Finding Her Beat A Beautiful Journey To Make The First Women-Led Taiko Performance

Finding Her Beat still of HERbeat performance

Finder Her Beat focuses on the sounds and joyful moments as these scattered women come together and get to know each other.

Finding Her Beat, directed by Dawn Mikkelson and Keri Pickett, documents the journey to create HERbeat, a performance filled with all-women taiko drummers. The world of taiko drumming is full of men; women often face challenges finding employment. The first of its kind, the film charts the path from rounding up some of the most renowned women taiko players and the challenge of planning this in February 2020, as the pandemic started sweeping through the US. Looking at the obstacles, a performance of this caliber entails, Finding Her Beat puts you on to taiko and still uplifts the women who exist in the originally all-men space. 

Finding Her Beat Has Women Taiko Stars Come Together

The documentary begins a year before the scheduled performance as Minnesota resident Jennifer Weir plans the taiko concert. She reaches out to the top women in the taiko world, including Tiffany Tamaribuchi, Chieko Kojima, and Kaoly Asano. Many performers had little to no opportunity to meet since work for women taiko drummers is scarce; they work all over. 

I learned about taiko drumming years ago through the 1995 Christopher Lambert starring film, The Hunted. The opening sounds dragged me in, and, more than anything, I had to know where to find the music to listen to outside of watching the movie. After listening to more taiko music, it was apparent it was a men-dominated field. 

Gender-Based Discrimination

Finding Her Beat still of Tiffany Tamaribuchi holding sticks in beside big taiko drum.
Finding Her Beat still of Tiffany Tamaribuchi. Courtesy of Sondar Entertainment.

I had no clue there were women in the field. While it is lovely that a women-led performance is finally underway, it is also tragic to see underrepresented and marginalized groups still having firsts of this nature. Finder Her Beat focuses on the sounds and joyful moments as these scattered women come together and get to know each other. There are moments the documentary glosses over, such as competitiveness to time onstage, but it does not detract from the film. After all, any collective performance will experience similar conflicts. 

Rather, Finding Her Beat highlights how each person feels leading up to and after the performance. Any woman or nonbinary individual who exists at the intersections of marginalization and oppression understands the constant struggle to remain in their beloved field. Often working twice as hard with a fraction of the opportunities because of your identity wears you down. Quite a few of the performers felt tired, disenchanted, or that they had nothing left to give until this opportunity came, courtesy of Jennifer. 

There Are Conflicts Amidst A Pandemic

Finding Her Beat still of Kaoly Asano with her hand on her face.
Finding Her Beat still of Kaoly Asano. Courtesy of Sondar Entertainment.

With the pandemic looming, people were getting sick in the group, including Jennifer. But rather than masking and distancing to protect others, they (including Jennifer) continued with little regard. That is a red flag and an ableist one at that. The way Jennifer assumes it is “just the flu” and minimizes the danger is why illnesses spread, including to the immuno-compromised.

What is “just a flu” to one could be a death sentence to another. It highlights how someone can feel upset about the disadvantage of one marginalized group yet ignore or participate in the harm or marginalization of another group. The brief discussion between Kaoly Asano and Mayumi Hashimoto about others getting sick and not taking precautions sums it up; “they do not care much.” 

Another discussion Finding Her Beat shows is between Kaoly Asano and Jennifer about including men in the concert. Jennifer scheduled members of Ensō Daiko, including men, to perform in four pieces, including the opening. Kaoly points out this makes little sense if the goal is to showcase women and the concert’s name is HERbeat. Later, when Jennifer cuts Ensō Daiko’s inclusion down to two performances, they look upset. But given how many opportunities and access men receive in various fields, it is alright not to include them. Indeed if they are in an ally capacity, they should avoid taking up space. 

Inspiring And Informative

Finding Her Beat moves with purpose, showcasing the talented women in taiko, often obscured by sexism. A beautiful inspiration to search for taiko to include on your playlist. But also tragic that these gifted women did not and still do not get their due. Recommended viewing on all fronts; all these women should be household names, especially if you love taiko.  

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