Mon, Mar 24, 2008 - Page 13 News List

Hip-hop, Taiwanese style

Employing a host of traditional music styles, Kou Chou Ching successfully creates a uniquely Taiwanese brand of hip-hop

By Ho Yi  /  STAFF REPORTER

Kou Chou Ching, the thinking music lover's hip-hop crew, keeps it real and local.

PHOTO: COURTESY OF KOU CHOU CHING

Baggy pants, baseball caps and camouflage hoodies. This is the staple garb for local hip-hop kids and aspiring rappers who try to act like North American ghetto artists. Not Kou Chou Ching (拷秋勤). To the hip-hop crew whose members are all under 30, the Taiwanese genre is not an emulation, but a reconnection to their parents' music and Taiwanese roots, which include beiguan (北管), nanguan (南管), Hakka bayin (客家八音), mountain songs (山歌), Taiwanese opera, folk songs and oldies from the 1940s to the 1970s.

"We like to work with musicians such as Chang Jui-chuan (張睿銓) [a local hip-hop artist who raps about political issues]. We can't really go to a rapper who sings 'put your hands up' or 'throw your bras up.' It just wouldn't be right," said Fan Chiang (范姜), one of the hip-hop outfit's rappers.

Kou Chou Ching was formed when Fan and fishLIN (www.myspace.com/fishlin) met at Lyricist Park in 2003, a street rap circuit in Eminem's 8 Mile style. Their fun experiments with traditional Taiwanese music soon led to extensive research and the trawling of night markets and the Net for music.

The outfit honed a sharper sound when the young but seasoned DJ J-Chen, who specializes in scratching Chinese, Hoklo and Hakka tracks, joined the crew in 2004. Achino (阿雞) and Yobo (尤寶) came onboard later, adding an acoustic dimension to the crew's already distinctive style with their skills in the trumpet-like suona (嗩吶), bamboo flutes and other traditional instruments.

The band's name refers to the hard work of autumn harvesting. The crew views their brand of hip-hop as an extension of liam kua (唸歌), a grassroots Taiwanese performance art form that interweaves talking and singing, and dub their music as "traditional liam kua-style." Combining oral traditions with the Hoklo (河洛) language's inherent musicality, liam kua is an improvisatory way of telling stories that contain moral lessons, and thus is a fitting vehicle for the contemporary rappers to voice their observations on and critique of society. The strong link between lyrics and melody that mirrors Hoklo's tonal and musical qualities also makes the ancient folk art hip-hop-friendly.

"From the perspective of hip-hop music, Mandarin is too square to deliver punches and be expressive, because it has fewer tones than Hakka, Hoklo and Aboriginal languages," Fan said.

"My Chinese friends told me that among the hip-hop acts mushrooming in China, the best are always the ones that rap in dialects rather than Mandarin," fishLIN said.

In 2005, the group's five members put together their first release and EP record Fu-Ke (復刻) that instantly separated them from parrot rappers with it's eclectic range of musical styles and socially conscious and political content. They have regularly performed at art and music festivals such as Kungliao Ho-Hai-Yan Rock Festival (貢寮海洋音樂祭) and Spring Scream, but they feel most at home at small cultural events and temple celebrations held in villages and towns across the nation.

"Our music has a strong grassroots sensitivity, and we like to travel around to meet and talk to locals directly," said fishLIN, who said that the outfit's gigs at night clubs in Taipei aren't nearly as fulfilling since most of the audience "care more about how they appeal to the opposite sex than appreciating the music."

Though Kou Chou Ching has yet to become one of Taiwan' best-known bands, their music has long reached a global audience through the Web. Their use of MySpace.com has helped the band gain not only an international following and online media exposure, but also a gig in Tokyo and the input of MoShang, a South African musician working in Taichung who offered his artistry in mixing for their debut album Kou !! It's Coming Out !!! (拷!!出來了!!) that hit record shelves in December last year.

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