Taiko artist and Mount Shasta native Shoji Kameda was back on home turf earlier this week after a weekend performance in Ashland with his taiko-fusion band the On Ensemble.
Since its inception in 2006, the On Ensemble (pronounced Ohn) has received world-wide acclaim for their groundbreaking   work in a world that is rooted partly in taiko, a traditional form of Japanese drumming,  but also introduces other influences such as hip hop, electronica and rock.
Also in the On Ensemble is Masato Baba, another Mount Shasta native, who is the son of Shasta Taiko founders Russell Baba and Jeannie Mercer.
Shoji and Masato grew up together, beginning their study of taiko at an early age. 
Reduced to its simplest terms, Kameda described the music of the On Ensemble as “World fusion from a taiko-centric perspective,” though as soon as the word “fusion” left his mouth, he began to back peddle. “Fusion has some connotations that don’t really reflect what we are doing,” he said.
Seeking to clarify, Kameda noted that the music of On Ensemble comes from a place of self-knowledge and not a need to fuse genres in a forced way, which, he claimed, is often what  fusion can feel like. “We’re trying to understand ourselves and be true to our experiences through the music that we play,”?he said. “I guess you could say that it is honest music.”
In addition to his work with On Ensemble, Kameda  plays with Hiroshima, an internationally renowned world fusion group that has been around for 25 years. He also pursues numerous solo projects of his own, including work doing scores for the television and film industry.
If that were not enough, the Mount Shasta High graduate spends ample time travelling the world, including a recent month long trip to Indonesia and an upcoming trip to Mongolia later this fall.    
“Mount Shasta was the ideal setting to grow up in,” said Kameda, speaking of all of the influences and experiences that shaped his decision to dedicate his life to taiko and other music. Most noteworthy was his long tutelage with Shasta Taiko. 
Kameda emphasized that the work that he and Masato Baba did in their youth positioned them to excel. Though he also said that, like any high school student, he had his other interests, as well. “I kind of took it for granted at the time.” 
Things changed when Kameda began his freshman year of college.
“When I showed up at Stanford, I joined in a taiko group there. They asked me to be artistic director that first year, which really got me involved.”
From that point on, Kameda’s musical career was off and running, taking many different twists and turns on the way. 
He noted, in particular, his apprenticeship with taiko master  Kenny Endo as being a significant part of his development. Both he and Masato Baba lived in Hawaii for some time and studied with Endo. 
Reflecting on both his world travels and his quest to broaden his musical horizons, Kameda noted, “The most valuable lesson is to try to value the different ways of learning and practicing.”  In addition to the taiko drum in its many forms (he noted that taiko translates as “fat drum” in Japanese) and other percussion instruments, Kameda has slowly learned the craft of throat singing and also plays the transverse flute.
Also in the On Ensemble are Kristofer Bergstrom and Kelvin Underwood who, like Kameda and Baba, have a long list of accomplishments to their names.
The group is currently touring to promote the release of their latest CD, which was released on May 5, “Ume in the Middle.”
Next stop on the tour is South Lake Tahoe, where the group will give a performance and conduct workshops in area schools.
Reflecting on the many in-school workshops that the group does, Kameda noted,  in most places in the country, many people have little to no knowledge of taiko drumming or many of the other styles of world percussion and influences that they are dabbling in. He said that through their work with young people, they are not just providing education.
“We are building up the world that we want to live in.”
For more information about Kameda, Baba and the On Ensemble, visit onensemble.org.