Bards who travel through northern European landscapes and West African griots (storytellers) who croon tales of history and rhyme about current affairs are centuries apart from the modern singer-songwriting tradition of Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan, but they all come together at this year’s Migration Music Festival (流浪之歌音樂節).
The festival features musicians from Cameroon, Greece and Finland, among other countries, who possess folk traditions and rebellious minds.
“These musicians are greatly influenced by the rich folk music elements from their cultures and, at the same time, are clearly aware of their social responsibility as a singer-songwriters to communicate with the public and respond to social changes,” says Chung She-fong (鍾適芳), director of independent record label Trees Music and Art (大大樹音樂圖像), which organizes the event.
One example is the Soul Flower Mononoke Summit from Japan. Formed in 1993 as a punk rock band called Soul Flower Union, the group rushed to the disaster area after the devastating Kobe Earthquake struck in 1995, but found they could do nothing without electricity. Determined to lift the spirit of the survivors, they turned acoustic. Recast as Soul Flower Mononoke Summit, the group holds open-air street shows and instead of playing rock numbers that don’t strike a chord with ordinary Japanese, they perform folk songs and old ballads while expressing their social observations and political viewpoints through music. The band members have also taken active roles in anti-war and anti-nuclear movements.
“As a punk band, they were anti-establishment. The experience with the survivors of Kobe Earthquake only reinforced their left-wing position,” Chung says.
Soul Flower Mononoke Summit will open the festival’s concert series tonight at Taipei’s Zhongshan Hall (台北市中山堂). The band’s repertoire includes a Japanese folk rendition of the left-wing anthem, The Internationale.
Underprivileged classes and the oppressed have also been the main focus in the music of Thailand’s folk legend Surachai Jantimathawn, known as Nga Caravan among the Thai. Back in 1973, Surachai and his band mates from folk rock outfit Caravan were part of the democracy movement calling for the military dictator Thanom Kittikachorn to step down. The demonstrations were brutally crushed. Protestors and activists, including Surachai, went into hiding in the mountains on the Thai-Laos border. They were granted amnesty in 1979.
Credited as the pioneer of phleng phuea chiwit, a type of song that sings about the everyday life and hardship of Thailand’s working-class, Surachai belongs to the generation of Thai musicians greatly influenced by 1960s American protest music. Seeking inspiration from his own culture, the Thai activist and musician is also known for adopting elements from the folk music tradition in Thailand’s northeast region to sing about the land and its people.
Surachai will play on Sunday afternoon, followed by Wu Tiaoren (五條人), who comes from Haifeng County in China’s Guangdong province.
According to Chung, Wu Tiaoren is part of the “new wave of folk music” emerging from China over the past decade. Like folk rock artist Su Yang (蘇陽), another invited musician hailing from China’s northwest region, the acoustic guitar/accordion duo explores the roots of folk music and sings in their native Haifeng dialect to reflect on various issues and problems facing Chinese cities and rural communities.
“They all belong to the generation of Chinese who leave home to seek a better life in big cities. As a result, their music comes from the viewpoint of an outsider struggling to survive in the city and, at the same time, address issues surrounding China’s vast countryside undergoing rapid change,” says Chung, who is an assistant professor at National Chengchi University’s College of Communication.
The festival will close on Sunday with an evening performance by Pinuyumayan musician Sangpuy Katatepan Mavaliyw from Taiwan and Finland’s Jouhiorkesteri, a four-piece ensemble each performing with a Jouhikko, a type of Finnish bowed lyre with strings made of horsehair.
The members of Jouhiorkesteri are part of a new generation of folk musicians influenced by Finland’s folk revival, which begin in the 1980s when academics and educators began emphasizing traditional Finnish music in school. Students were sent to live and work with old folk musicians in towns and villages, rather than learning music scores in classrooms, according to Chung.
“They make their own instruments and learn to sing and play like [the elders]. Their lifestyle and value system clearly comes from folk culture,” she says.
Since its inception in 2001, Migration has become the premier event for fans of folk and world music. Over the past week, the festival has hosted a series of seminars and discussion panels by invited musicians including Surachai and Takashi Nakagawa from the Soul Flower. More free events including live music demonstrations, outdoor mini-concerts, art workshops and the Bow to Land Farmers Market (彎腰市集) will take place over the weekend at the Zhongshan Hall. For more information, please visit the event’s bilingual Web site: www.treesmusic.com/festival/2013mmf.