The Migration Music Festival (流浪之歌音樂節) is turning 10, and the annual Taipei world music event, which starts Friday, is celebrating by bringing back memorable performers from past editions.
Concert-goers this weekend can look forward to music from Greece, Okinawa and Mali, among other far-away places. Headlining tomorrow is Ross Daly, a UK-born musician who lives on the Greek island of Crete and specializes in the music of that region. Saturday sees the return of Okinawan music legend Takashi Hirayasu, and highly acclaimed singer and guitarist Habib Koite of Mali, who gave an intense and awe-inspiring solo performance at Migration in 2008, performs on Sunday.
Since it was started in 2001 by independent record label Trees Music and Art (大大樹音樂圖像) , Migration has become the premier event for Taiwanese fans of world music and folk.
The festival helped launch the career of one of Taiwan’s most respected contemporary singer-songwriters, Lin Sheng-xiang (林生祥), and at the same time introduced local audiences to some lesser-known but nonetheless high-caliber international performers, such as the Mongolian singer Urna Charhar-Tugchi and the Romanian gypsy ensemble Taraf de Hadouks.
Over the past decade, Migration has seen plenty of people come and go, whether it’s artists, festival volunteers and audience members. But one key figure who has been around since the early years of festival comes from a far-flung place himself.
Christoph Stoll travels to Taipei every year from his home in Cologne, Germany, to serve as Migration’s sound engineer, and he has done so since the festival’s second run in 2003. Concert-goers barely notice him, if at all, as he sits behind a life-sized control console, twisting knobs and making adjustments from the back of the room. Yet, like any sound engineer, he plays an essential role in the festival, as he controls how the musicians sound to the audience.
Stoll, whose resume includes running sound for Jack Bruce (of legendary group Cream), Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings and Marc Ribot, is behind Migration’s reputation as having the best live sound of any event in Taiwan. No matter what you think of the music — the festival has hosted musicians of many different genres, from hip-hop and noisy industrial rock to large Indonesian string ensembles and obscure Scandinavian folk music — the sound at Migration is simply always good. (I say this not only as a past participating performer and volunteer for the festival, but also based on consistent praise from year to year from visiting musicians from all over the world and audience members.)
The credit for this goes to the “world-class artists and world-class gear,” Stoll says, but also to Trees Music and Art director Chung She-fong (鍾適芳) for understanding that “an artist who does not need to care about anything except his art does a better performance.”
Stoll says the festival organizers treat him with this attitude, which makes Migration a “dream job.”
“I am able to concentrate on the sound part of my work,” he wrote in an email interview with the Taipei Times last week. “I don’t have to load heavy gear, nor do I have to work physically in any way (which is usually part of the job).”
A sound engineer has perhaps the most thankless task in a concert — he or she is usually blamed for even the most minor glitches, but when things run smoothly, the praise usually goes to the musicians. For Stoll, this is part and parcel of his work, as are the long hours. He describes the typical working day at Migration as this: He arrives six hours before the venue opens for the audience, which translates as 12 to 14 hour days. Many of those hours are spent making painstaking adjustments for each performing group on stage. Each day of the festival has up to four different concerts.
“If I’m lucky, I still have the time to take a breath and have something to eat before the doors open,” he said.
Migration has seen a number of changes through its past nine editions (Though launched in 2001, the event went on hiatus in 2002 and 2010). The festival used to be one of the more highly anticipated autumn events in Taipei, as it used to be held free of charge outdoors at the Da-an Park amphitheater every October, attracting full capacity crowds. But several years of bad weather compelled organizers to move indoors to Zhongshan Hall in 2008 and charge ticketing fees to cover costs.
Since then, attendance has dipped and the audience has shrunk down to a smaller number of die-hard music fans willing to pay for tickets. Still, those who do show up have generally shown an appreciation for the venue, which has a second floor ballroom that seats around 300 and a large auditorium seating 1,200 persons (though neither have been filled to capacity since Migration moved to Zhongshan Hall).
Although Migration hosts fewer large ensembles due to declining sponsorship and rising travel costs, Stoll says the festival remains Taiwan’s best for “open-minded listeners.” And he never expected to be coming back nearly a decade later.
“When I came here for the first time, I was sure it was a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” he said. “Now the festival is annually one of my favorite jobs.”
■ 7:30 Labyrinth Project
Music from Crete, Greece, led by several Cretans and UK-born multi-instrumentalist Ross Daly
■ 8:40 Labyrinth Project with Taipei Chinese Orchestra
A collaboration fusing traditional Greek folk music with traditional Chinese music
■ 2:30pm Bijan Chemiriani
The French-Iranian percussionist, part of the father-sons percussion troupe The Chemiriani Trio, returns to Taipei for a special solo performance
■ 4:30pm Habib Koite
The acclaimed Malian musician draws from the griot tradition and a unique guitar style that draws from desert blues and even flamenco
■ 7:30pm Takashi Hirayasu
This Okinawan musician, regarded as a legend in Japan, pioneered a new style of rock based on his island-home’s traditional folk music
■ 8:30pm Panai and Message
One of Taiwan’s more passionate singer-songwriters, Panai blends social activism, Aboriginal pride into her self-styled confessional folk music
■ 2:30pm Sameer Makhoul, Chung Yufeng and Ramesh Shotan
A cross-country collaboration featuring an oud player from the Middle East, a pipa player from Taiwan and a percussionist from India
■ 3:30pm Ross Daly Ensemble
Greek music maven Ross Daly leads his ensemble through “modal” explorations
■ 7:30pm Habib Koite and friends
Mali meets Okinawa, as Koite and Takashi Hirayasu engage in an improvised collaboration, along with other participating musicians
■ 8:40pm Ramzailech
A young and talented group of Israelis who perform traditional klezmer with a twist of jazz and industrial rock