Taiko drummer, fire breather honor Asian Heritage Month

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Taiko drumming began around 500 BC and continues to be a tradition today in Japanese communities throughout the world. CODY MILLER/THE CAMPUS

Shadows danced as students gathered in the Gator Quad Friday night, their faces alight as a six-foot flame protruded from a young man’s mouth just yards away from them.

They all watched, some stealing cautious glances at the nearby fire extinguisher, as David “Jamie” Keep, ’13, took swigs of kerosene. He stepped back and positioned his flaming baton an arm’s length away from him. Then he spit out the lighter fluid, spewing flames from his mouth like an angry dragon.

The fire-breather was part of the kickoff weekend for Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, sponsored by the Association for Asian and Asian-American Awareness.

“We really wanted something explosive to kick off the month, something we haven’t tried before,” said Winnie Wong, 12.

The term “explosive” took on a literal meaning. Keep put on a 30-minute show of fire-breathing and fire-spinning for more than 70 audience members, students and faculty alike.

“I kept hoping he wouldn’t miss the baton,” said International Programs and Services Director Jenny Kawata. “My little girls were wondering if he took baton lessons.”

Nancy Chen, ’14, attended both the fire-breather and taiko drummer.

“I didn’t know the performer was a student, which was cool,” she said. “I really enjoyed the taiko drummer too, because it reminded me of the music I heard when I was younger: so traditional-sounding and soothing.”

Adrienne Nelson, ’13, also enjoyed the taiko drummer’s authentic performance.

“It was really powerful. For the first 20 minutes I started to meditate a little bit. It felt really calming,” she said. “At the end, someone asked if they felt [drumming] was a therapeutic thing and if they were getting anger out. The guy seemed a little offended by the question.”

Nelson added that although she enjoyed the performance, it went on for awhile longer than she would have liked.

“It got really monotonous,” she said.

CODY MILLER/THE CAMPUS

The taiko drummers provided the audience with an interactive experience.  After the show, the performers answered questions and even let a few audience members play the drums.

Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month is traditionally held in May. However, A5 has several events planned for each week during the month of April so that both students and members of the community have a chance to experience Asian culture.

“As a diversity organization, our goal is to bring awareness and knowledge to the Allegheny community,” Wong said.

According to Wong, the Meadville Housing Authority plans to begin their Asia Program this week, which will last until the end of the school year and coincide with the events being held on campus.

Professor Wu plans to focus on the social phenomenon surrounding Buddhism in China during his upcoming lunch lecture, Buddhism and Contemporary Chinese Culture. He said the lecture will provide a fresh, contrasting view to the stereotypical Chinese atheism.

“The best way to understand a culture is to understand its religion,” Wu said. “What a country believes in is equally, if not more, important than its food.”

An award-winning storyteller will arrive on campus April 30 to finish off the month.

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