Thu, Sep 26, 2019 - Page 13 News List

Music festival presents underground voices

Indigenous musicians and dissident songwriters entice the ear at this year’s Migration Music Festival

By Davina Tham  /  Staff reporter

Cambodian self-taught musician Ly Vanthan will perform on Saturday as part of the Migration Music Festival.

Photo courtesy of Trees Music and Art

A Golden Melody Award-winning Paiwan vocalist, an Inuit folk-pop singer and Vietnam’s one-woman Pussy Riot are among the performers at the Migration Music Festival, which takes place this weekend at Taipei Zhongshan Hall.

Festival director Chung Shih-fang (鍾適芳) says that this year’s theme, “Hidden Voices,” was chosen because all the performers are indie singer-songwriters in danger of being “drowned out” by mainstream music production. Some are doubly hidden, as they are also dissident voices who have been silenced for political reasons.

“When I was young ... I went through the era when you could be forbidden to sing or perform or have your creations banned,” Chung tells the Taipei Times. “But to the young people in Taiwan today, this is not something they can understand.”

One performer facing censorship at home is Vietnamese singer-songwriter Mai Khoi, who last year won the Vaclav Havel Prize awarded by the US-based Human Rights Foundation, which recognizes creative endeavors in pursuit of freedom.

Since first earning fame as the Lady Gaga of her country with a sultry on-stage persona and electronic dance hits like Saigon Boom Boom, the powerhouse vocalist has turned her music into a form of protest against authoritarianism and social injustice in her country.

After being disqualified from running in parliamentary elections against the ruling Communist Party in 2016, she faced home evictions and concert raids, and is no longer allowed to perform publicly in Vietnam.

These days, armed with an experimental folk sound and acerbic lyrics — “Inside you’ll have time to think, you’ll have time to repent,” she snarls on a song titled Re-education Camp — Mai Khoi garners more comparisons to Pussy Riot, the Russian feminist punk rock music and art collective.

Event Notes

What: Migration Music Festival (流浪之歌音樂節)

When: Saturday and Sunday from 1:30pm

Where: Taipei Zhongshan Hall (台北市中山堂), 98, Yanping S Rd, Taipei City (臺北市延平南路98號)

Admission: NT$1,200 for a single-day ticket, NT$2,000 for a two-day ticket or a pair of single-day tickets

On the Net:

Chung says she hopes this musical encounter will break through the “very rigid, stereoypical impressions” of Vietnam held in Taiwan, where there are more than 223,000 migrant workers from the Southeast Asian nation.

“Vietnam’s intelligentsia and dissidents, the radical or revolutionary strains of thought in their society — all these are very unfamiliar to us,” she says.

Mai Khoi will perform on both nights of the festival this weekend. Saturday’s performance will mark her first collaboration with fellow countryman Ngoc Dai, a folk-rock musician and outspoken critic of the government who has similarly been banned from performing in Vietnam. Both will also helm a forum on protest music tomorrow at 7:30pm at Cafe Philo.

Furthering the exploration of music from around the Mekong River Delta, Ly Vanthan, resident composer of Phare Circus in Cambodia, will perform on Saturday.

As a child, the self-taught musician honed his drumming skills on kitchen pots and pans, and strummed a rubberband guitar. Now, he creates lush soundscapes that meld Western post-rock with traditional Khmer instruments and soaring vocals.

Chung says that what surprises her most about these musicians is their ability to make great art even with limited resources.

“If you’re trying to do something avant-garde or independent or innovative, it’s not easy to get support. So they are actually creating within a very constrained environment and conditions, but their work is astonishing,” she says.


With independent musicians gathered from farflung corners of the globe, Chung also says that she wants audiences to form a more nuanced understanding of their music than just “tradition” or “exotic sounds.”

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