Little drummer boy

Taiko drummer Jos Coolen knows how to activate spaces

By Francesca Emms
Photo by Anna Briggs

Featured in Capital #67
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When Jos Coolen joined Taikoza, a traditional Taiko drumming performance group, the tall Dutchman had to import his pants. “My long legs give me some trouble finding a good fit in New Zealand, a typical problem for Dutch people,” he laughs. The pants he wears for Taikoza performances were imported from a shop in the Netherlands that specialises in long legs. And it’s not just costuming that can be a bit tricky for him. “The most challenging part in Taiko drumming is probably the stance that we use in some pieces where we play low to the ground, where our knees are bent so much that its almost at the same level as the hip. For a tall Dutch person like myself it takes quite a bit of commitment to get that low but it’s very satisfying when you manage to do it.”

Jos arrived in New Zealand five years ago. Looking for a way to be socially active, and with a background in percussion, he found Taikoza was the perfect fit. “It is a great way to empty your mind and release your energy. As Taiko drumming is quite physical and can be a good workout, it saves you a gym membership as well.”  He now manages the day-to-day activity of the group, which includes performances, lessons, and group practice. Taikoza often perform in public spaces, something Jos is passionate about as a performer and as a designer of urban spaces.

By day, Jos is an urban designer at Boffa Miskell. “This involves planning and designing the environment around us in a way so that we all have an attractive and sustainable world to live, work, and play in.” He says his ambition for both his work and drumming is “to activate our city’s open spaces and see those places as playgrounds for creativity and where random things happen.”

It’s no surprise that’s Jos’ weekends are Taiko heavy. But he makes time to get himself down to the Harbourside markets on a Sunday (usually as a shopper but sometimes performing too). “Nothing can beat Wellington’s waterfront. Everything that makes our city awesome comes together here; people meeting each other, street performers, ice cream, wildlife, people running or working out, or just hanging out in the grass. Even the wind. The quality of life is so much better in spaces that are designed for people, away from cars. Who doesn’t like to be surprised by a random person producing some beautiful tunes on the piano?”

Living in Hataitai with his partner Bertie, Jos enjoys their garden overlooking Evans Bay, “with noisy birds and beautifully coloured flowers everywhere”.  His favourite coffee spot is Coolsville in Haitaitai, and for a dinner out he likes Cicio Cacio in Newtown for its “very authentic, and delicious food”. Italy is Jos’ favourite place outside New Zealand, although the cold Himalayan mountaintops in Nepal and the hot temperatures of the Pacific Islands are close contenders. Italy takes top spot because of the “great food, history, diverse nature and a very rich culture. I admire how people in Italy celebrate everyday life.”


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