On Sunday J and I went to the Boston Common, where the multi-generational, pan-Asian women’s taiko drum troupe The Genki Spark appeared at this year’s Outside the Box music festival. J and I first encountered The Genki Spark when they encouraged runners with their bright and bold taiko drumming, cheering, and dancing at the Boston Marathon several years ago, and we saw them again this year, when they marched in this year’s Boston Pride parade. When J and I heard The Genki Spark would be performing on the Common this weekend, we took the T downtown to check out (and photograph) their performance.
Most of this weekend’s Outside the Box concerts happened outside in hot and humid open-air venues. The Genki Spark, however, performed at the festival’s Spiegeltent, an air-conditioned structure that looked a bit like a yurt with wooden floors and walls and a red fabric, circus-top style roof.
The inside of the Spiegeltent featured mirrored walls (hence its name) and booth-style tables around the circular periphery, and rows of folding chairs in the center lined up to face the stage. The rectangular entry vestibule had a bar on one side where The Genki Spark displayed their promotional postcards and buttons, and the overall mood of the space was that of a saloon or dance hall. Sitting in one of the booths before the performance began, I felt like I should have been sipping a cocktail served by a buxom and well-bustled barmaid: something straight out of a Hollywood Western, not something in the heart of Puritanical New England.
Any tawdry associations the venue might have inspired at first glance, though, disappeared the second the Genkis whooped and hollered their way into the room after having (literally) drummed up an audience outside. The Genki Spark take their name from a Japanese word meaning “healthy, happy, and alive,” and this Genki spirit is immediately apparent at any performance.
Sunday’s show was everything J and I have come to expect from Genki Spark performances: loud, energetic, and irrepressibly happy. Traditional taiko drumming is serious business—the stuff of samurai and stern-faced monks—but The Genki Spark channel that fierce boldness in a manner that is fun, festive, and decidedly feminine, with plenty of bright colors, smiles, and sparkle.
With their message of empowerment for women and girls of all ages—don’t be afraid to make a LOUD sound—The Genki Spark offer a version of Girl Power that is both robust and fun. You have to be strong and energetic to play a big drum, but there’s no reason you can’t be strong and energetic while wearing neon leggings, fringed shirts, and multicolored shoes.
If I had a daughter, I’d want her to grow up genki: bold, assertive, self-confident, and happy. The Genki Spark embody a kind of female empowerment that incorporates cultural pride, self-acceptance, and all stages of sisterhood. Why should health, happiness, and self-assurance be reserved for girls who are reserved, young, skinny, or white? The Genki Spark clearly reveres woman-power as much as girl-power, suggesting that to embrace Who You Are in its entirety, you have to embrace your culture as well as your age: where you come from as well as where we’re all headed.
These aren’t, in other words, Disney Princesses with ball gowns, tiaras, and impossibly wasp-waisted figures, tottering in high-heeled glass slippers. Instead, these are women who trade the rules of presumably “lady-like” behavior—“Keep your voice down” and “Keep your knees together”—for big, bold sounds made from a wide, well-grounded stance. Ranging in age from fifteen to fifty-something, the women of The Genki Spark might not be Disney Princesses, but they are something even better: strong women who show both girls and boys alike how to make a big, bold sound.
This year’s Outside the Box music festival continues through July 21st with free performances on the Boston Common and City Hall Plaza. Click here for a schedule of upcoming performers, and click here for more pictures from Sunday’s performance of The Genki Spark: enjoy!