Mon, Mar 25, 2013 - Page 12 News List

Hakka blues

Lo Sirong embraces the traditions of her culture’s music and infuses it with new energy

By Ho Yi  /  Staff reporter


Lo works and sings with Gomoteu (孤毛頭), a blues band consisting of David Chen, Conor Prunty and Huang Yu-tsan (黃宇燦). Together, the musicians use instruments such as harmonica, mandolin, banjo and resonator guitar to create a distinct sound that’s been dubbed “Hakka blues.”

For Lo, blending blues music with Hakka vocals is not born out of a desire to experiment, but comes instead from a shared expression of emotions and felt affinity.

“The earliest blues musicians didn’t sing to an audience. At the moment of singing, the music was the only way they could lament their fate and express their loss, suffering and love,” she said. “It is a similar situation with Hakka people. During the long migration from central China to places throughout the world, Hakka people were always deemed outsiders. It was only when they sang while working in the mountains that they were able to reveal their emotions and feelings.”

Apart from blues, Lo’s music also adopts different music traditions ranging from Aboriginal music to nanguan (南管) music. However, Lo says it’s not her intention to play with genres and forms.

“I love the elegance of nanguan and the freedom of jazz. I also admire how Aboriginal music brings the image of mountains and oceans to a listener’s mind. But they are not the styles I aim for. I care more about the spiritual texture of each musical tradition and try to live it and integrate it into my personality,” the musician explained.


Lo says her cultural traditions inspire her work. For example, the lyrics of Rock Rock Rock the Boat (搖搖搖), the opening track on The Flowers Beckon, comes from a traditional Hakka tune that uses the image of a boat on a river to portray the love and desire flowing between two people. In the songs final movement, she depicts a game of Chinese chess played in bed under mosquito netting as a metaphor for an orgasm.

“It is often said that Hakka people are emotionally conservative. But the lyrics reveal that people in the past were more open and direct than is commonly assumed,” Lo said. She added: “I hope through my work, I can rediscover traditional texts and connect them with contemporary audiences.”

At the same time, the artist looks at traditions with a critical eye to challenge and revitalize conventional ideas and values, notably using the style of Hakka mountain songs (山歌) that were traditionally deemed “too vulgar to be sung at home.”

Misfit (孤毛頭), a song from Everyday, is one such example. Lo says the song subverts traditional Hakka family attitudes that demand respect for authority by celebrating the independent thinking and free expression of youth. On the same album, I Don’t Want to Do Anything (麼介事都毋愛做 ) praises the carefree lifestyle that is anathema to the Hakka stereotype of diligence and hard work.

Inspired by childhood memories, The Rake (浪蕩子) finds its prototype in a vagabond whom Lo remembers wandering through the town where she lived as a little girl.

“I remember thinking, ‘Wow, so people can live without a family.’ Later in life, I have come to believe that a rake is someone who lives a life free from social norms and expectations — something that, deep down inside, we all desire,” Lo said.


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