Disney Drummer Brings Japanese Culture to Animal Kingdom

Tyler McNulty

by , Communications Specialist, Walt Disney World Resort

As the sounds of lions roaring and birds chirping fill the air of Disney’s Animal Kingdom, there’s another unique noise you might hear when walking around the park. The thundering beat of the Discovery Island Drummers engulfs the park multiple times a day with the crash of cymbals, thud of drums and pop of the snare.

Atsumi Foreman is one of the talented musicians who bring this act to life. She’s had a long career at Disney, performing in many shows across Walt Disney World Resort and even performed in Tokyo Disneyland Resort for the park’s first Easter celebration in 2011.

But Atsumi wasn’t always the amazing drummer she is today. In fact, she couldn’t stand the loud noise from her father and brother constantly playing the drum set in the house while growing up. Instead, Atsumi played the piano and other woodwind instruments. It wasn’t until the leaders of Matsuriza at EPCOT approached her mother, asking if Atsumi would want to join and learn the art of Taiko.  

Taiko is the heartbeat of Japan. Originally introduced thousands of years ago to connect with a higher power to help grow crops, warn enemies on the battlefield, but most of all to empower your team. It’s now used in all types of celebrations – celebrations of life, birth and death – and other ceremonies and special events. Through big arm and body movements that seem choreographed, drummers connect and form a bond with the audience, fascinating people around the world.   

Hesitant at first, Atsumi was worried that she would not be able to master the almost martial-art-like style of drumming. There are specific ways to stand, hold the sticks and hit the drums, but there are also dance-like movements Atsumi had to perfect along with learning how to achieve a beautiful sound from the drum before putting it all together to look effortless. “Taiko helped me find my path in life. It gave me a voice and a beautiful career.” 

Years later, Atsumi continues to inject elements of her culture into each performance and loves sharing more about Japanese drumming with guests and cast members alike. In addition to sharing the history and importance of music in Japan, Atsumi often brings in her mom’s homemade Bentos (lunches) to share with her fellow musicians. They loved it so much, they even created a thank you song, which Atsumi’s mom still cherishes to this day.

Learn more about Atsumi, including how she injects elements of Taiko into her role at Discovery Island Drummers, in the video below.   

And be sure to stay tuned to the Disney Parks Blog and @DisneyParks throughout Asian American Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander (AANHPI) Heritage Month for more stories of our cast members!