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A different drum
Japanese taiko drumming comes to the Savannah Asian Festival
Matsuriza Japanese taiko drummers, from Orlando's Epcot

In Japan, traditional drumming ensembles are called kumi–daiko. These groups take the traditional Japanese drums, known as taiko, and put them side–by–side, of all shapes, sizes and resonances, for a pounding, poly–rhythmic performance.

Taiko drumming ensembles blend traditional Japanese folk culture, shrine music, elements of jazz rhythm and a fierce and often quite dazzling sense of showmanship.

Taiko came to the United States in the late 1960s, and it’s estimated that there are around 200 performing groups in the country today.

One of the busiest is certainly Matsuriza, which is the taiko ensemble in residence at Epcot Center in Orlando – the group puts on shows for the tourists every day of the week.

Matsuriza – or at least the traveling version – is coming here for Saturday’s 15th annual Savannah Asian Festival, inside the Savannah Civic Center’s Martin Luther King Jr. Arena and brought to you by the City of Savannah’s Cultural Affairs Commission.

Every year, it’s the food that brings the folks in – delicacies from Japan, Polynesia, China, the Philippines, Vietnam, India, the Middle East and just about every region and country in between – but it’s the entertainment that keeps ‘em there.

Takemasa Ishikura formed Matsuriza in 1998, after more than a decade of performing with another taiko group at Epcot’s Japan Pavilion.

In addition to their physically demanding work on the (small, large and incredibly large) taiko drums, the members of Matsuriza also play bamboo flutes (shinobue and shakuhachi) and the three–stringed shamisen.

Their performances are at 12:20 and 3 p.m.

The Savannah Asian Festival will also feature another Florida–based performing ensemble: The SinoElite Acrobats, from Orlando. Here’s a show with contortionists, plate–spinning, unicycle stunts, head, hand and foot juggling, hula hooping and, of course, the legendary Lion Dance.

This is, essentially, two acrobats inside a big lion costume, rolling, tumbling and leaping across the stage. More than 2,000 years old, the Lion Dance is usually a part of every parade and festival in China.

This colorful spectacle celebrates the lion as “protection” for the people; it’s also a symbol of health, prosperity, good luck and blessings.

Members of the Chien Hong School of Kung Fu Lion Dancers, from Atlanta, will take the stage, and there will be martial arts demonstrations, and dances and demonstrations from groups representing Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia, Polynesia, Thailand and India.

As always a children’s area will be set up to accommodate youngsters with an interest in “Zen Gardening,” fan–making, flag–making and so on.

There’s to be an Asian mini–mall, too, with all sorts of goodies for sale.

Savannah Asian Festival

Where: Martin Luther King Jr.  Arena, Savannah Civic Center, 301 W. Oglethorpe Ave.

When: 11 a.m.–5 p.m. Saturday, June 5

Admission: Free (except food)