HomeLGBTQFinding community and empowerment through taiko beats

Finding community and empowerment through taiko beats

For these women, taiko drumming is not just about a performance with energetic beats, and it’s certainly not reserved for men.

Originally, Finding Her Beats was supposed to be a one-night only concert in Minnesota featuring the Japanese art of taiko drumming, reported the South China Morning Post. However, filmmaker Dawn Mikkelson decided to collaborate with Jennifer Weir, the executive director of TaikoArtsMidwest, to turn this story about a group of taiko performers into a documentary film.

The film begins with Weir, a Korean American adoptee, and her wife Megan Chao-Smith, a drummer herself. The two decide to invite the best female taiko players from Japan, including Chieko Kojima and Kaoly Asamo, to come perform in Minnesota, according to the Guardian.

Ultimately, the concert brought together 18 taiko drummers for the sold-out performance HERBeats in Minnesota. Bringing together a community of female taiko drummers is no easy task. Weir told the South China Morning Post that it took a long time for women to be able to choose taiko as a path, especially for the pioneers of taiko who are featured in the film, they were told “no” for half their lives.

“When I first saw taiko drumming, I thought it was the coolest thing I’d ever seen,” said Weir. “Later in my relationship with it I learned more about the culture and the deep-rooted spiritual aspect of taiko drumming. It helped form who I wanted to be in the world.”

The film also explores the intersectionality of the performers’ identities as queer and Asian American. Weir told GLAAD that as an adoptee from North Dakota, she felt that her self discovery process was delayed because she had little reference for role models to look towards.

She embraced her identity through the art of performance, specifically Theater Mu, which is an Asian American theater company in Minneapolis. Weir also found a naturally queer community through taiko drumming.

The film has found success on the festival circuit, including sold-out screenings and is available on major streaming platforms like Amazon Prime Video, reported the South China Morning Post. For Mikkelson, she instantly knew this would be a big story after her initial conversation with Weir.

“It was about women and nonbinary people who have been told their whole lives not to take up space or be loud, to wait until someone invites you to be center stage,” Mikkelson told GLAAD in an interview. “It was about saying ‘I will be big, loud, and throw my own concert to claim that place on stage.’ Basically saying, ‘I can be everything you said I couldn’t and be amazing while doing it.’ I was hooked.”

This is only the beginning. Weir is now raising US$4 million to build an international taiko center in Minnesota, according to the South China Morning Post.

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