Last Saturday, the Toronto-based taiko group Raging Asian Women Taiko Drummers (RAW) performed a concert/multimedia performance in the Helen Filene Ladd Concert Hall at Skidmore College. Founded in 1998, RAW is one of the few all-female taiko collectives to tour North America.
Selections ranged from the 2010 composition, “Sempu,” to the traditional “Yatai Bayashi” and “Miyake.”
RAW devotes their offstage hours to community outreach, hosting workshops at Toronto schools and offering an education series in collaboration with women-safe organizations and queer support groups.
RAW is self-described as “a critical response and challenge to both systematic and internalized oppressions.”
These oppressions can be societal, familial, mostly both. Between pieces, a screen rolled down from the ceiling and lit up, showing brief interviews with the RAW members.
One of them talked about the anger and humiliation of growing up with parents who wished she had been born a boy, and how it drove her to join RAW.
Likewise, Florence Li once chewed her fingernails until they bled; now her fingers bleed from callouses following drum maintenance and brutal practice.
The stories had a common element of self-acceptance. What was once rage against themselves, for broken nails and torn skin, is channeled into raw performance art.
RAW’s concert is intensely personal, and a monument to taiko as a powerful and emotional force
RAW is not just a “queer” or “feminist” group; it is an expression of rage, and how it can be used for something graceful.
There wasn’t a single tremble or twitch while putting wood against drum, and yet every beat quaked and rumbled throughout the auditorium with devastating power. The sheer force seemed enough to splinter the stage.
Rage is just as effective at keeping people apart as it is bringing them together. With every beat and “hyah!” their performance was stretched taut with rage like the skin on their drums.
Taiko is one of the angrier forms of performance art, howling with aggression and demanding precise timing. Rhythm is the only thing giving direction and control to their rage.
Rage can be a shapeless entity, coming at you from every angle and impossible to direct.
When you lash out at everything, you end up lashing out at nothing. Otherwise, the easiest path for rage is inward.
It can be impossible for someone to direct their rage if they lack a voice or an audience.
RAW puts its rage on display and boy, do they put on a storm. It is as much a war cry as it is a celebration.
When RAW takes the stage, you feel every bit of pain that brought them there, resulting in a special and powerful connection with their audience.