Sat, Mar 30, 2002 - Page 1 News List

Amis singer Difang passes away

By Sandy Huang  /  STAFF REPORTER

Aboriginal singer Difang smokes a cigarette as his wife sits in the background in this 1999 file photo. Difang, who brought the music of the Amis tribe to the world in 1996, died yesterday at the age of 82.

PHOTO: CHEN CHENG-CHANG, TAIPEI TIMES

Difang (郭英男), the Aboriginal singer who brought Taiwan's indigenous music into the spotlight at home and on the world stage, passed away yesterday from septicemia at the age of 82.

"My father had been suffering from diabetes in recent years," Difang's son, Chiang Chin-hsing (蔣進興), told the Taipei Times yesterday. "And his health had been deteriorating ever since he was bitten on the foot by a poisonous centipede last October."

Difang, of Taiwan's Amis tribe, gained global recognition for his wide vocal range and his memorable tune, A Drinking Song for the Elders, after the German music group Enigma sampled it for use in its hit track Return to Innocence. The song made such an impression that it eventually was used as the theme song for the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta and was included in its commemorative CD.

However, Diafang was far from impressed to learn that Enigma was making serious money from his original song, which was used without obtaining his prior consent.

"On behalf of Difang, we, the Magic Stone Music Co, took [Enigma's] recording company to court the same year [1996] for violating intellectual property rights," said Magic Stone's spokeswoman Elai-ne Hsiung (熊儒賢), who had worked with Difang on the production of his albums.

According to Hsiung, the lawsuit was resolved in Difang's favor in 1999, after the parties settled out of court. In the settlement, Enigma's recording company agreed to compensate Difang financially.

"Winning was very meaningful to Difang," Hisung said, "because it realized Difang's wish, which was to make known to the whole world that the voice behind the enchanting 1996 Atlantic Games' theme song was that of a member of Taiwan's Amis tribe."

"Difang's voice was indeed a voice of innocence," Hsiung said. "A voice that is an almost unworldly combination of pride and free-spiritedness and an outpouring of truth and beauty that touches peoples' hearts."

"Difang was considered a national treasure for his great contribution to Taiwan," said independent legislator May Chin (金素梅), an Aborigine herself.

"Not just because he introduced Taiwan's Aboriginal music to the world stage through his exceptional voice," Chin said, "but also because he was wholeheartedly behind the promotion of Taiwan's Aboriginal cultures."

Hsiung echoed Chin's remarks.

"Out of a sense of mission and cultural expectation," Hsiung said, "Difang made numerous world tours to countries like France and Japan and enjoyed giving public performances."

Difang released two solo albums named Circle of Life and Across The Yellow Earth in 1998 and last year respectively. He was also involved in the production of several other Aboriginal recordings.

"Without doubt, it is fair to say that Difang was a pioneer of Taiwan's Aboriginal music," Hsiung said. "It was because of him that Aboriginal youngsters such as Wang Hung-en (王宏恩) and Chen Chien-nien (陳建年) gained the courage to begin singing careers."

"Difang's death is a great loss to Taiwan's Aborigines and to Taiwan's cultural reservoir," Chin said. "We'll never again hear a voice quite as haunting as his again."

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