Sun, Sep 26, 2004 - Page 19 News List

Name that tune

The story of Taiwanese pop music is intrinsically linked with its political past, according to a show at Taipei City Hall


Vinyl records and old phonographs are some of the relics on display at The Song, Taipei and Me.


Until the early 1980s, Taiwanese songs that criticized the government were blacklisted. A thick, black-ink marker was used to cover up the song title and the producer was fined. Case closed.

Fortunately, one such record entitled Unchanging Love (不變的愛) was preserved and has become part of the exhibits at the Discovery Center of Taipei that traces the roots of pop music from folk songs sung by Aborigines to today's standard fare.

The exhibition, The Song, Taipei and Me, is contained within one room on the second floor of Taipei City Hall. Although rich in explanations about the development of popular music in Taiwan, the exhibit's content is somewhat difficult to grasp, unless of course you either grew up here or are an expert in the subject.

The Song, Taipei and Me is arranged chronologically, first grounding Taiwan's musical history in the folk songs sung by Aborigines, Hakkas and Minnan people. It wasn't until 1932, however, that Taiwan made its mark on the pop music map, when a Taiwanese song was used in a slient movie filmed in Shanghai titled Sobbing Peach Blossoms, said Yang Mei-Jen, a spokeswoman for the center.

Before 1945, during Japanese rule, the content of music was strictly controlled. The use of Chinese characters was forbidden and it was required that Japanese song melodies be used together with Taiwanese lyrics.

In fact, it wasn't until after Japan ceded control of Taiwan in August 1945 and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) moved to Taipei that Mandarin songs first found their way into Taiwan's music market.

From then on, the island's musical industry blossomed. During the 1940s, for instance, Danshui -- the Ximending of that era -- became a mecca for pop music lovers. For the price of a cheap cup of tea, anyone could lounge on a bamboo bench alongside the Danshui river and listen to Taiwanese songs well into the night.

Interestingly enough, Danshui some 30 years later gave rise to a musical movement called "Campus Songs," after one artist, Li Shuang-ze (李雙澤)appeared at a concert at Tamkang University in Danshui and refused to sing US songs, rhetorically asking whether the Taiwanese are without their own musical influences.

Later, these "Campus Songs," whose lyrics stressed sincerity and inner peace, became popular not only among college students but also among the general public.

The chronology ends with the present state of pop-music in Taiwan, detailing how TV and radio helped popularize music during the 1960s and 1970s. It also briefly cites current musical talents like the LA Boyz, a group composed of three US-born Taiwanese brothers, and Tokyo D, a Japanese singer.

Most of the exhibition props consist of records and record players, relics that are standard fare and not very captivating. There are, however, a number of songs you can listen to, which should help put the different music genres into perspective.

There is also a clip of the movie Sobbing Peach Blossoms that can be viewed while listening to the soundtrack.

On the whole, The Song, Taipei and Me succeeds in proving that Taiwan in general, and Taipei more specifically, has a rich musical history.

Exhibition notes:

What: The Song, Taipei and Me (歌我台北)

Where: Discovery Center of Taipei (台北探索管) 1 Shifu Rd, Taipei (臺北市市府路一號)

When: Now until Oct. 10

Hours: Tuesday to Sunday, 9am to 5pm

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