eddie Moore, violinist Michael White, and pianist Andrew Hill.
Jeanne Mercer is a pioneering American taiko artist and leader. She and partner Russel Baba founded Shasta Taiko and ShastaYama. Playing jazz and improvising taiko with Russel, Eddie Moore, Michael White, and Andrew Hill, she continues to influence and inspire next generation taiko artists as a member of Tadaima.
Masato Baba is the son of Russel Baba and Jeanne Mercer and a leading figure in American taiko. Masato is the Artistic Director of TAIKOPROJECT and an original member of cutting edge taiko ensemble, On Ensemble. Masato is also an outstanding fue (Japanese bamboo flute) player. Like his parents, he is creating new compositions and paths for taiko and music.
Bassist Gary Fitzgerald is known for his dynamic sound and originality. Gary has had a long relationship with Russel Baba having toured, played, and recorded original music with Baba, drummer Eddie Moore, and violinist Michael White.
Mount Shasta’s Shasta Taiko, founded in 1985 by Jeanne Mercer and Russel Baba, is a nonprofit arts organization dedicated to the introduction and development of the art of taiko and related music through its programs of year-round community classes, outreach workshops and performances, and its summer outdoor taiko festival - ShasaYama.
Shasta Taiko was one of the first American taiko programs to include children and some have developed into leading taiko artists. Shasta Taiko’s program has exposed taiko to thousands in California and the western United States.
Shasta Taiko has received national attention with a cable “ACE” award documentary “Shasta Taiko,” and in documentaries “The Spirit of Taiko” and “Big Drum.” ShastaYama is gaining higher visibility for taiko and Mount Shasta.
Jeanne Mercer and Russel Baba continue to inspire and lead taiko into the future with Shasta Taiko and ShastaYama.
Masato is considered one of America's most outstanding taiko talents. He began taiko training at the age of 6 when his parents, Russel Baba and Jeanne Mercer, founded Shasta Taiko.
As a member of Shasta Taiko, he gained the valuable experience performing, teaching, and touring throughout his formative years.
Masato polished and refined his taiko skills for over 7 years touring world-wide with renowned American Taiko Master Kenny Endo. He also served as the Youth Director of Endo's Taiko Center of the Pacific based in Honolulu.
Baba studied taiko in Japan with Nihon Taiko Dojo and fue (Japanese bamboo flute) with Kyosuke Suzuki of the Wakayama School.
Masato Baba has emerged as one of the most respected taiko artists in America. He is a pivotal member of highly acclaimed ON Ensemble. Masato is an original member of TAIKOPROJECT, served as their Musical Director and is now the Artistic Director of the multimedia theater company. Maz also is the lead instructor for several Los Angeles based taiko groups. Baba was also the lead coordinator of the successful "World Taiko Gathering" held in Los Angeles in 2014.
Baba was featured in the DVD "Spirit of Taiko," a history of American taiko that focuses on 3 American taiko generations represented by Grand Master Seiichi Tanaka, Kenny Endo, and Masato Baba. Masato has performed at the 2009 Acadamy Awards, on The Voice, and with Alicia Keyes on "The X Factor".
Masato Baba is influencing and inspiring the growth of taiko, performing and conducting workshops across the country and around the world. With his parents, Masato is helping to establish and develop ShastaYama's growing reputation.
|ShastaYama 2007||Photo: Gary Ono|
Shoji Kameda developed an early passion for taiko as a member of Shasta Taiko starting at the age of 8. Shoji is a founding member of On Ensemble, a group formed to explore new directions in taiko. He tours and records for Grammy nominated jazz fusion band, Hiroshima.
Kameda was a leading member of Stanford Taiko, and toured with San Jose Taiko, the Kenny Endo Taiko Ensemble, and TaikoProject. He was selected to participate in the Asian Pacific Performance Exchange fellow, collaborating with master artists from Asia and America.
|ShastaYama 2005||Photo: Jim Gilmore|
Shoji produced On Ensemble's critically acclaimed CD Dust and Sand, composed the score for Abduction: The Megumi Yokota Story - the Audience Award for Best Documentary at the 2006 Slamdance Film Festival, and recorded taiko and voice parts for TV show Heroes. Kameda also performed at the 2008 National Democratic Convention.
Shoji Kameda is a leading American taiko artist. His talents and spirit have been an important part of ShastaYama's development and excellent reputation.
Eien Hunter-Ishikawa is a musician, educator, and composer based in Portland, Oregon specializing in drumset, taiko, percussion, and shinobue. He received his Bachelor of Music Education at Central Michigan University where he performed and recorded with the internationally-renowned Robert Hohner Percussion Ensemble. Eien received his Master of Music in percussion at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and performed extensively with the Kenny Endo Taiko Ensemble. He currently tours as a member of contemporary taiko quartet On Ensemble.
Eien has collaborated with Alcvin Ryuzen Ramos (shakuhachi), Colleen Lanki (dance, voice), Vancouver Intercultural Orchestra, Hiroshi Yamaguchi (tsugaru shamisen), Bruce Huebner (shakuhachi), Naomi Sato (sho), Michael O'Neill's bagpipe ensemble Mearingstone, John Kaizan Neptune (shakuhachi), and Vancouverʼs Silk Road Music. He has performed at the North American Taiko Conference, Vancouver’s Powell Street Festival, Vancouver International Jazz Festival, Dancing on the Edge Festival, Hawaii International Taiko Festival, Honolulu International Jazz Festival, and the Detroit Montreux Jazz Festival. An active and in-demand instructor, Eien has presented workshops at the North American Taiko Conference, World Taiko Gathering, Taiko Baka Gathering, Fue of the Bay, Pacific Northwest Regional Taiko Gathering, and Asano Taiko US.
Abe Lagrimas, Jr. is a versatile and professional multi-instrumentalist on the drums, ukulele, and vibraphone. The Hawaii-bred musician is a 2012 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Drums Competition semi-finalist and attended the Berklee College of Music. He has performed with Eric Marienthal, Eric Reed, Dontae Winslow, Kamasi Washington, Gabe Baltazar, Jake Shimabukuro, and Michelle Coltrane. Most recently, he was a part of Kenny Endo's 40th Anniversary fall and spring tours.
As an ukulele player, Abe has performed at festivals throughout the world, released multiple albums in the United States, Japan, Korea, and is also a Nā Hōkū Hanohano Award recipient. Abe is also an author of the first ever ukulele instructional book and curriculum titled “Ukulele Ensemble, Beginning Ukulele - Level 1” published by Consonus Music Institute. His latest book "Jazz Ukulele: Comping, Soloing, Chord Melodies" is released by Berklee Press and published by Hal Leonard.
Abe endorses Canopus Drums, Paiste Cymbals, Vic Firth Sticks, Beato Bags, Koolau Ukuleles, Kaminari Cables, and Fusion Bags.
Japanese Koto & Shamisen Player, Singer Songwriter Sumie (Sumi-é) Kaneko has been recognized as a pioneer by her uniquely chromatic use of the instruments. Her project that is blending Japanese traditional elements into jazz improvisation is well received over the world.
She started playing Koto when she was at five, next year she was broadcasted by NHK. In 1995, Sumie won in Takasaki International Competition in Koto performance. She studied Japanese traditional music at Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music then studied Jazz vocal at Berklee College of Music in 2006.
Performance highlights includes: Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, TED talk, Getty Center, Boston Ballet, Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project, Museum of Fine Arts Boston, etc.. She has also gave workshops at academic scenes such as Harvard Univ., Princeton Univ., Wellesley College, Berklee College of Music and many more and in 2014, her group was invited to the Washington DC Jazz Festival that is cosponsored by the Embassy of Japan and in 2015 April, her group made sold-out debut at Blue Note NY that is the most well known jazz club in the world.
In addition, she was the first Shamisen player of a winner of Pulitzer Prize Paula Vogel's "The Long Christmas Ride Home", and has collaborated with many of world instrumentalists such as Kenny Endo, Kaoru Watanabe, On Ensemble, Yumiko Tanaka etc. and also painters, dancers and calligraphers. International tours: Brazil, Peru, Bolivia, Jamaica (by Japan Foundation NY), Bangladesh and many of domestic tours including Puerto Rico. In June 2015, she is invited to Islamabad, Karachi, Dhaka by the Embassy of Japan. The second album “Dead of the Night” will be released in July, 2016.
|ShastaYama 2008||Photo: Jim Gilmore|
Michelle Fujii is known for her innovative fusion of taiko and dance and is recognized as a leader in the development of taiko in America.
Michelle started taiko training as a youngster with San Jose Taiko and later led UCLA's Kyodo Taiko. She has toured with San Jose Taiko, On Ensemble, and TAIKOPROJECT. Fujii was the Artistic Director for Portland Taiko and helped develop the group's presentations to new and higher levels.
Ms. Fujii received a Bunka-cho fellowship from the Japanese government to study with one of Japan's foremost traditional folk dance groups, Warabiza and dance master, Shohei Kikuchi.
She and husband and fellow Portland artist, Toru Watanabe, have formed a new exciting professional taiko company, UNIT SOUZOU, that creatively combines dance, taiko, theater, and collaborations with various artists to develop new possibilities for the performing arts.
Ms. Fujii has also served on the North American Taiko Conference Advisory Board and is recognized for influencing a growing American collegiate taiko movement.
Since 2002, Michelle has been a perennial Shasta Taiko guest artist and a large part of ShastaYama's success. Her presence adds depth and elegance to ShastaYama's beauty and appeal.
|ShastaYama 2007||Photo: Tom Pava|