The sound of Japanese taiko drums thundered out across Phnom Penh’s Wat Botum Park yesterday morning from Origami restaurant. But in place of Japanese masters, nine Cambodian students expertly wielded the drumsticks behind the huge traditional instruments.
Emiko Kimura, restaurateur and founder of Origami School in Dangkao district, supervised Cambodia’s first taiko team as it performed drum assembles written for the group by Akiko Iseki, one of Japan’s top composers. “They play their own melodies and are the only students in Cambodia taught taiko drumming,” Ms Kimura said. “That’s why I’m very proud.”
The poised musicians wearing Japanese headbands, or hachimaki, sometimes spun around the large drums as they played and sang in Japanese.
Fifteen advanced drummers and 10 beginners belong to Origami School, which teaches about 70 junior high school students to speak Japanese, play music and fold origami. Ms Iseki teaches the drums in Cambodia for a few months at a time and has sent a music DVD to prepare the students for her next visit in coming months, Ms Kimura said.
“For hand gestures she needs to be here,” Ms Kimura said, noting that a new piece called Sakura, or Cherry Blossom, involved movements that mimic falling blossoms.
About two weeks ago seven students returned from Japan after a three-month language and culture course sponsored by The Lotus Association, an education-based NGO established in 1996, which spawned Origami School, she added.
Drummer Nou Sitha, 18, who hopes to start a two-year language course in Japan next year, said people were drawn to Japanese music when they saw Cambodians playing. “It’s because they see Cambodian drummers can play Japanese drums,” he said.
Mr Sitha said that although he found drumming hard when he began lessons two years ago, the skill became easier over time. “At first I felt shy in front of an audience but now I have got used to it.”
Mr Sitha added that during his second trip to Japan ending last month he also learned to play gagaku, a type of traditional Japanese court music.
(Additional reporting by Hour Ratha)