Meki’s Tamure Polynesian Arts Group
Drumming and dancing have become symbols to the world of Tahiti’s and French Polynesia’s proud cultural heritage. The Toalepai family has shared these traditions with audiences in Baltimore for nearly half a century.
Master Polynesian drummer Meki Toalepai’s father arrived in the U.S. from Tahiti in the early 1960s as part of a traveling drum and dance group. He eventually relocated to the Baltimore region, where he provided the entertainment at the Hawaiian Room at the Emerson Hotel in downtown Baltimore and, later, formed his own group. In 1992, Meki took over the ensemble, traveling to Hawaii to learn from master drummers there. This past April, he was appointed as Governor Larry Hogan’s commissioner for the Asian Pacific American Affairs Office, the first Pacific Islander ever to serve in the role.
Meki is teaching his 23-year-old son, Meki Toalepai Jr., the tradition of Tahitian drumming. Meki Jr. will learn to play the lead drum. He will have to memorize the basic structure of several Tahitian drum patterns, and will eventually learn to play two drums simultaneously, with the left hand playing a straight rhythm on a bass drum called the pahu, and the right hand playing a complex melody on a hollowed-out log called the to’ere. At the conclusion of the apprenticeship, Meki Jr. will be able to play any drum in the ensemble and be ready to accompany dancers. The ability to communicate with dancers through subtle cues is essential to this tradition that is both vigorous and graceful.