On Ensemble: Contemporary taiko quartet
On Ensemble (pronounced “Ohn”) takes the ancient instruments of taiko into new realms. Infusing the powerful rhythms of ensemble Japanese drumming with elements of hip-hop, rock and electronica, 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, Masato Baba, Kristofer Bergstrom, Shoji Kameda and Kelvin Underwood, are individually recognized as leading artists in their field and sought after as teachers, workshop leaders, composers and performers. As On Ensemble they combine their study and deep appreciation of tradition with equally formative experiences as DJs, electronic music producers, Jazz drummers, and rock bassists to create a repertoire of ground-breaking music.
On Ensemble performs regularly in concert halls, theaters, and outdoor venues throughout the United States and Canada. Since the group’s inception in 2002, On Ensemble has presented sold-out performances to audiences in intimate, 100-seat spaces like La Chapelle in Montreal, to larger venues like the 1400-seat Cerritos Center in southern California. On Ensemble’s dynamic performances appeal to adventurous, curious, music-loving audiences of all ages.
Each year, On Ensemble visits dozens of schools to provide educational outreach activities. Providing context for the group’s music and insight into Japanese drumming in particular, On Ensemble’s lecture-demonstrations are tailored to a variety of settings, from elementary school gymnasiums to university lecture halls.
On Ensemble school presentations are exciting, interactive demonstrations of the powerful Japanese drums known as taiko. The 50-minute presentations intersperse cultural and musical background information with dynamic, live music. The performance utilizes Japanese percussion, string, and wind instruments. Students learn about “traditional” and “contemporary” influences and how the drums made their way from ancient origins to their current use in ensemble taiko. Students participate in the oral tradition of taiko, learning rhythms by vocalizing. At the end of the performance, selected audience members join On Ensemble on stage for a hands-on attempt at playing the big drums.
Workshops and Classes
On Ensemble’s members are widely-respected teachers and the group maintains a busy schedule of taiko workshops and hands-on courses. On Ensemble workshops provide in-depth instruction in a variety of topics covering taiko technique, composition, and music theory. The group organizes an annual workshop tour, teaching taiko in cities across the country.
On Ensemble’s taiko courses provide structured, hands-on instruction to taiko players in the Los Angeles area. Previous offerings include, “Improvisation 101″, “Ridiculous Rhythms”, and “Multi Drum Technique”. Most courses are designed as a supplement to taiko players’ studies in other groups, focusing on a specific skill set and the fundamentals and practice concepts necessary for improvement.
Each of On Ensemble’s members is individually recognized as a leading artist in the field. With extensive training in the United States and Japan in a variety of instruments, the four members bring individual talents to the group.
Masato Baba : taiko, yokobue, voice, percussion
Born into a musical family, Maz started playing taiko at age 6 under the tutelage of his parents and professional taiko players, Russel Baba and Jeanne Mercer. In his twenty-four years of studying, performing, and teaching, Maz has become one of the most respected taiko players in North America. He has toured the United States, Japan, Macau, and Germany and has recorded with many of North America’s leading taiko artists. He was featured in the David Mamet film Redbelt and lends his talents as Musical Director to “TAIKOPROJECT: (re)generation” a multimedia theatre production. Maz is also sought after as a teacher and workshop leader and serves as lead instructor to several Los Angeles-based taiko groups.
Kristofer Bergstrom : taiko, turntable, shamisen, koto
Kris began his taiko career as a member, composer, and leader of the university group, Stanford Taiko. He then spent 3 years in Japan where he studied and performed traditional dance within the Wakayagi school, kumidaiko with Nihon Taiko Dojo, and nagauta shamisen with Kineya Katsuyukie, one of the world’s most respected shamisen players. An artist of many talents, Kris maintains an active teaching schedule of taiko technique, turntable scratching, and shamisen, and currently serves as mentor to a small group of dedicated apprentices. His recent composition work explores puzzles and riddles buried in rhythm.
Shoji Kameda : taiko, throat singing, yokobue, percussion
Shoji Kameda is a Grammy Nominated musician and one of North America’s most gifted taiko artists. In his 26 years of experience he has become known as a talented composer, musician and producer with the imagination to take an ancient art form into new realms. In 2006 he was selected through a highly competitive process as an Asian Pacific Performance Exchange fellow, collaborating with master artists from the Philippines, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and the USA. He produced On Ensemble’s critically acclaimed album Dust and Sand and composed an original score for Abduction: The Megumi Yokota Story, Audience Award winner for Best Documentary at the 2006 Slamdance Film Festival. In 2007 Shoji was invited to Malaysia as a guest artist for “Qadim” a production at the Nation Arts Academy. He was featured in the music of the hit NBC TV show Heroes performed with Stevie Wonder at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. In 2009 he was selected as a fellow for the UCLA/Indonesia Arts Education Residency Program and spent a month teaching taiko to disadvantaged youth in central Java. Later that year he traveled to Mongolia as part of the Khoomei Taiko Ensemble an international collaboration that brought leading Japanese, American and Mongolian musicians. In 2010 he was nominated for a Grammy Award as a member of Hiroshima for his work on the band’s “Legacy” album.
Kelvin Underwood : taiko, drum set, voice, percussion
Born in North Carolina, Kelvin’s musical journey began with a drum set and two understanding parents. At age 19, Kelvin was recruited by Tagayasu Den to join the world-famous taiko group, Ondekoza. As a member of Ondekoza he has performed in some of the worlds most prestigious stages including New York’s Carnegie Hall and Tokyo’s Suntory Hall. After touring internationally for four hears, Kelvin returned to the US to enroll at Berklee College of Music, where he graduated with a degree in Professional Music. He has collaborated with electronic-instrument-maker Sudhu Tewari to produce “Meidoko: Unearth” and has studied the Brazilian martial art Capoeira. Currently living in Ashland, Oregon, Kelvin teaches taiko and drum set and is an active solo artist.