Sat, Jun 29, 2002 - Page 16 News List

Final nail in the coffin for nakashi

The death of local music celebrity Wang Ying-tan early this month not only robbed Taiwan of an offbeat but talented musician, it took away one of the last exponents of the nation's earliest forms of pub rock known as nakashi music

By Gavin Phipps  /  STAFF REPORTER

Tsan Yi-cheng croons away at a music store.

PHOTO: CHEN CHENG-CHANG, TAIPEI TIMES

While traditional Taiwanese pub-rock was a cry from the folksy/pop-laden style of music that was to make Wang Ying-tan (王英坦), and his longtime musical partner Lee Ping-hui (李炳輝) household names as the pop duet, the King of Kinmen (金門王), the pair were once the nation's leading exponents of such music.

Wang and Lee hit the headlines in 1997 after their album, Walking to Tamsui (流浪到淡水), took the local music scene by storm and shot to number one in the local pop charts. Sales had surpassed the 700,000 mark within two months of release.

"I figured we'd possibly sell about 200,000 copies of the CD. I was told by company executives, though, not to spend too much money on them as they thought the album would flop and only clock up sales of between 30,000 and 50,000 ," said Landy Chang (張培仁) of Magic Stone Records (魔岩唱片出版), the company that released their album. "Almost overnight the duo became the most unexpected top pop act that I can recall."

For 28 years prior to being spotted by singer/songwriter Chen Ming-chang (陳明章), however, the duo entertained crowds with the minor tone, two-beat, four-chord, accordion and guitar-driven style of music known as nakashi (那卡西) at the numerous teahouses and bars in and around Tamsui.

When Wang died unexpectedly of a heart attack early last month Taiwan not only lost one half of its most unlikely pop acts but many of the nation's nakashi musicians feel that it also laid to rest one of the very few remaining vestiges of Taiwan's hybrid form of pub rock.

While there are many stories surrounding the history of nakashi, according to Tsan Yi-cheng (詹益城), who was once one of Taiwan's most recognized faces on the nakashi scene, the most credible of these stories gives credit to Japanese sailors during the early 1900s for inventing this primitive form of pub rock.

"Nakashi originated in port towns such Tamsui and Keelung. Japanese sailors would come ashore and, being sailors, frequent bars. Of course there were no tape or CD players, so the sailors had to make their own entertainment," Tsan said. "So they performed music which took on aspects of enka, or Japanese country music and filled it with lyrics about roaming the world and having a girl in every port."

According to Tsan, the result of this odd musical coupling was unlike anything people in Taiwan had ever seen or heard before. Until the Japanese sailors came along, local pub and teahouse bands were still using traditional Chinese classical instruments rather than western ones.

"With their guitars, accordions and appetite for good times, Japanese sailors revolutionized bar and teahouse music in Taiwan," the Peitou-based nakashi star said. "They enthralled crowds in teahouses and bars and, of course, drove the women wild with their contemporary musical style." As Japan's colonization of Taiwan continued, nakashi slowly became the music of choice for both the occupying forces as well as the Taiwanese.

As more locals began to pick up accordions and guitars, however, nakashi slowly became localized. Instead of drawing on enka for inspiration, Taiwan's nakashi players added elements of Fujienese and Taiwanese folk to the tunes.

Even after Japan surrendered to the Allied Forces in 1945 and popular North American culture began to influence Taiwan, nakashi continued to prove incredibly popular. So much so that by the late 1950s, local nakashi musicians had built up substantial fan bases.

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