Music: From the east

By Andrew C.C. Huang  /  Contributing Reporter

Fri, May 13, 2011 - Page 15

Aboriginal folk icon Panai (巴奈) will debut six new songs in Hoklo (commonly known as Taiwanese) at Riverside Cafe (河岸留言) tomorrow night.

The singer/songwriter, who usually sings in Mandarin or Aboriginal, will perform songs from her upcoming third album that were written by the folk group Rice Public (愛吃飯合作社). She plans to release the album later this year.

“This new album is about the country life and the beautiful people there,” Panai told the Taipei Times last week. Panai returned with her son to her hometown of Taitung six years ago. “I wanted my child to have the life experience of living in a broad space and have the memory of the countryside in his body.”

The strong-minded indie singer left Taitung at 17 and wandered through Taiwan’s cities, making a living as a pub singer. At 30, she released her debut album, Ni Wa-Wa (泥娃娃), which the China Times listed as one of the 10 best albums of 2000. In songs such as Wandering (巴奈流浪記) and Me Myself (不要不要討好), Panai grapples with her identity as an Aborigine and how she wishes to preserve the passion in her music and avoid selling out.

Panai’s Aboriginal name means “rice.” Part Puyuma (卑南族) and part Amis (阿美族), she uses her husky voice to celebrate human possibilities and eulogize earthly beauty.

“I’m most curious about the human condition,” she said. “Why can’t we be happy and why do we have low self-esteem?”

Since relocating to Taitung, Panai has devoted herself to social activism, using her music to push for the preservation of the Losheng Sanatorium (Happy Life, 樂生療養院) and to protest against the proposed storage of nuclear waste in Taitung County.

Panai also founded a workshop in Taitung to teach music education and in 2008 released her second solo album, A Piece of Blue (停在那片藍), which included songs written by her students.

“Most of us grow up listening to enormous amounts of music, and I think we can all create music,” she said. “I created this workshop so that many talented Aboriginal musicians who weren’t trained in music theory or instruments can come here to create … There is a field in your heart and there is a field outside your heart. We all must learn to harvest that field.”