Raging Asian Womxn Taiko Drummers (RAW) is as loud and powerful as their name suggests. RAW is one of the few taiko groups to feature solely Asian womxn practitioners. To bring about productive inclusion in their ensemble, they underwent a name adjustment from Raging Asian Women to Raging Asian Womxn, representing their commitment to trans and cis women, non-binary, and gender-variant people. They explain that “Some feminist movements have used the category of ‘woman’ to exclude non-normative identities and bodies in harmful ways,” and that “RAW exists for a place for Asian folx who have experiences or personal relationships to the category of ‘woman’ to gather, share, rage, joy, drum and EXIST.”
RAW will perform on February 17th at 7 pm in the Pearson-Hall Theater in the Lang Performing Arts Center and will hold two workshops on campus. The first will be for the Taiko and Asian American Experiences class while the second will prioritize queer, trans, Asian, and Asian American students. This second workshop, called Drumming Up Rage, aims to offer the drum as a way to challenge, resist, and rage at systems of oppression and dominant stereotypes that marginalize social identities. Students will learn a drill called Fired Up to connect with their drum and each other. Drumming Up Rage will take place on February 16th, no prior taiko or performance experience is necessary. The workshop is currently full but interested students should email Professor Ouyang <email@example.com> to be placed on the waitlist.
Based in Toronto, Canada, RAW has been making their presence known since 1998. Associate Professor and Chair of Music Lei Ouyang says “they stand out in the North American taiko community for their commitment to focusing on race, ethnicity, [and] gender through their performance.” They are loud and they are expressive, crucial qualities for any taiko ensemble. Attend their performance and you’ll understand why RAW has made such waves in the Asian American, LGBTQ+, and other marginalized communities.
So what exactly is taiko drumming? Professor Ouyang describes taiko as a “neo-traditional art form that emerged in post-war Japan based on a combination of different pre-existing genres and material including traditional and classical art forms from Japan and jazz drumming from the United States.” Performances are loud, active, and passionate. Taiko is not just a sound, but a combination of “choreography and movement . . . there’s a deep connection to martial arts and dance . . . it’s not just drummers drumming or dancers dancing,” describes Professor Ouyang.
“There’s something very special about the live playing of taiko and the [performance] of a group,” says Professor Ouyang. She also mentions something called ki. Ki is energy, and in this context she says it is “the connection to the drum, your connection to the other players, your connection to the audience, your connection to the spirits, [and] to the earth.”
This kind of energy through connection is essential to taiko in North America. Performances such as those by RAW are dedicated to expressing Asian American identities and displaying unity and defiance in the face of stereotypes and racism. Furthermore, RAW is one example of a taiko ensemble that uplifts LGBTQ+ members of Asian American communities. They use their platform to support the community through hosting workshops with organizations like Queer Asian Youth, an initiative of the ACAS youth program, and by emphasizing empowerment at their performances and workshops.
Whether you’re new to taiko or a long time practitioner, their upcoming performance at Pearson-Hall Theater in the Lang Performing Arts Center on February 17th will offer plenty to enjoy. Additionally, their workshop is aimed to give participants a taste of what a productive use of rage looks like and how taiko connects to people on an individual level.