Traditional Hoklo tunes from Hengchun folk music (恆春調) and liam kua (唸歌) will fill the air at the Beitou Hot Springs Museum this month as, starting yesterday, the Taiwan Moon Lute Folk Music Festival attracts the country’s top folk musicians for four weekends of festivities.
Now in its second year, the annual event comprises concerts by old masters and younger virtuosos who play the moon lute, or yueqin (月琴). The two-string instrument is representative of Hoklo music and commonly used in a variety of genres including Gezai opera (歌仔戲), nanguan (南管), beiguan (北管), chia-ko (車鼓) and liam kua, a Taiwanese performance art form that interweaves talking and singing.
Iconic musician Chen Ming-chang (陳明章), who organizes the event, said he has been studying traditional Hoklo music since he first listened to late Hengchun legend Chen Ta (陳達) playing Susiangki (思想起) when he was 20.
“People used to think the moon lute was old and outdated. Nowadays, when young people see a moon lute performance, they are blown away,” the 56-year-old musician said. “The reason I organized the festival is to rediscover our roots, gain self-confidence and claim our own place in the world.”
Because of its simplicity, the yueqin has a flexibility and fluidity similar to that found in blues music, Chen said.
Painter and musician Kao Hsien-chih (高閑至) demonstrated Chen’s point at the opening gala yesterday as he performed a wide range of songs, including Beatles hits, cartoon theme songs, Hoklo-language ballads and pop tunes, using a moon lute made from moso bamboo.
“The yueqin can produce a kaleidoscope of music,” Kao said. “To me, the spirit of folk music is much more important than what instrument you use to make it.”
In addition, performances by several living legends will show audiences the various forms of traditional music.
Performers set to play at the events include 98-year-old liam kua maestro Yang Hsiu-ching (楊秀卿) and octogenarian folk legend Chu Ting-chun (朱丁順), under whom Chen studied yueqin and Hengchun folk tunes.
Wa-Sanxian Party, a group of shamisen (三味線) players led by Shibutani Katsuo from Japan, will take the stage on Sept. 30.
To Chen, the music of the yueqin and shamisen vividly reflect the different characteristics of Taiwan and Japan. Chen described yueqin music as casual, spontaneous and lending itself to personal expression, while shamisen sounds are very powerful, meticulously shaped and clean.
“Shibutani and I are doing the same thing: trying to preserve and pass down musical traditions,” the musician said. “Hopefully in 10 years, I will have 100 students who are good yueqin players in their own right and help to teach and spread the music.”
Other festival highlights include a concert from 2am to 9pm on Sept. 29 featuring a number of renowned musicians and folk groups, including Chen, Lin Sheng-xiang (林生祥), Lee Bing-hui (李炳輝), Christine Hsu (許景淳) and the Taiwan Liam Kua Troupe (台灣唸歌團).
The performances will take place on the lawn outside the hotspring museum during the Mid-Autumn Festival weekend, and visitors are invited to bring moon cakes and refreshments they can tuck into while listening to music, the organizers said.
Chen said he is planning to hold another music festival in Beitou (北投) next spring in the hope of reviving Nakasi (那卡西) music, a type of traditional pop musical performance that involves musicians traveling from one bar or restaurant to another to perform.