To celebrate Taiwanese American Heritage Week earlier this month, the Taiwanese American Cultural Society of the Capital District brought several of Taiwan’s leading bands, vocalists and singer-songwriters to The Egg.
In an uncharacteristic twist to traditional concert presentations, headlining rock quartet The Chairman kicked off the Amazing Taiwan Music Culture Tour with a healthy dose of rock and roll. You didn’t have to understand the Chinese lyrics to get the message. Rock is now a universal language, and as long as there are powerful guitar chords, wailing leads and heavy drum beats, it’s all good.
The Chairman’s front-man Ji, lead-guitarist Bai, bassist Jun and drum master Mickey – all first name kind of guys – wore half-face masks reminiscent of the Los Straightjackets’ Mexican wrestling masks, but with the colourful costume verve associated with Kiss – sans the platform shoes.
What is unique is that their modern rock and roll approach was really a mask for the hidden traditional Taiwanese musical undercurrents that ran through their songs. For the rest of the night the guys pulled double duty, backing up the other star performers who took the stage.
Bare footed and in tribal-aboriginal dress, Suming–Rupi is a member and traditional music representative of the Amis tribe for the island of Formosa (now Taiwan) – in other words, the equivalent of our Native Americans or the original indigenous people of the island.
Suming–Rupi’s songs were sometimes raw and naked in their delivery with heartfelt lyrics sung in their original ancient Amis dialect. Many in the audience, Taiwanese or otherwise, were in the same boat together with the few non-Asians attending, because they too didn’t understand the lyrics.
When vocalist Yangui Yasiyungu joined Suming–Rupi, the traditional music set got livelier, the two trading vocal lines effortlessly. Even though she is a member of the Tsou tribe – representing another group of original native island inhabitants – their voices blended together seamlessly.
The up-tempo and presumably semi-comedic approach of singer-songwriter Ayugo brought in a loose, fun mini-set with acoustic guitar-driven pop. One of his music videos was projected on the large screen behind him, as he sang along with a smile and lots of animated gestures, finishing the song from a theater seat among the audience members.
Throughout the night the members of The Chairman augmented certain songs either vocally or instrumentally and sometimes both. The group’s bassist Jun showed his considerable musical skills by weaving melodic electric bass lines throughout singer Ayugo’s acoustic guitar chords and uplifting vocals.
The encore had everybody on deck singing and playing together. Of special note during the song was The Chairman’s lead guitarist Bai, who switched between rhythm patterns and stinging guitar riffs.
For those interested in the culture and the history of Taiwan, the lobby displayed arts, crafts and literature about the island and its people.
Many of the Taiwanese are descendents of what was once the ruling class in mainland China. In many ways, they are the purveyors of traditional historic Chinese culture that was squashed by Chairman Mao and the Communists for decades. By nature, many of the older generation in Taiwan and here in America are stoic and regal. They are aristocrats in every way. At The Egg, several generations of Taiwanese sat together and warmly shared their culture and music with an open heart and mind. The music was wonderfully presented, but in reality, it was just a sample of the rich traditional culture and contemporary currents in modern Taiwanese society.
Review and photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk