Wed, Jun 20, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Musical segregation helps no one

The most noteworthy thing about this year's Golden Melody Awards was not who won the big prizes. Instead, it was a statement by Lin Sheng-hsiang (林生祥), who won the awards for best Hakka singer and best Hakka album.

He distinguished himself by refusing to accept the two awards and donating his prize money to a number of agricultural community groups and individuals in a show of support for farmers.

Lin naturally left the show's hosts and the press dumbfounded, but his point of view and actions have received considerable support from the public, who it seems are considerably less starry-eyed than the media and music companies assume.

Lin was objecting to the fact that the awards are categorized by language. He thinks that the language of music crosses boundaries delineated by ethnicity, language and sex, and argues that the jury should have judged only the musical quality of performers, songs and albums.

The fuss calls to attention the actual value of the Golden Melody Awards' division of music into four categories based on language: Mandarin, Hoklo (commonly known as Taiwanese), Hakka and Aboriginal languages.

Superficially this might be regarded as respectful and protective of the creativity of the nation's different ethnic groups, but in effect it consolidates a cultural system that marginalizes minorities.

There are more meaningful measures that can be adopted if encouragement for minority musicians is the goal.

For example, the Hakka and Aboriginal affairs commissions could advance legislation that would provide wider support for Hakka and Aboriginal musicians. This would obviously extend to funding for music education.

Such support would be more effective than the Golden Melody Awards setting up special prizes for separate language groups, which seems to relegate music in minority languages to a secondary category in terms of quality or the degree to which it can be accepted as "popular."

Aboriginal and Hakka musicians in particular have been weakened by political, economic, historical and cultural factors, but the groups have never been lacking in creativity or skill.

Artists including Lin Sheng-hsiang, Chen Chien-nien (陳建年), Samingad (紀曉君) and A-mei (張惠妹) have won awards not just for native-language music, but have also competed and won awards on equal terms with more "mainstream" musicians such as those who won the top prizes on Saturday night.

What the separation of music into language categories does is lower the standards applied to artists working in minority languages and thus retard their development. In the long term it serves to consolidate the dominance of Mandarin and Hoklo and smacks of condescension.

As to the future of the Golden Melody Awards, the Government Information Office might also carefully consider this point: Is it appropriate that an event whose aim is to stimulate the market for pop music is paid for by taxpayers?

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