Hailing from the Shanxi Province in China, the Shanxi Jiangzhou Drum Arts Ensemble, as they are known in China, comes to America as JIGU! Thunder Drums of China. In Chinese, jigu (pronounced jee GOO) means to “beat or touch the drum” and their performances allow audiences to experience the culmination of thousands of years of Chinese musical tradition.
The drummers, percussionists, and musicians of JIGU! Thunder Drums of China, come from 28 villages within the Shanxi Province, and range in age mainly from 18 to 30 years old. Their skills have been passed down from generation to generation by their families. Their drumming tradition can be traced back centuries in the city of Jiangzhou, within Xinjiang County. Jiangzhou was the home of the Emperor Li Shimin of the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907), also known as Tang Taizong in many historical records, and his celebrated drum and percussion orchestra. Part of the legend of Emperor Li Shimin lives on at this performance as the opening scene portrayed in our show tells some of his story.
Some of the earliest archaeological evidence of Chinese drums and percussion music has been unearthed in the Shanxi region. Drumming and percussion music is generally placed in one of two categories. The Yuchui, (pronounced “Yu-Shwee”) or drum and wind style, is mainly performed at weddings and funerals to bring good fortune and peace to those being honored. The Saishe, (pronounced “Sigh-Sheh”) or festival style is performed largely by villagers praying for prosperous weather and rich harvests. The JIGU! Thunder Drums of China repertoire embraces both of these styles, the more formal and traditional, as well as the more joyful, light-heartedness found in daily life.
JIGU! Thunder Drums of China has performed in many countries and major cities worldwide including Denmark, Morocco, Singapore, Malaysia, Korea, Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan. Their performances at the Hong Kong Arts Festival were lauded “varied as the beats and drums themselves” and featured “dramatic, heart-stopping pieces” while also displaying a playful attitude with passages that are “entirely humorous!” Their participation in festivals and arts events are numerous and include CCTV’s (Chinese Central Television’s) Spring Festival, the Macao International Music Festival, the Shanghai International Arts Festival, the Chinese Folk Art Festival, the Summer of Ha’ErBin Arts Festival, the Hong Kong Drum Festival and Competition, the internationally renowned Arhus Cultural Festival in Denmark and the 2004 NBA’s International Games, where they were the featured performers.
JIGU! Thunder Drums of China has also won many awards including the 1992 Chinese Folk Competitions for Percussion and Drums Performers and they were the Gold Medalists at the 2004 National Star Awards in China given for excellence in their fields of drumming and percussive performance. They also won Gold Medals at the National Star Awards competition in China for 1992, 2000 and 2001.
China has a long and rich theatrical history, dating back many centuries to the Shang dynasty (1523-1028 B.C.). In this period, “seers” performed ceremonial songs and dances to honor the gods, invoking them to drive out pestilence; cause crops to be abundant; or create other “miracles.” By the Han dynasty beginning around 202 B. C., court entertainments were very popular. Clowns, wrestlers, acrobats, singers and musicians entertained emperors and their attendants by acting out mythical stories and famous fables.