Taiwan Aboriginal Folk Songs / a review by RootsWorld

I I guess most people, even those with considerable knowledge of world music, listening to this CD without any information, would have no idea where it came from.

“Drinking Song (Friends)”

The first three tracks, a high-pitched male vocal call with a wild mixed choir response, could be guessed as American First Nation powwow music, though there is no drumbeat. Or one of the two titled “Old Men’s Drinking Song” could be spotted like what German band Enigma sampled in the track “Return To Innocence” which later became a theme for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. In fact, it is a song of the Friends people of Taiwan, from the southeast coastal region of the island, a sacred song praying for God’s blessing before the harvest sacrifice.

Listen “Weaving Song” (Saisiyat – excerpt)

Two women from the northwest Saisiyat tribe, Qiong Feng Jin Rong and Feng Zhu Xiu Xiang, duet in wedding, farewell and weaving songs, the angry voice of one being matched by the warmer voice of the other where the difference in their vocal qualities makes their unison sound like a harmony.

Listen Solo Nose Flute (Paiwan – excerpt)

There are equally meandering melodies in the ‘missing-you’ and nostalgic songs of a trio consisting of two women and a man from the Paiwan people of the southern tip of Taiwan. The male vocalist, Xie Shuineng, then plays a solo on the only instrument here, the Paiwan Nose Flute, a dark, breathing wooden double whistle that is played, using one nostril, traditionally by men to express their grief instead. to cry, though female players have been leaders in the current revival of what was a dying skill.

Listen Pray for the harvest (Bunun – excerpt)

Tracks 16-23 are from the Luona villagers of the Bunun people, and the first, “Pray For The Harvest Of Millet”, also known as “Pasibutbut”, is really something different and very striking. It became widely heard largely because of its use at the opening of the Beijing Olympics in 2008 (which, given China’s rocky relationship with Taiwan, was a hell of a thing). Several quiet male voices gradually combine wordlessly and continuously at different pitches, gradually touching in unison and harmony and intermodulating as they move. It’s the stuff of Nordic film noir or the Popol Vuh soundtrack “Aguirre Wrath Of God”. Here’s what the notes in the booklet say:
“Between November and December every year, the Bunun people sing this song to pray for the millet harvest. During a performance of the song, eight to twelve people stand in a circle with their hands behind their backs. The older people begin to sing first, then the remaining people join in different tones that form the chorus. When the chorus begins, the singers move around the circle so that the chorus turns into a very special contrapuntal effect. Depending on the overall effect (whether harmonious or not), people will be able to predict whether or not the harvest will come.

“The Bunun have a folk legend about their discovery of choral singing. Once while hunting, the Bunun ancestors passed through a forest and in the valley they found a waterfall. The ancestors marveled at the sounds of the waterfall as well as the echo (in harmonious tones) in the valley, which sounded to them like a frightened call. When they came back to the tribe, they found that the millet had been harvested and so they believed that God (Dehanin) was showing his blessing with such sounds. Thus, generation after generation, the Bunun have developed their unique style of choral singing. The local singing style is also said to be inspired by the natural echo of the valley.

Listen A Drinking Song (Bunun – excerpt)

Bunun’s other songs, except for a solo, are male and female vocals in call-and-response chorus songs with words, and not in the same quiet intermodulation style as “Pasibutbut” albeit with ties to it, especially the massive vocals of the impressive “A Drinking Song” which sounds almost Polynesian.

Listen Cheer Song (Truku)

The Seediq people of central Taiwan are represented by three solos by singer La Bai Bi Lin. The third, “Families without men”, says “I’m going to the other side of the mountain”. “It’s so late, why do you have to go?” “I must avoid him, because he is a tyrant.” And the contribution of the Truku people is again a solo singer, with two short songs that say “Though I was stopped in my tracks, I will overcome it” and “God, please send a breeze. Breeze , please come quickly.

These aren’t scratched-up archival recordings; they were manufactured in May 2014, in Taiwan, but it is unclear whether there or not. They have reverb; its application in ethnic field recordings is sometimes debated, but here it is tasteful and effective.

The Taiwan CD is number 5 in the “Folk Music Of China” series, all recorded over the past decade, which Naxos released in 2019 and 2020. Here’s a quick look at the other five in the series, all of them, like their titles indicate this, focusing on songs rather than instrumental music:

  • Vol.1: “Folk Songs of Qinghai and Gansu”. Male and female singers, mostly soloists, from the five ethnic groups – Tu, Bonan, Dongxiang, Yugur and Salar – who live in these two provinces.
  • Vol.2: “Folk Songs of Inner Mongolia and Heilongjiang”. Female and male solo singers from the five ethnic groups – Mongol, Daur, Hezhen, Orogen and Evenki – from these two provinces in northern and northeastern China. Although the Mongolian long song is one of the traditions included, and is sometimes, but not here, accompanied by a hum of other singers, not all Mongolian songs are by any means the famous “throat song”. and there is none of that in these recordings.
  • Vol.3: “Yunnan Folk Songs”. Songs from the Wa, Blang and De’ang peoples, who live mainly in the west and southwest of China’s most southwestern province, Yunnan, which borders Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam. The Wa are represented on eight of their ten tracks by the villagers of Banwen Village, in a wild, soaring group, call-and-response or solos from female and male singers, one of which receives an unexpectedly added synthesizer-orchestral accompaniment. Wa’s final piece is a solo on Wa’s small grained reed flute (erroneously described in the liner notes as a flute), the gugan-di. Some of the Blang people’s songs are accompanied by a three or four metal string lute. The songs of the De’ang include a sliding duet or trio style that slides in and away from the near second harmonization.
  • Vol.4: “Guangxi Folk Songs”. The Zhuang people are China’s largest minority, with a population of around 17 million, and most of them live in the Guangxi Autonomous Region. The other three smaller ethnic groups on this CD are the Mulao, Maonan and Bouyei, with the remaining 40% of Guangxi being Han Chinese. The 47 tracks on the CD are evenly split between the four ethnic groups. It opens with a beautiful high and edgy Zhuang female solo vocal, then Bouyei songs, again female, largely solo but also polyphonic including group vocals with close intervals making dense chords, one with flute , and three excerpts from the folk opera Nuo, in which the male and female performers wear costumes and masks. Mulao songs are not monophonic; they involve a pair of singers, one holding a shifting drone. One of them has lyrics that say, “I sing folk songs when I’m bored. I can’t make money from folk songs. But only they can take my boredom away” – quite universal in sentiment! And in the first of the Maonan tracks, which are polyphonic duets or trios, the male sings “I haven’t sung that folk song in a while. I don’t know if I can sing it well now. I didn’t prepare for your arrival,” to which the women who sang drone respond, “It’s nice to hear your song, and let us sing a song for you too. Of course, we can’t sing as well as you. You are the ocean and we are the stream”.
  • Vol.6: “Folk Songs of China’s Tajik and Russian Minorities”. This newest addition to the series features songs from Tajik and Russian minorities living in western and northwestern Xinjiang. The fourteen Tajik songs, as the notes point out, are not Xinjiang restaurant-style pop and dance music, but folk songs from two regions, Tashi and Yining. Unlike the others in the series, everything here has instrumental accompaniment – ​​the Tajik material on rawap and satar lutes and frame drums, while one Russian song is accompanied by balalaika, the other five by Russian bayan accordion.
  • Update: there is now a number 7 in the series, “Folk Songs Of The Yi And Qiang Tribes In Sichuan & Yunnan

Since often people’s view of Chinese music is mainly Chinese classical music, especially instrumental music like guzheng, pipa, erhu and flutes, it is really very good and extremely instructive to have series that dive into the living village music of this huge country, which is such a patchwork of different peoples whose cultures and music survive despite the domination of the Han people (who represent about 92% of the Chinese population and are the ethnic group largest in the world). And it’s especially good that the very striking regional folk singing traditions of its distant neighbor Taiwan are included. -Andrew Cronshaw

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(and save a little on postage for more than one CD).

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