The Heartbeat of the Earth

Elements of Rhythm: Drums of Asia | Oakland Asian Cultural Center

Cross-rhythm, the simultaneous combination of contrasting rhythms in a musical composition, originated in two places: Africa and Korea! I learned this fascinating fact at the recent drumming performance, Elements of Rhythm: Drums of Asia, the inaugural performance of the Korean Traditional Performing Arts Center of the SF Bay Area, held at and co-presented by Oakland Asian Cultural Center (OACC) on Sunday, January 31st in downtown Oakland Chinatown. The crowd was warmly greeted by co-sponsors Tamiko Wong, Executive Director of OACC and Gloria Park of the Korean Traditional Performing Arts Center of the San Francisco Bay Area.

Dr. Anthony Brown, ethnomusicologist and Artistic Director of the Asian American Orchestra, was a delight as Master of Ceremonies. The Grammy nominated artist has collaborated with such jazz heavy hitters at Max Roach and Cecil Taylor, as well as the great Indian tabla player Zakir Hussain. As a musician, I felt honored to be in the presence of that kind of knowledge and experience. To get an idea of his musical mastery, check out the 2013 documentary, Don’t Lose Your Soul: The Music of Anthony Brown and Mark Izu, produced by the Center for Asian American Media with Jim Choi and Chihiro Wimbush.

What I experienced was the very specific way that art informs connection; in this case, the art and practice of drumming signifies the heartbeat of the earth and all its living beings.  I was moved on such a cellular level by the rhythms of Jason Jong and members of Hei Gu Chinese Percussion Ensemble, a group who seeks to “reclaim the legacy of Chinese percussive arts through traditional and contemporary works.” I couldn’t keep from dancing in my seat to the familiar rhythms – which at times sounded much like the rhythms of jazz, hip-hop, funk and soul.

Photo 2 Dr. Rohan Krishnamurthy

Dr. Rohan Krishnamurthy, called the “pride of India” by its leading newspaper, entranced the audience with his playing of the mridangam. Depending on where Dr. Krishnamurthy would strike the instrument, it could sound like a drum, or a stringed instrument; it was calming and sweet to my ears. Other performers included Bruce “Mui” Ghent and members of Maikaze Daiko (Japan) and Daniel Giray with members of Kulintang Dance Theatre (Philippines).   Kyoungil Ong and OngDance Company (Korea) were one of the more eye-catching performances with their bold, bright outfits and even brighter stage presence. They displayed excellent coordination with not only their playing, but also the movement of the large Korean drum sets all around the stage. In addition to playing the actual drums, the dancers/ instrumentalists used several parts of their bodies to make the sound of the drum while incorporating elegant, yet powerful acrobatic movements. That dance is said to be “symbolic of the merging of spirit on earth”.

Photo 3 Group Photo_Elements of Rhythm_Drums of Asia

The program concluded with a special collaborative finale, Echoes of Asia, displaying even further the way the vibration of the drum has the power to bridge cultures through ancestry, time and space.

Oakland Asian Cultural Center is one member of The San Francisco Foundation’s  Artistic Hubs Cohort and it’s mission is to build vibrant communities through Asian and Pacific Islander American (APIA) arts and culture programs that foster intergenerational and cross-cultural dialogue, cultural identity, collaborations, and social justice.  As an Artistic Hubs Cohort member, OACC along with 14 other organizations, receives technical assistance and additional support from The San Francisco Foundation.

Join OACC at their next free event, the 2015 Lunar New Year Celebration, on Saturday, February 28, 2015 from 11 am-3 pm, at the Oakland Asian Cultural Center.

The program will consist of:

  • Performances by OACC affiliated artists
  • Demonstrations from OACC classes and teachers (Qi Gong, Gong Fu, Guzheng, Patty Chu’s Chinese Dance)
  • Vendor fair with community organizations and arts & crafts

If you or someone you know would like to perform or be a vendor for OACC’s next event, please contact Holly Lim at


Photo caption: (top to bottom) Photo 1: Members of OngDance Company (Korea)/ Photo 2: Dr. Rohan Krishnamurthy (India)/ Photo 3: Back row – Daniel Giray, Kevin Steward, member of Hei Gu Chinese Percussion Ensemble,  Jason Jong of Hei Gu Chinese Percussion Ensemble, Dr. Rohan Krishnamurthy (India), MC Dr. Anthony Brown of Asian American Orchestra,  Tomiko Wong of OACC, Gloria Park of  Korean Traditional Performing Arts Center of the San Francisco Bay Area, Kyoungil Ong, Bruce “Mui” Ghent and members of Maikaze Daiko (Japan)/ Front Row –  member of Hei Gu Chinese Percussion Ensemble, and members of OngDance Company

Photo 1 courtesy of Dave Golden, photos 2 and 3 courtesy of OACC.