Beni Daiko: Sharing the Japanese culture through drumming and fun
For the past 40 years, the rich cultural heritage and diversity of our community have been celebrated at Overture Center’s International Festival, an annual event featuring free performances throughout Overture by artists who call Dane County home, tasty cuisines and stunning arts and crafts from around the world, and information from many local organizations and businesses with global connections. This year’s festival on Saturday, March 19 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. will once again fill Overture with live, in-person music, energy and entertainment.
“Music brings people together,” said Junko Yamauchi, founder of Beni Daiko, a Madison-based Japanese Taiko group. “You feel a connection through music, even if you don’t speak the same language.”
Creating this connection between her homeland and Madison is Yamauchi’s favorite part of International Festival.
“Sharing my Japanese culture through drumming is really valuable,” she said. “Many locals have never seen Taiko before because there are only two Taiko groups in Wisconsin. Our songs showcase our history and traditions.”
Beni Daiko (“Beni” means deep red, representing Madison, and “Daiko” means drum) was founded in 2012 to teach, preserve and perform the ancient art of Taiko drumming. The group’s mission is to introduce a facet of Japanese culture to the Madison community through teaching and performing for people of all ages.
Before moving to Madison 20 years ago, Yamauchi lived in Japan, working in a preschool setting for six years. Children learned Taiko naturally in her Japan community because they heard it often at annual festivals and celebrations.
“Families connected and learned about Japan’s history through the music,” Yamauchi said. “I was hoping to do the same here in Madison with Beni Daiko.”
Starting with just one drum, she brushed up on her own skills with her friend Kyoko Rohde, and then the duo invited others to join them. Beni Daiko now has seven drums and 13-15 members. They drum to a mixture of Japanese and American music. Yamauchi considers the group “a community of people” rather than “a class” that learns and plays together.
For the group’s third appearance at International Festival, about 12 adult drummers will present a 20-minute performance.
“Performing at International Festival is really exciting for us, something we look forward to each year,” said Yamauchi.
Audience members can expect to hear traditional folk songs and are encouraged to participate through movement and chanting. Favorite performance songs include “Heiwa,” a song about peace. Another is “Oni Daiko,” a powerful piece about an imaginary monster, popular in Japanese fairy tales.
“The lively, energetic piece has powerful dance movements, representing how the monster moves,” said Yamauchi.
The members of Beni Daiko will wear colorful, authentic costumes from Japan, right down to Jikatabi shoes, the traditional Japanese footwear.
Because of Yamauchi’s background working with young children, she understands that we all learn better when having fun.
“Above all else, our performances are meant to be fun,” she said. “You’ll have a great time while, at the same time, learning about Japanese culture.”
As a full-time early childhood educator in Madison, Yamauchi sees a variety of cultures in her classroom. She appreciates the opportunity that International Festival presents to bring these diverse cultures together to build a stronger and better community.
“It’s important, especially in this country with such a rich mix of cultures and diversity, to learn about other cultures, so you know how to have a conversation,” she said. “This creates understanding, peace and respect within our overall community.”