Sun, Mar 27, 2005 - Page 18 News List

Protest singer sings again

Aboriginal singer Kimbo has been playing the blues since the 1970s, giving a voice to Taiwan's disenfranchised and dispossessed. His first album, made after more than 30 years in the business, is now set for release

By Yu Sen-lun  /  STAFF REPORTER

In the 1970s Kimbo, or Tuko Mackaruwane in his native Puyuma language, was known as Taiwan's Bob Dylan, blending Taiwanese Aboriginal sounds into his poetry and folk music.

Named Hu Defu (胡德夫) in Chinese, he has been known as a singer since his teenage years, but his new and first solo album release has been delayed by 40 years.

Produced by Cheng Chieh-ren (鄭捷任), who also produced for the award-winning Aboriginal singer Samingad (紀曉君), with the new Aboriginal music label Ignite Fire (野火樂集), As Time Flashes (匆匆) is a retrospective album on Kimbo's 40-year singing career.

"It's hard not to be touched by Hu's natural yet powerful voice," said Lee Kun-yao (李焜耀), president of BenQ Electronics and a fan of Hu's since the 1970s when they were both students at National Taiwan University's Foreign Language Department.

Back then, Kimbo was Taiwan's highest paid folk singer, earning up to NT$25,000 a month -- at a time when the monthly salary of a Cabinet minister was NT$7,000 per month.

"Maybe my songs were too heavy for the market or to package for commercial record companies. They were written not for publishing purposes in the first place," Kimbo said in a cafe in Taipei, a cigarette constantly in one hand.

Kimbo said he is not a prolific songwriter. He writes about one song a year, each one written, he said, after the pain in his body, heart and soul had reached a cresting point.

"If a song cannot move me to an unbearable degree, I would not publish the song," he said.

The blues he feels is from his 30-year involvement in Taiwan's political, social and Aboriginal movements. In all of these upheavals over the years, Kimbo's role hasn't been that merely of the protest singer, but rather he has been the frontman and organizer of many demonstrations.

In the 1980s Kimbo was a member of the tangwai (黨外) dissident movement, which was the predecessor of the DPP. He served as the head of the tangwai association's Minority Committee, which later became the fountainhead of Taiwan's Aboriginal movement.

Hu was among the first to talk about reclaiming land from Han Chinese-owned businesses and from the government, preserving Aboriginal names and raising the issue of Aboriginal girls being forced into prostitution.

Even in 1999, a decade after the peak of Taiwan's political and social movements, when the 921 earthquake devastated 90 percent of Aboriginal villages in central Taiwan, Kimbo emerged again, leading clashes with police over unfair treatment of Aboriginal villagers.

When Lien Chan (連戰), vice president and premier at that time, visited the damaged villages, Kimbo led a group to block Lien's way, confronting him in person to demand more relief work.

All these actions and sentiments have been accumulated and encapsulated in his songs.

The Longest Road (最最遙遠的路), written in 1983, is a song about Aborigines moving to the city to study or make a living. Why (為什麼), was written in 1984 to commemorate a dozen Aborigines killed in a mine explosion that year.

Darter, Clouded Leopard, The Basin Of Taipei (飛魚, 雲豹, 台北盆地) voices the indignation of the Tao tribe on Orchid Island, where the government built a nuclear waste storage site in the mid-1980s against the locals' wishes.

Kimbo also wrote folk songs, such as The Boy On The Buffalo's Back (牛背 的孩子, 1974) and Da Wu Mountain -- My Mountain Ma-Ma (大武山美麗的媽媽, 1985), to display his longing for his home in Taitung County.

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