TCA Member Spotlight: Jen Caballero

The eclectic stylings of Jen Cabz can be seen not only in her taiko playing, but in her life as a whole. From drumming through Vegas to sussing out the sus to tailoring a unique collection of Disney pins, Jen has an attention to detail that has long benefitted TCA from her local drive and oversight of NATC 2015 through her ongoing work today on TCA’s Communications and Beyond The Drum committees. We’re excited this week to have been able to sit down with Jen more informally and learn about the person behind the giant fluffy dog!

When did you first find taiko? Is this the same time that you started playing taiko?

I can’t pinpoint exactly when I first saw taiko. I used to dance Filipino folk dancing in my teens, and we would attend the same festivals as other cultural groups. I often saw a taiko group, but never got the chance to approach them for more information, but I always thought their performance was fascinating, much like the other cultural groups. In college, a classmate mentioned he was part of LV Kaminari Taiko and invited me to join the group. So I sat in on a few practices in 2003 and officially joined at the end of that year. 


What has your taiko journey looked like?

I started with LVKT and have been in this group for 18 years. It certainly doesn’t feel like 18 years, though. Throughout my time with LVKT, I’ve definitely been able to meet lifelong friends through the group and elsewhere. LV has an eclectic array of performance venues, so there’s definitely no shortage of interesting events! I’ve gotten to participate in a few raves, music festivals, a burlesque (what??), movie festivals, casino grand openings, etc. 

A memory that I have that I won’t ever forget is when we had the opportunity to perform at the 2009 NATC Taiko Jam. It was stressful, hard, emotional, but at the end of it, I was incredibly proud of the group and their work. That experience taught me a lot about leadership, adaptability, and accountability. 

Since then, my time with LVKT is spent growing and learning with the group. We’ve hosted workshops, guest taiko artists, and in 2019, alongside Korabo Taiko, hosted a few taiko groups for the 2019 annual Aki Matsuri. It was an excellent event! We had a pretty robust kids group, but since the pandemic, we have had to put a pause on all classes. However, we will be starting new classes in July!

One thing that I had not expected to happen in my taiko journey is having the opportunity to incorporate my other passion into taiko. I went to cosmetology school with the specific intent on becoming a hairstylist in a show. To get more experience, I offered services to a few groups to style their hair for their bigger shows. I was able to learn techniques to make sure styles stayed in place for vigorous taiko playing – Big thank you to San Jose Taiko, UnitOne, and TAIKOPROJECT (an official hairstylist for them!) for allowing me to do cool things to their hair! 

Needless to say, I’m so looking forward to seeing what the future has for my taiko journey! 

 


Why did you become a member of TCA?

I was invited to the 2013 TCA Launch and was inspired by how much people cared about the future of the taiko community. I enjoy volunteering for TCA and being involved with different committees. In 2015, the local Las Vegas taiko community (LVKT and Korabo Taiko) hosted TCA’s first NATC and boy was it a lot of work! It was an incredible learning experience and I got to see how dedicated people are to making taiko accessible to people in different places. Despite it being pretty “warm” (read: hot), NATC in LV was successful! (Special thanks to Elise and Jun Daiko~). I am so grateful to all the volunteers involved. Following the 2015 NATC, I wanted to continue being part of TCA because I want to be able to share my experience with putting on this large event with future local hosts. Besides, TCA people are pretty cool, not gonna lie. 


What is your favorite post-practice meal?

Oh – it will always and forever be: tanshio (stir-fried beef tongue), zaru soba, and honey toast (Ichiza*)

But i will interchange it with chicken tender curry with corn and spinach (Curry Zen*), or Sinigang stew (D’Pinoy Joint*). 

*Must have restaurants when you’re here in Vegas!

Do you have other passions and/or hobbies outside of taiko?

Outside of taiko, I’m an avid gamer. I think I mostly focus on adventure, puzzle, shooters, and I love board games. I like traveling and I can’t wait to go traveling again once it’s more safe. Of course, I enjoy beauty-things (hair cutting/styling and nail design, mostly). I enjoy dabbling in sewing or stitching, and I have been casually collecting enamel pins (Disney mostly) since 2017 – shoutout to pin traders out there! If you’re one, hit me up! 


Last, but certainly not least: How many taiko tees do you own?

I think… I’m gonna say 25. My collection has slowed down as of late… 

Shime or Odaiko?

Odaiko – I’m working on my endurance, but there’s just something about hitting a big drum that will always get my adrenaline going.

Run for Exercise or Literally Anything Else?

Literally anything else… I am not one to run. 😡

Phone Call or Text Message?

Do I have to pick one?? Okay quick pick would be text message, but I like hearing people’s voices. <3

What’s worse: Laundry or Dishes?

Laundry. I don’t know what it is about folding and hanging laundry…

Coffee, Tea, or Red Bull (or, you know, another energy drink, I guess)

Coffee! Tea! I like both! They bring so many interesting flavors to the party! I mean, I guess energy drinks do too, but I tend not to drink coffee/tea for the energy boost.

Perform in incredibly cold weather or incredibly humid weather?

Cold weather. I live in dry-hot climate… I melt in humid weather. 

Record your practice and study the footage or fly free on the feeling?

Fly free on the feeling. I enjoy practicing in the moment and feeling what needs to be fixed. BUT I’ll study the heck out of a video if I’m super enthusiastic about learning a rhythm or song.

Do you know a TCA member who you would like to see spotlighted? Send an email to Sarah Gilbert at sarah@taikocommunityalliance.org to nominate the TCA members in your life for our next spotlight!

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