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Songs of place

Chen Nan
Updated: Jul 8,2015 10:38 AM     China Daily

Wild Fire Music, Taiwan’s aboriginal record company, will stage a tour of the Chinese mainland this month.[Photo/ China Daily]

In 1996, music industry veteran Hsiung Ju-hsien, who at the time worked for the Taiwan record company Magic Stone, listened to Elders’ Drinking Song, a traditional ethnic Amis Palang song performed by Difang Duana (1921-2002). She was overwhelmed by the beautiful melody and the singer’s haunting voice.

For Hsiung, who had worked in mainstream record companies and managed many pop icons for more than 20 years, the traditional Amis song was much livelier and realer than pop music.

In 2002, the second day after she resigned from Magic Stone, Hsiung started her own record company, Wild Fire Music, which brought together a group of like-minded aboriginal Taiwan musicians.

Aboriginal musician Chen Yung-long will also perform in the upcoming tour.[Photo/ China Daily]

Now, 13 years later, the label has become a famed music brand in Taiwan, introducing new Taiwan folk music, especially by talented indigenous musicians.

This summer, Hsiung will lead some of the singer-songwriters on the label, such as Chen Yung-long, Sun Lin-feng and Tseng Jen-yi, on a tour of the Chinese mainland.

Starting in Beijing on July 17, the tour will head to other cities, including Shanghai, Guangzhou, Nanjing and Wuhan throughout July. Beijing-based singer-songwriters Xiao Juan and Zhou Yunpeng will be guests.

It’s not the first time that Hsiung and singer-songwriters of Wild Fire Music have toured the Chinese mainland. In 2006, Hsiung toured with ethnic Puyuma singer Hu De-fu, better known as Ara Kimbo, to promote his album, In a Flash.

“I was impressed by the size of the audience when we held a concert at Peking University. Our guest, Taiwan singer-songwriter Jonathan Lee, couldn’t get into the venue because of the crowds. At the end of the concert, all the audience stomped on the floor and cheered Kimbo,” recalls Hsiung, 52. “Since then I realized that, when you listen to songs that are really beautiful, you share the same emotion with the singer-songwriters, despite the differences in educational backgrounds and living environments.”

[Photo/ China Daily]

In 2007 and 2012, Hsiung again staged tours of Wild Fire Music acts on the mainland, which were also warmly received.

Hsiung says that this year also marks the 40-year anniversary of “Taiwan’s modern folk music movement” when a group of singer-songwriters led by Ara Kimbo performed in a concert on June 6, 1975, in Taipei, calling for original songwriting in Taiwan rather than copying Western and Japanese music.

“That day marks the beginning of Taiwan’s new folk music era, and in the upcoming tour of Wild Fire Music, we will review some classic folk songs, such as The Olive Tree and Grandma’s Harbor,” she says.

“We will also host conversations with audiences before or after each performance, talking about the development of Taiwan’s folk music.”

Besides attracting a stable fan base, the tour will also forge links between mainland and Taiwan folk musicians.

[Photo/ China Daily]

In 2012, veteran music producer Cui Wenqin collaborated with Hsiung to bring Beijing-based folk musicians, including Xiao He and Wan Xiaoli, to perform in Taiwan.

“We held two shows, one in Legacy, a popular live music venue in Taipei, and another one in a small village of Taitung county. We also visited some tribes and experienced their aboriginal lifestyles,” recalls Cui.

“Music comes naturally there. We sat on stones and sang together underneath the blue sky. Music can be very beautiful with a simple acoustic guitar and vocal harmonies.”

Aboriginal musician Chen Yung-long, 35, was part of the Wild Fire Music’s tour of the Chinese mainland in 2012 and will also perform in the upcoming tour.

Growing up in Nanwang village of Taitung county and singing about the beauty of nature and the hardworking people of his native Puyuma tribe in their own language, Chen says that he came to appreciate the songs of his Puyuma heritage after moving to Taipei to attend university. He sang in bars before joining in Wild Fire Music in 2003.

“When you sing someone else’s songs for a long time, you start to think: ‘What about me?’ When I sing those old Puyuma songs, I feel confident and relaxed,” says Chen, who has just released his third album, Grain of Sand.

He can still recall scenes of the elderly people in his village singing the traditional songs of the Puyuma people in the yards beneath the areca catechu and mango trees. He says that the fact that around seven singer-songwriters are signed to Wild Fire Music, most of whom have won at Taiwan’s Golden Melody Awards, Taiwan’s equivalent of the Grammy Awards, proves the charisma of their music.

“We don’t sing for the market. We sing for the places where we belong,” he says.

If you go

7:30 pm, July 17. Forbidden City Concert Hall, inside Zhongshan Park, west of Chang’an Avenue, Xicheng district, Beijing. 010-6559-8285

3 pm, July 19. Q House of Shanghai Shallow Water Bay Culture Center, No 179 Yichang Road, Putuo district, Shanghai. 021-6266-1110