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.”
Photo courtesy of Trees Music and Art
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.
Photo courtesy of Tore Saetre
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.
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.
Photo courtesy of Trees Music and Art
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.
Photo courtesy of Trees Music and Art
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.
MUSIC IN CONTEXT
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.”
Some performances are therefore billed as “storytelling” sessions, in which musicians will share more about the social, cultural and political contexts surrounding their work.
Spanish multi-instrumentalist Yerko Lorca and local percussionist Kuan Yin (冠螢) have been performing together since 2015. The duo employ a range of African, Mediterranean and Chinese instruments in pieces that showcase the musical heritage of these cultures.
Audiences on Sunday can look forward to their performances on the West African kora harp and the world’s only Tartessian lyre — a modern replica of an instrument that dates back to antiquity. The instrument was discovered by archaeologists working on a dig in the Iberian Peninsula, and in another session on Saturday at 5:30pm, Lorca will give a talk about his experiences on the musical archaeology team.
Another ancient artifact that will be on display is Inuit throat-singing. Part duet and part duel, the vocal art is traditionally performed by a pair of women who trade rhythmic patterns of breathing and guttural sounds at a rapid pace.
Aasiva — the stage name of Colleen Nakashuk — is an Inuit singer-songwriter from Nunavut in the Canadian Arctic. On Saturday, she will perform her original ukelele-driven ditties featuring Inuktitut lyrics and the grunts and gasps of throat-singing, with which she has carved out a unique place in Canada’s nascent Inuit pop scene.
Closer to home, Seredau is a singer, music educator and living repository of Paiwan music. Last year, she won Best Aboriginal Singer at the Golden Melody Awards for her soulful voice featured on her 2017 album Infection (渲染) — also the meaning of her name in the Paiwan language.
Seredau, who hails from Pingtung County, now devotes herself to keeping Paiwan melodies and vocal techniques alive. Her community has even entrusted her with the Paiwan “warrior songs,” a genre that women are traditionally not allowed to sing. She will perform on Saturday.
Other performers include Canadian singer-songwriter Michael McCulloch and Iranian percussionist Mona Kaveh Ahangari, who will lead a workshop on the daf, a Middle Eastern frame drum.
With the Migration Music Festival now in its 17th year, Chung says that the event has always been intended as a reflection of the times and an inspiration for change, much like a spiritual successor to the American folk revival of the 1960s.
“We hope that this festival program, or maybe just one story or one sequence of music, can show the way toward a clearer political attitude to deal with the frustration and dispiritedness that we face in the world today,” she says.
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: mmf2019.com
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