Fri, Jun 13, 2008 - Page 13 News List

Returning home, on her own path

Inka Mbing brings her traditional Atayal music to the forefront with two performances in preparation for a European tour

By David Chen  /  STAFF REPORTER

Atayal singer-songwriter Inka Mbing performs tonight with her ensemble at Zhongshan Hall in Taipei City.

PHOTO: YANG WEN-CHING, COURTESY OF TREES MUSIC AND ART

Inka Mbing (雲力思) remembers clearly the day her ancestors spoke to her.

She had gone to visit a large, sacred rock in Nantou County (南投縣) that according to legend was the home of her Atayal (泰雅) ancestors.

When she arrived, the locals warned her not to go. The ancestors were powerful and had scared off a construction project that tried to remove the stone, they said.

This only piqued Mbing’s curiosity. Dawn had just broken as she hiked down to the rock, the sunlight was shining on the dewy grass, the mountain air was fragrant.

“I felt like I could hear a voice saying to me, ‘Child, you’ve finally returned.’ The feeling I had … it was like I hadn’t returned home in such a long time,” says Mbing.

“I replied to my ancestors … . I feel like you’ve brought me here — whatever you want me to do for the Atayal, I will do it.”

So Mbing went on to become a singer and an informal archivist of Atayal songs. She quickly gained attention for her intense, rapt performances, which won her critical acclaim in Taiwan. In 2006 she represented Taiwan at WOMEX, one of the world’s major world music fairs.

Earlier this month she released her first full-length album, Gaga, which in the Atayal language roughly translates as the “natural order of things in the universe.”

The album contains rare Atayal tunes Mbing has learned over the years, as well as her own songs, all sung in her native tongue.

Gearing up for a European tour next month, Mbing is preparing with a series of concerts in Taiwan: tonight at Zhongshan Hall (中山堂) in Taipei, and next weekend at her tribal home in Hsinchu County (新竹縣).

For Mbing, 54, her journey to the sacred rock remains an inspiration. While there, she climbed to the top of the rock with ease, “as if the spirits were helping me.” At the summit, she felt “this very powerful energy,” which she associates with the Atayal songs she learned from a tribal elder.

Performance notes

What: Inka Mbing and Ensemble

Where: Taipei Zhongshan Hall (台北市中山堂), 98 Yenping S Rd, Taipei City (台北市延平南路98號); Chienshih Elementary School (尖石國小), 7, Lin 6, Jiale Village, Chienshih Township, Hsinchu County (新竹縣尖石鄉嘉樂村6鄰7號)

When: Tonight (Chungshan Hall) at 7:30pm; Sunday (Chienshih Elementary School) at 4pm

Details: Admission tonight is NT$350; a free CD is included in the ticket price. Admission on Sunday is free

On the Net: www.treesmusic.com


THE MEANING OF LIFE

After the experience, says Mbing, singing Atayal songs “came naturally.” And the music has given her a sense of purpose: “Every time I sing, I feel like I’m on a mission — I feel like I’m representing my ancestors, reminding us of where we come from.”

Atayal songs, traditionally sung a capella, are not commonly heard. For the Atayal, singing is less of an open, public affair — in contrast to the Amis and Paiwan, for whom “singing is something you do anytime, anywhere,” says Mbing.

However, she says, in her serene, soft-spoken voice, “They’re unlike anything else … the melodies, the tunes — they’re completely different than from the [music of other peoples].”

A native of Chienshih Township (尖石鄉) in Hsinchu County, Mbing grew up listening to the songs of her elders, but mostly on the periphery: traditionally in Atayal culture, says Mbing, women and girls aren’t supposed to sing — it’s something “only the men do.”

But she took an interest anyway during her years as a teacher of the Atayal language in the 1980s. At one teachers’ meeting, an elder from Taoyuan County, Watan Tanga (林明福), sang several Atayal songs, which were passed on to him from previous generations of his family.

It was an “awakening” for Mbing. “The way he moved me, it was direct. I wanted to do the same for my students at the time … he used the words [of our language] very well,” she says.

Mbing was enraptured by these “ancient precepts” sung by Tanga. After spending time with him, she learned that the songs were lessons passed down from their ancestors. Among the lessons: the tribe must persevere, no matter the hardship; the tribe must live in peace, and cannot lose its land.

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