Sat, Nov 01, 2003 - Page 16 News List

Brothers gonna work it out

T-Ho Brothers are helping define the local hip-hop scene by doing something few other local artists dare-talk about Taiwan's cultural and political climate

By David Momphard  /  STAFF REPORTER

From top left, clockwise, Jeff, Samingad, Red-l, DJ Ty


Hip-hop has long been the domain of disaffected youth from tough neighborhoods in places like the Bronx, South Central and East LA. But Orchid Island? The subtropical tourist destination hardly seems a breeding ground for angst-ridden youth. But ask any of the T-Ho Brothers (鐵虎兄弟) and it makes perfect sense.

"You know, any place you go, no matter how rich the society, there are always going to be people on top and people on the bottom," said Patrick Chen, who goes by the moniker Red-I. "That's just the way it is. You need slaves. Jeff's is the typical slave story."

The Jeff he's referring to is Chen Ming-kang (陳明康), a Tao native of Orchid Island and the youngest of the T-Ho Brothers, a hip-hop outfit signed to local independent record label Taiwan Colors Music (TCM, 角頭音樂). They' ve been rapping and recording together for the past two years and get together when each of the trio has time away from their day jobs. Red-I's highest-profile job is back-up vocalist for A-mei (張惠妹) and turntablist DJ Ty (DJ), Chiu Yu-tai (丘聿台), produces music out of his Titanium Studios. Jeff, the group's other MC, works as a contract day laborer. T-Ho's eponymous first album was released last month.

Their sound is the first of its kind to be born in Taiwan, where pop music is largely a pantheon of pretty faces. It is easily recognizable by its English, Chinese and Tao lyrics that lash out at authority and exhort Taiwanese to love the place they call home.

It's a message from an unlikely source. The Tao of Orchid Island are one of Taiwan's most disenfranchised Aboriginal groups, forced to live with the nuclear waste shipped to their island from Taiwan and, according to Jeff, relegated to menial labor when they leave in search of a better life. Red-I, from the Paiwan tribe and a native of Pingtung, considers himself Taiwanese -- "I got no claim to nothing else," he says -- but is often seen by his peers as being less than local, perhaps because he's spent most of his 30-something years traveling the globe. He's even appeared on TCM's compilation, Foreigners in Taiwan (台灣阿兜仔).

"To be Taiwanese is something you have inside your heart," Red-I says. "A lot of people say that the Taiwanese that grew up overseas are foreigners and not really Taiwanese. But a lot of times they're more Taiwanese because they weren't taught all the stuff they used to teach in schools here."

He mentions the recent death of Madame Chiang Kai-shek, or Soong Mayling (宋美齡), her husband -- China's "biggest opium drug lord," in Red-I's words -- and the tyranny of the KMT's early years in Taiwan. It's a familiar topic that even made its way onto their album in a track titled KMT 1947.

"Ya can't erase our history," Red-I sings. "Now 2003, Taiwan's still struggling to be a country/ So you thought you could control my fate/ you know, the one you just ate!/ Now the dead have risen, walking, talking about 228!"

"Those people that left Taiwan had to leave," Red-I says of the many Taiwanese who went into self-imposed exile after the KMT massacred thousands of Taiwanese starting with an incident on Feb. 28, 1947. "They had to leave, man."

The most traditionally Taiwanese among the group is the man responsible for the music, DJ Ty. But asked about the racial consciousness that's laced throughout T-Ho's lyrics, Ty changes the subject.

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