As winter approaches, A Moving Sound (聲動劇場) is continuing with what has almost become a yearly tradition.
The five-piece world beat/Taiwanese folk ensemble, which toured Europe this summer and enjoyed a favorable reception at this year’s WOMAD festival in the UK, will debut new material at a concert at the Red House Theater in Taipei on Dec. 8 — just as they have at this same time in recent years.
Many elements of A Moving Sound’s stage performance remains the same, including the band’s penchant for theatrical and visual presentation and its fusion folk-rock/ethnic music sound.
But singer and bandleader Mia Hsieh (謝韻雅) says her songwriting has taken a new direction. Best known for her soaring, ethereal voice and keen improvisational skills as a vocalist, Hsieh describes A Moving Sound’s older repertoire as “spiritual but abstract.”
Now, she says her new songs are becoming more oriented towards storytelling. Hsieh has taken a particular interest in Taiwanese history, which prompted her to focus more on writing lyrics.
“I feel that we need to go deeper and [understand more about] this land and the people, and to make more communication with people here,” Hsieh said in an interview earlier this week with the Taipei Times.
This is one reason why the band has titled their show In Love With Taiwan. Along with her fellow bandmate, songwriter and husband Scott Prairie, Hsieh says A Moving Sound’s new material is searching for the “Taiwan spirit.”
One new song is a re-arrangement of a traditional song made famous by the Henghun (恆春) folk hero Chen Ta (陳達, 1906-1981), Thinking Back (思想起, also known as Melody of Nostalgia).
Hsieh sings the original Hoklo lyrics and melody, but added a new section with lyrics she composed in Mandarin. As a 41-year-old who came of age during the end of Martial Law era in Taiwan, she says her rendition is partly influenced by the student democracy movement in the 1980s and 90s, which she witnessed and took part in during her university years. Hsieh calls her version Thinking Back after the 1970s (70年後思想起).
“It means a lot to me,” she said of the song. “I’ve always thought about where am I from? What is my story [in relation] to this land? ... It’s a song in which I found my own identity.”
For Hsieh, forging that sense of identity has meant deciding that her roots are in Taiwan. As the daughter of parents from China’s Zhejiang Province, who fled to Taiwan with the Chinese Nationalists in 1949, she says she struggled to understand what it meant to be Taiwanese.
“When I was a kid, my ID card said I was from Zhejiang, but I was born in Keelung,” she said. That changed when she went to university, when “I started to hear things and read things, and they were different than what my parents said.”
Among the things Hsieh started to learn about was Aboriginal history and folklore, which now plays a part of A Moving Sound’s repertoire. In another new song, Ghost Lake (鬼湖之戀), Hsieh re-tells the story of a Rukai Tribe princess who falls in love with a hundred pacer snake and runs away with him.
The group’s fans will also hear familiar favorites at next week’s concert, which will also feature electronic music composer Jimi Chen (陳世興). The show will start with a prayer by Hsieh, in which concert-goers will be asked to write down their wishes and blessings for Taiwan.
Hsieh will also pay homage to the late Taiwanese independence advocate Deng Nan-jung (鄭南榕), who died by self-immolation in 1989, by reading a poem during one of a new arrangement of one of Prairie’s songs, Starshine.
Deng, a writer and founder of a magazine that raised the ire of the then-authoritarian Chinese Nationalist (KMT) government, set himself on fire when police arrived at his office to arrest him for sedition. His magazine had published a draft constitution for a “Republic of Taiwan.”
Hsieh insists that she is not trying to “bring up politics,” but rather to “remember the Taiwan spirit.”
“For me the fire in which he burned is eternity — it lasts in everyone of us from my generation,” she said. “It’s my dream that [that fire] lives in every one of us.”