Sun, Jun 04, 2006 - Page 18 News List

Kimbo digs deep for the `strong songs' that define him

Kimbo's independent spirit has finally been recognized by the mainstream with multiple Golden Melody nominations

By Diane Baker  /  STAFF REPORTER

His songs were once banned, he has suffered ill health to the point of considering committing suicide, but Kimbo is at the top of his game now with six Golden Melody Award nominations for his debut album In a Flash.

PHOTO: SEAN CHAO, TAIPEI TIMES

The Golden Melody Awards (金曲獎), the annual celebration of Taiwan's music industry, rarely offers many surprises when the nominations are announced. This year, how-ever, was different. High on the list of nominees was Aboriginal activist/folksinger Kimbo, also known as Hu De-fu (胡德夫), who was named in six categories, including Best Male Singer, Best Chinese-Language Album, Best Lyricist and Best Composer.

It's not that Kimbo 56, is a stranger to either the music industry or to the Golden Melody awards. He's been singing for decades, as a child outside Taitung, in church choirs, in college and on stages around the country. He has also been to the Golden Melody awards before. He served as a judge two years ago and last year he appeared as a special guest at the ceremony.

The main reason his nomi-nations were so surprising is that the CD, In a Flash, for which the singer was nominated, was the Puyuma singer's first album.

The 12-track CD includes many of the songs that made Kimbo famous -- or in the eyes of the former Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government, infamous -- for, including Meilidao (美麗島, Formosa).

After Kimbo premiered Meilidao at the 1977 funeral of his friend, the composer Lee Shuang-tze (李雙澤), it quickly became popular with students and political activists. But after the 1979 Kaohsiung Incident, the song was firmly linked -- at least by KMT officials -- with the banned Formosa magazine, and Meilidao was blacklisted.

Kimbo found himself in the same situation -- he and his music blacklisted from the radio and TV. But he continued to perform in small cafes, at rallies, and he kept writing songs -- songs for the Northern Students Alliance (a group of Aboriginal university students), for the Aboriginal miners killed in the 1984 Haishan mining disaster, for the Tao people fighting construction of a nuclear waste dump on Lanyu Island.

He stepped up his political work. In 1982 he helped found the Minority Affairs Council and became its convener; two years later he helped establish the Alliance of Taiwan Aborigines, which pushed for the nation's native peoples to be called "Aborigines" instead of the derogatory "Mountain People."

But the years of political struggle took their emotional toll, while his years as a rugby player in high school and university and the resulting injuries, exacted an equally heavy toll on his body. He suffered major back problems and ended up needing a walker or crutches to get around. Despite the pain rugby has caused him, Kimbo remembers his glory days on the field with great pride.

"I loved it. I was fast!," he said. "If I could have died on the field I would have died happy."

He thought about dying, about committing suicide, several years ago after his physical pain and depression drove him back to Taitung.

"I couldn't walk, couldn't sing anymore. I left Taipei with my two youngest kids," he said. "I wasn't Kimbo anymore, so I just wanted to sit on the beach with the sun and the sand."

"I had some dynamite ... put it on my stomach and was ready [to light it]," he said.

But it was the young people of his tribe who got him going again.

"When I was at the bottom of my life I saw the young men; I saw them working on their art, I saw them work together to face the future of their own village." he said. "They called me `National father of our people.' I was very touched.'"

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