Fri, Jul 22, 2016 - Page 13 News List

Simplifying and reconnecting

Taipei-based sitar player Wushi Azer, who is playing two shows this weekend, talks about the return to his Aboriginal roots and how it has affected his music

By Han Cheung  /  Staff Reporter

The Siyuland performing at an earlier event.

Photo courtesy of Yun Lee

For the past several years, musician Wushi Azer has been regularly visiting the Kavalan Aboriginal village of Paterongan in Hualien (花蓮), learning about the language, music, cuisine and way of life — absorbing every drop of ancestral knowledge he did not have the opportunity to learn growing up in Taipei.

This experience has added to the musician’s multi-faceted professional life and diverse influences. Before Azer took an interest in his own people, he fell in love with the psychedelic sounds of the Jimi Hendrix Experience as a youth. By the time he founded his own power trio, The Siyuland (西尤島), however, he had eschewed the guitar for the sitar, which he took up in 2003. He’s also traveled to India to hone his craft.

The sitar has brought him many opportunities outside of his own musical projects — Azer is about to embark on a two-month journey overseas — bringing him first to China as backing musician for pop singer Jolin Tsai (蔡依林), and then to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival with a modern dance troupe, of which he will have a small part as a performer.

Before he leaves, Azer will play with his band tomorrow at the Sounds of the River (台北河岸音樂祭) music festival at Taipei’s Xia Hai City God Temple (霞海城隍廟) and he will have a solo farewell show at Moksha Studio (沐暇自在空間) in the Shida (師大) area on Sunday.

Azer says tomorrow’s show will attract band lovers, while Sunday’s show is more of an intimate sharing session that will be less structured.

He tells the Taipei Times that he had his tribal awakening during a performance in Yilan County (宜蘭), the historical home of the Kavalan people. Of the more than 1,000 members of the Kavalan tribe, he says fewer than 20 can speak the language or sing traditional songs.

“I started thinking, isn’t this my grandfather’s homeland? I should be playing something that my grandfather understands. That led to me reflecting within and realizing that I should treasure the blood flowing in my veins.”

After living closer to nature and the land with the tribe, he says his attitude toward music also changed.

“When the things a person care about become simple, you eat simpler things, and you sing more simply too,” he says. “If the food isn’t salty enough, you pour sea water on it. It’s that simple.”

As Azer speaks about singing, he breaks out into a Kavalan tune.

“I used to really mind whether a song was complete or not, but now even chord changes are no longer important.”

He plays a single note sitar soundscape on his phone and continues to sing along.

“It’s this simple. And I can resonate my voice with this. The sound doesn’t change, but I can tell a story within it.”

The Siyu Band’s latest album is titled Hanuman, after the Indian monkey god and Azer’s zodiac sign. They will be playing some of the songs this weekend, including I Miss Myself (我想念我自己), which is based on the thought that after one compromises ideals with reality, no matter how hard one tries to overcome this, these ideals always become slightly warped.

Another song is Flesh and Blood (血肉之軀), inspired by a dream Azer had where he turned into a red blood cell and started a long but determined journey of circulating through a body.

Azer says he feels that his recent music is more “liberated.”

“It can be R&B, it can even be hardcore if you wanted to,” he says. “Once you have your feet on the ground, you don’t have to represent a certain culture anymore. You just have to represent your band and yourself, then you can further connect with the rest of the world.”

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