Fri, May 02, 2008 - Page 14 News List

Blast from the past

By Noah Buchan  /  STAFF REPORTER

Don McLean, the singer/songwriter who wrote American Pie, exerted a considerable influence on Taiwan’s folk music scene. He performs on Tuesday night at NTU Athletic Stadium.


Legendary singer-songwriter Don McLean will play a one-off concert on Tuesday at Taipei’s NTU Athletic Stadium (國立台灣大學綜合體育館). It will be the folk musician’s first time playing in Taiwan.

The creator of such classics as American Pie, Vincent (Starry Starry Night) and Castles in the Air will arrive in Taiwan after playing in South Korea with other symbols of 1960s activism and counterculture such as Neil Young and Judy Collins.

McLean’s music gained a considerable following in Taiwan when it was brought to the island during the Vietnam War. It immediately exerted an influence on the local folk music scene.

“When I was young, I played a lot of Don McLean’s songs,” said 57 year-old Kimbo Hu (胡德夫) in a phone interview with the Taipei Times. “Even now, I still sing his songs.”

To prove it, the popular Aboriginal folk singer and political activist broke into a rendition of McLean’s American Pie.

McLean’s music — along with American Folk Music revival legends such as Jim Croce, Bob Dylan and Joan Baez — was associated with open-air concerts and spontaneous jams on college campuses.

Gradually, however, Taiwan’s folk scene started to look inwards and began creating a style of music unique to the island, known as minge (民歌).

“It’s not just Minnan or Chinese or Aboriginal,” Kimbo said.

As the local folk music scene developed its own rhythms and identity, it became a significant element of protest movements, such as the dangwai (outside the party, 黨外), in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Kimbo said people from disparate social groups united to express their disenchantment with the country’s then one-party rule.

“We were frustrated and angry and we used folk songs to express our collective discontent,” he said. “They were songs of protest.”

Concert notes

What: Don McLean

Where: NTU Athletic Stadium (國立台灣大學綜合體育館), 1, Roosevelt Rd Sec 4, Taipei City (台北市羅斯福路四段1號)

When: Tuesday at 7:30pm

Tickets: NT$1,200 to NT$10,000, available through ERA ticketing

Folk music in Taiwan became in part, at least for the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), synonymous with political activism. As a consequence, the idealistic songs of protest were often banned.

“The government would examine a song to make sure it wasn’t against the government. When a song didn’t conform to the KMT, it was banned from television and radio,” Kimbo said.

Although Kimbo plays his own music at concerts — he released a solo album called In a Flash (匆匆) in 2005 — he still enjoys listening to McLean’s music and said he was looking forward to attending the concert.

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