Raging Asian Women (RAW) Taiko Drummers in the Quarry

On an Ontario island far away from the hustle of Toronto rests a quarry where the rocks came alive with the sound of drumming–Taiko drumming. The opening concert of Pelee Island’s summer Stone & Sky series, produced by Windsor Feminist Theater, was a striking hit. Raging Asian Women (RAW) Taiko Drummers from Toronto, eight of them, brought their sound and heritage to a limestone quarry, a place perfectly suited to propel drumming, movement, and chanting skyward.

Taiko is an ancient Japanese form of percussion that explodes with passion, fierceness, and spirit — “a celebration of cultural heritage, of differences as well as solidarity.” In feudal Japan the movement and sounds were used in military marches to motivate troops. The modern form of taiko emerged in the 1950’s adding a more theatrical approach with an ensemble. A juxtaposition of polyrhythms, anger, and a sensual cadence, the drums radiate an energy and spirit that accompanies the synchronized movement of the performers. One musician declared, “We offer an unapologetic nod to feminism and anti-racism.”

Dressed in black with a red RAW logo and wrist bands, the musicians performed in front of a 100 guests in the Lake Erie quarry. Behind them artists painted fluidly on large canvases hanging from the rocks, interpreting the drums w symbols of the earth — sky, water, fire, etc. Utilizing eight drums of three different sizes, the women struck different postures as they mimicked the motions of Japanese laborers  This nod to culture and tradition, along with raging energy and talent, created the consummate confluence of art, heritage, movement, and sound.

Each concert this summer opens with spoken word. Last evening’s poet was Karl Jirgens who read a number of poems culminating with a ten-minute, often hysterical rant on the perils of writing. With both paranoia and exuberance, the speaker laments his lot as a coffee shop barista who, despite knowing all the nuances of grammar and syntax, plot and character, fears the failure of his “floundering story.” Yet he persists with humor. “If his [writing] won’t work” he decries, he “will hang himself by the nearest dangling participle!” And so closed the performance which serves as an ode to all of us who struggle with the insecurities and challenges of the written word.

Kudos to Windsor Feminist Theater who delivered an evening of poetry, drumming, art, and politics under the searing sky of placid a Lake Erie island.

—Betsy Miller
—The Island Spectator