For taiko musician Masato Baba, the upcoming Shastayama concert, scheduled for this Saturday in Mt. Shasta’s Shastice Park, is much more than just another gig – It’s a homecoming.
As the son of renowned Mt. Shasta taiko artists Russel Baba and Jeanne Mercer, Baba grew up immersed in this traditional form of Japanese drumming.
Now, at the age of 31, he is on the leading edge of the younger generation of taiko artists, currently dividing his time between the experimental taiko/fusion group the On Ensemble and the more traditional TAIKOPROJECT.
Given his parents prominence in the world of Japanese drumming, it is not surprising that their son would follow suit.
“Taiko has always been there form me,” Masato said, noting that he first started playing when he was just six years old. In addition to his mastery of taiko, he is an accomplished traditional Japanese flutist, having picked up this instrument in his early 20s.
Speaking of his evolution as musician  (as well as a person), Masato noted that taiko served as a vehicle that allowed him to stay connected to his Japanese heritage.  “The hardest thing about growing up in Mt. Shasta was not having fellow Japanese Americans around me,” he said, reflecting on the fact that his immersion into this art form was a way for him to make up for that lost connection. “It was an atmosphere that gave me culture... It was something that I could really hold onto.”
Masato now lives in LA but said Mt. Shasta is a special place for him. “At heart, I’m a country boy,” he confessed.
Speaking about the relationship he has with his parents while on stage, Baba said that he now performs with them as more of an equal. That role has transformed over the years, he said, noting that it was not always like this. “They trust me wholly now,” he admitted.  “It was always a struggle, but I now feel really good that I am on the same level with them.”
Also featured at Shastayama this year will Russel Baba and Jeanne Mercer’s taiko mentor, Grand Master Seiichi Tanaka of the San Francisco Taiko Dojo, putting three generations of taiko artists together on one stage.
Coming home for his fourth year of Shastayama (He missed 2005, the inaugural year), Masato said he is particularly excited. “I’m not exactly sure about this fact, but I think this is probably the biggest outdoor taiko festival in the US,” he said. “It is an excellent opportunity to enjoy the outdoors and the mountain and to hear world class music. Where else could you go and have an event like this?”
The concert is scheduled for August 1st at 6 p.m. in Shastice Park. Tickets for the Mt. Shasta Chamber sponsored event are available at Village Books and Soul Connections in Mt. Shasta, the Yreka Chamber of Commerce and Bogbeans Books and Music in Redding. They are also available online and at the event itself.  For more info visit shastayama.org or call the Mt. Shasta Chamber at 926-4865.
See article about last year's ShastaYama concert at: http://manager.ghm.zope.net/development/mountshastaherald/++content++shastayama_taiko_drums_lift_spirits/0