Autumn 2023Classical MusicMusic

Asian Improv aRTs Midwest Celebrates 20 Years of Taiko Legacy

Creative performance is  often at its most impactful when it imparts a true message. When that message pays homage to a culture, it becomes even more poignant, and therefore impactful. Directed by multi-instrumentalist and media artist Tatsu Aoki, Asian Improv aRts Midwest (AIRMW).

pays homage to ozashiki (geisha chamber music), ohayashi (classical/folk/theater music), and matsuri taiko (festival taiko music) in the Japanese arts tradition through its popular Taiko Legacy concert, a diverse and dynamic musical performance full of original arrangements showcasing  a sprawling and beautiful display of drum artists at work.

On December 17, 2023 at the Edlis Neeson Theater at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (220 E. Chicago Avenue), AIRMW will present its Taiko Legacy 20th Anniversary Concert, which celebrates two decades of Asian Improv aRts Midwest’s most anticipated event of the year.  This annual concert is one of the largest taiko presentations in the Midwest and is built on the efforts of community activism in Asian American and Japanese American performing arts across the country. 

Literally meaning “drum,” Taiko is known for its thunderous sound and stunning, stylized choreography. The 2,000-year-old taiko has its roots in Japanese court, theater, religious/ceremonial and festival music performance, where the taiko was just one instrument of many that comprised the music ensembles. In its most common incarnation Taiko (Japanese drum) was typically heard at seasonal festivals and temples all throughout Japan. It has become a celebrated symbol of heritage and culture for the Japanese American community.

As a precursor to the Taiko Legacy 20th Anniversary Concert, AIRMW will present Reduction also at the Edlis Neeson Theater at 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 16.

Reduction is a theatrical presentation with a goal to construct a bridge between tradition and modernity in a single performance and define the contemporary Asian American and Japanese American musical experience. Accentuating the potential and artistry of refined subdued taiko performance, Reduction 9 presents free fluid improvisational compositions amongst the steady melodies and rhythms of traditional Japanese instrumentation.

For this 9th iteration of Reduction, AIRMW’s performance group, Tsukasa Taiko, will team up with a returning lineup of Grandmaster Chizuru Kineya from Tokyo, local Grandmaster Yoshinojo Fujima and Melody Takata and members of GenRyu Arts from San Francisco; alongside creative music legends percussionists Hamid Drake and Michael Zerang and jazz flutist/composer Nicole Mitchell. This year’s Reduction performance also features two new guests: New York-based koto player Yoko “Reikano” Kimura and classical dancer Kanshichinao Fujima from Japan.

Asian Improv aRts Midwest is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and is supported in part by general operating support from the Illinois Arts Counsel, a State Agency and the MacArthur Fund for Culture, Equity and the Arts at The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation; as well as support from the Alphawood Foundation, Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation, the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE),  Walder Foundation, Joyce Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.

More reverence than reference, Asian Improv aRts Takio offers an opportunity to not only witness the dazzling display of a centuries-old cultural tradition, but also to appreciate the veneration with which the artists that carry the tradition hold it dear. 

Asian Improv aRts Midwest presents Taiko Legacy 20th Anniversary Concert at 2 p.m. on December 17 at Edlis Neeson Theater at The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. The concert is preceded by a performance of Reduction at 7 p.m. on December 16 at the Edlis Neeson Theater.

For tickets or more information, visit