JQ Magazine: COBU Gives Sakura Matsuri Season a Beat

Takae Kawabe, a member of the all-female New York City-based taiko group COBU. (Courtesy of Takae Kawabe)

By Kirsten Phillips (Niigata-ken, 2005-2008) for JQ magazine. Kirsten is a native New Yorker and currently works as a teacher for the New York Board of Education.

Sakura matsuri season is upon us. For JET returnees, this time of year hearkens back to picnics with friends or students. Copious amounts of alcohol under the pink shower of blossoms and maneuvering through crowded lines of vendors celebrating the coming of spring. Sakura season also brings out the finest Japanese talent in New York and no event worth mentioning would be whole without the beating heart of COBU.

You haven’t been following COBU around like a bloodhound? Shame on you. Don’t even know what a COBU is? Double shame on you. Fortunately, oneesan is here to clue you in.

Spearheaded by artist and visionary Yako Miyamoto, COBU is more of a statement in taiko than a collaboration. We are heard. We are seen. We are felt. We are here. A handful of iron women play tirelessly in perfect sync. A little humor, an appropriate smattering of sexy and a metric ton of showmanship make COBU a delight for audiences across the tri-state area.

This year’s Branch Brook Park performance in New Jersey was a staggering hit by COBU, showcasing the talent of their following, or deshi. Upstage, COBU performing members Micro Fukuyama and Haruna Hisada kept time and loudly cheered on the fledgling members as they demonstrated some of COBU’S trademark choreography and pulsing patterns. If you have ever witnessed a COBU show before, it’s easy to become dazzled by the performing members, but this showcase invited audiences to the notion that, hey, they can be a part of this rhythm, too.

Taiko in Japan is not just an art form. To some, it may even be called a form of worship. All of one’s energy, passion and soul manifest in the relentless rhythm of the drum. You need dependable guns to play taiko well. Good arms, strong blood, a clear mind and a tireless heart.

COBU member Takae Kawabe was kind enough to answer some burning questions in this exclusive interview.

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JQ: Watching a COBU performance is breathtaking! About how long does it take to become a performing member?

Kawabe: If you have discipline, you are the one! It really depends how hard you practice.

JQ: How often do you guys practice?

Kawabe: Usually we have three rehearsals a week. But when a performance comes up, the members contact each other, get together, and practice extra. If necessary, we meet every day.

JQ: Please give me a little information about the COBU tap/drum classes. Does it go by level? Are the classes taught in English? Japanese? Both? What age range are the students? What is the atmosphere like in the COBU training class?

Kawabe: We have drum class on Tuesdays and Saturdays. On Tuesday, since it’s a weekday, we usually have smaller classes, and it’s more like a semi-private class atmosphere. Most of the time, we teach more details and what the students want to learn individually. On Saturday, we have more students, so we divide into groups. The students take turns and keep playing! We speak both English and Japanese, but more Japanese, I guess. The age range….Now we have a lot of kids. I guess the youngest is five or six years old and the oldest, I do not know. But anybody can join us and have fun together! The atmosphere is very energetic as people know if they know COBU. We try to make every class interesting.

JQ: Do any of the members have a preferred piece they like to perform especially and could you please tell, briefly, why?

Kawabe: Yes, I have some pieces I would love to perform. That is simply because I love them—the rhythms or the choreography. And also we would like to perform because it’s the audience favorite.

COBU performs through the rest of sakura matsuri season. For upcoming events through the summer, visit them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/COBUNY.

For JQ’s 2009 interview with COBU founder Yako Miyamoto, click here.