Call it the East meeting the West in the North.
Yellowknife resident Nancy Mullick, who is a taiko drummer plays on a custom-made buffalo hide drum made by her partner Richard Bergen.
Taiko is a Japanese form of drumming where drummers play in groups on various kinds of cow hide drums.
Bergen works as a refrigeration mechanic but he drummed up the idea of making a taiko drum for Nancy to give extra support to her passion.
“I saw her playing these drums and found out how expensive they really were. Her other drums cost $3,000 each. I started researching into how the drums were built and the more I dug into it the more I realized I could maybe do it,” he told Yellowknifer.
He sourced the oak shell from a vendor in London, Ont. and the buffalo hide from a leather company in Winnipeg.
Everything was shipped to their house in Yellowknife and they assembled it all here.
“For the skin itself we had to soak it in water and stretch it. There was a hydraulic jack system under the drum to stretch the hide and then Nancy physically got on top of the skin and walked on it to stretch it and manipulate it enough so it stretched nicely. She did that three times and we tightened up the jacks each time,” he explained.
Once the hide head was as tight as it needed to be, he flipped the drum and repeated the process on the other side.
He began the process last June and finished it in December, waiting about one week until Mullick began playing on it in early December.
“Material-wise it ended up being almost $1,000 for the materials and hides and other items,” Bergen said. “There was about 200 hours worth of labour.”
Though Bergen isn’t a drummer, he said the buffalo drum has a “deeper” sound because the skin is thicker than cow hide.
“It’s a large drum with a large voice,” said Mullick.
“As the hide ‘settles’ throughout playing it, the voice is getting deeper and more resonant. The vibrations are also really big so I feel that in the floor with my feet. The rebound of the hide is great.”
Bergen hopes the drum will last as long as Mullick wants to keep playing on it, which could be quite a while considering how dedicated she is to the art form.
“I’ve been amazed by how much support we’ve received from the taiko community, and information we’ve received from people who built their own drums,” Bergen said.
Mullick was first inspired to take up taiko after watching a thumping performance by taiko group Uzume Taiko at Folk on the Rocks in 2008.
The following year she took a month-long intensive taiko course in Vancouver, followed by more courses and performances in Los Angeles, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Thunder Bay, Kelowna and Japan.
She formed the Yellowknife taiko group SkyFire Taiko in 2015.