For two years, the drumbeat of war has been echoing throughout the world, with Iraq, Afghanistan, North Korea, and Israel all adding their own martial cadences. But the drum hasn't always served as a call to arms, and those hoping to march to the beat of a more peaceful drummer can do so at the International Taiko Festival.
Taiko, an ancient Japanese art form combining drumming and dance, uses handmade percussion instruments; some say they embody the spirits of the trees from which they're made -- and the spirits of their builders and performers. The drums were first used to ward off evil spirits and thank the gods for bountiful crops. But despite their long history in Japan, they didn't arrive in America until 35 years ago. In fact, our town can lay claim to the first U.S. Taiko company, making this an ideal spot for a stateside celebration of the thunderous rhythms.
Hosted by the San Francisco Taiko Dojo, the festival features the largest collection of master drummers outside Japan, including venerated international master Kineya Sasazo, along with the Choshi Hane Daiko company, which performs the "fighting drums" with 60-pound instruments. More than a dozen groups from the U.S. also take the stage, with the country's three founding Taiko groups -- from San Francisco, San Jose, and Los Angeles -- choreographing a collaborative piece honoring the meeting of the two cultures. The tattoos beat at 7 p.m. at Zellerbach Hall, Bancroft & Telegraph, on the UC Berkeley campus. Admission is $22-36; call (510) 642-9988 or visit www.taikodojo.org.
-- Jack Karp
Poet, Know It
The rules are these: Poetry is for the page, dance is for the stage, and political savvy is for the podium. Also, performance art isn't funny. But Marc Bamuthi Joseph is tuned in to his interior radio station more than to anyone else's rules. Using his enormous talents, Joseph has brought spoken word to kids (as education) and to the stage (as entertainment). Now he takes the emerging art form to a new production level, with Word Becomes Flesh, a "choreopoem" about a single father's thoughts during nine months of pregnancy. The show runs this weekend only, starting at 8 p.m. at ODC Theater, 3153 17th St. (at Shotwell), S.F. Admission is $12-15; call 863-9834 or visit www.odctheater.org.
-- Hiya Swanhuyser
A Blake-y musician
William Blake isn't often considered a proto-punker, but he was. As evidence, consider Old Time Relijun frontman Arrington DeDionyso: His similarities to the poet are astounding, and the singer is definitively punk rock.It takes more than borderline insanity to resemble Blake. You have to make quirky visual art, for example, and write about sex in the context of God and creation -- a lot. Old Time Relijun is revered for its fervor and lyricism, and sometimes criticized for being too weird, as Blake was. The group's music is as orgiastic as Blake's illustrations for Songs of Innocence and of Experience, its beat just as pounding as the rhythm of Blake's poems, and DeDionyso may be channeling the old guy. Veronica Lipgloss and the Evil Eyes open at 10 p.m. at the Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk (at Post), S.F. Admission is $6; call 923-0923 or visit www.hemlocktavern.com.
-- Hiya Swanhuyser
S.F.'s hip hop hoedown
Just as an appreciation for spontaneous improvisation colored the culture of post-World War II America (with its influence popping up in abstract paintings, bebop jazz, beat poetry, theater, and modern dance), so are modern arts influenced by the rhythms of hip hop, with its insistent beats and street-savvy style leaking into spoken word, fashion, the visual arts, and dance.Take a gander at the San Francisco Hip Hop DanceFest, which showcases some of the hottest troupes from around the country. New York's Full Circle headlines the fest's fifth year, displaying the moves that landed it gigs with vocalists Missy Elliott and Janet Jackson. Other performers include loose-limbed local groups like Funkanometry San Francisco Dance Company and Mind Over Matter. Boogie down starting at 8 p.m. at the Palace of Fine Arts, 3301 Lyon (at Bay), S.F. Admission is $25; call 567-6642 or visit www.sfhiphopdancefest.com.
-- Joyce Slaton
Thrill of the Chills
Ancient legends describe fire as a life force carried on the breath of the living that illuminates the sky. In Ghost Festival 3's storytelling performance "Fire in Heaven," folklorist Gayle Ross (granddaughter of Trail of Tears march leader Chief Ross) and renowned local narrator Brenda Wong Aoki trace this myth through traditional Cherokee and Asian ghost stories. The cross-cultural collection of spine-tingling tales is accompanied by music from Mark Izu (S.F.'s Asian American Jazz Festival director), Native American chanting, and Japanese Shinto water blessings. The chills begin at 2 p.m. (and again at 7) at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater, 700 Howard (at Third St.), S.F. Admission is $20-25; call 978-2787 or visit www.yerbabuenaarts.org.
-- Sandra Nygaard