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The 2005 Formoz Festival was a three-day rock festival that was characteristically filled with raucous, youthful bellowing. Sitting quietly on a stage at dusk, however, was Hakka singer Lin Sheng Xiang. Without screaming or shouting, he steadily sang a succession of protest songs to his own rhythm. His music, with its socially conscious lyrics, proved more stirring than the booming of the rock bands performing at the festival.
Just as Lin seemed a bit out of place at this rock festival, his label, Trees Music and Art, also stands apart from other labels, with its focus on international music and the fostering of greater cultural awareness. How did this tiny, independent label become a force to be reckoned with in the music world? What is it about Trees Music's core values and management style that makes it unique compared to other record labels?
2005 Golden Melody Awards ceremony was a star-studded spectacle. While
the media's attention was focused on pop stars, the biggest winner
was not anything put out by a mainstream label, but Sheng Xiang and
Water 3's album Getting Dark, put out by Trees. What is more, this
was not the first time Trees had walked away from the Golden Melody
Awards a winner.
After graduating with a degree in English from National Chengchi University, Chung went to Britain, where she received a master's in analytic psychology. Upon her return to Taiwan, she wondered where life would take her next. Filled with idealism and a love of music, she decided to go into the record industry because she felt that "the Taiwanese people's musical experiences were too narrow and one-sided." Thus in 1993, Chung founded Trees Music and Art with a mission of bringing out folk music from all parts of the world.
and ideas behind the music
In terms of her outlook on producing music, Chung says, "For these musicians, music already exists with wholeness in their lives. A producer's responsibility is to simply help them express their music. As to their particular musical backgrounds, the producer cannot and should not ever try to meddle with that."
insistence on the integrity of musical roots causes her to vehemently
reject the sampling of folk melodies, musical styles, or a culture's
ethos. Such methods should come as no surprise to Taiwanese listeners,
given the way the British group Enigma sampled Taiwanese aboriginal
singer Difang's music to produce an exo-ticized product devoid of
depth or roots. Such music, according to Chung, "does not represent
a musical dialogue among equals and, more seriously, shows a lack
of respect for other cultures. I'm firmly opposed to this way of making
Arguing over "world music"
A "world music" trend has been sweeping the industry since the 1990s. While many consider Trees the only label focusing on this type of music in Taiwan, following the success of its release of Buena Vista Social Club, Chung has major reservations about this categorization, which is all too often applied indiscriminately.
the late 1980s, Western record companies were having difficulty categorizing
non-Western music such as Latin American and African music. The phrase
"world music" was coined as industry leaders met to find
a marketing category for such types of music. However, "world
music" fails to identify any actual musical style. It lumps together
all non-Western music, traditional or modern, commercial or not.
One of the challenges in promoting international folk music in Taiwan is the lack of a mature audience for that music. Chung finds that the typical Taiwanese listener buys such recordings only as audiophile oddities suitable for judging stereo sound quality, or for a superficial and fleeting connection with something "exotic."
this in mind, Trees actively organizes musical events in the hopes
of presenting a diversity of musical values and sounds from all over
the world and putting them into dialogue with Taiwanese listeners.
Two events, the Migration Music Festival and the Women's Voices Festival,
have been highly visible in recent years.
With her excellent voice and a triangle, she sang on the streets of
Lisbon for an audience she could not see. A serendipitous discovery
of her talents led to her amazing performing career.
Labor Exchange toured Europe, Chung says, they played in regions where
people lived and labored communally. Even more so than Taiwanese audiences,
these listeners were able to understand the meaning of "labor
exchange," with its connotations of the mutual support and exchange
that goes on among agricultural workers. Lin Sheng Xiang sang "Worker's
Lullaby" in Europe to even more deafening applause than he would
have received in Taiwan, since people there, despite coming from different
counties, were all steeped in deep traditions of labor protest.
Chung says, "After building mutual understanding in regards to each artist's cultural roots and dialogue, these two trips will serve as material for recording a work that crosses borders." In addition, Trees plans to reissue one of renowned folk singer Yang Tsu-chun's classic albums, a work that has been unavailable for many years now.
of these creative ideas is like a vibrant musical seed carefully planted
in Taiwan's musical fields. Tree's quiet, low-key revolution has gone
on now for 12 years. Chung's amazing and courageous musical vision
lies behind her gentle appearance and serene words. This vision is
what makes it possible for audiences in Taiwan's sometimes parochial
environment to witness the blooming of a whole array of unique musical
Trees Music & Art was established in 1993, and up to now is a rare but significant independent brand that mainly produces world and folk music in Taiwan. It started with introducing mainstream music outside the Europe and American stage and promoted the works of modern artists who make efforts in continuing their tradition music, such as Ali Farka Toure, the African blues master, Oumou Sangre, the west African female representative and Joe Arroyo, the Salsa King of Colombia. Then Trees Music & Art expanded as a regional agent and cooperated with foreign companies to work up the typical and classical regional music pieces. The representatives include "The Birkin Tree", the new folk of Celtic, and "Double Life", the folk and rock songs from Finland. "Buena Vista Social Club" of 1997 and "Ibrahim Ferrer" of 1999, which won the best Latin Music in Grammy and was adapted in a documentary movie by German director, and its Cuban heat brought the appreciative criticism as well as broke the records in Taiwan non-mainstream market.
In the field of independent producing, "A Night at the Chinese Opera" was released in 1996, which collects the best of Li Bao Chun¡¦s Chinese Opera. "Betal Nuts" which collects and combines the music from New Guinea and Amis Tribe, was nominated for various titles of Golden Melody Award, which also received the recommendation form the "Folk Roots", a connoisseur music magazine from Europe. "BuraBuraYan", which was released in 2000, was based on traditional Amis tribe folk songs and recomposed with blues and rock rhythm. The combination of guitar and drums on the album outlines the grassroots spirit from the love for the land and human relations. "BuraBuraYan" was strongly recommended by a Japanese music critique and dubbed as "the song of nature and humanity".
Furthermore, Trees Music & Art is producing internationally. It doesn¡¦t limit itself in local Taiwan, but also does the recording in Europe, such as "Trio" of Catherine Delasalle.
Trees Music & Art spares no effort in promoting world music. It is the first one in Taiwan to radio the voice of world music and dedicates itself to writing columns in the print media. It also occasionally publishes depth coverage of artist and music information. In 1998, it planned a world tour series for the Philharmonic Radio Taipei Co. Ltd., introducing folk songs in Thailand, Spain, German, Japan, England and Taiwan, and each program is dubbed in its own language. The series received wide applause from the audiences.
Besides introducing excellent music from abroad, Trees Music & Art also led "Labor Exchange Band"(the best Hakaa folk / rock band in Taiwan) to Europe for a tour in 2001. The Europe tour project also won the recommendation from European critiques. In 2002, "The Night March of Chrysanthemums" of Labor Exchange Band won nomination as the Best Group of pop music of Golden Melody Award. Labor Exchange Band gave the public a new topic to talk about since it beats another popular idol group May Day.
In 2002, Trees Music & Art held the first Asian Music Festival in FNAC Taipei, the French bookstore. The musicians from Japanese and Thailand gave the audience in Taiwan another chance to discover the beauty of Asian music.
Labor Exchange Band
With the splendor of "Let Us Sing Mountain Songs" in 11th Golden Melody Awards, the Labor Exchange Band continued to their concert tour in Europe and was highly commended by the European influential bands. In 2001, the band who always improves themselves issued the new album, an piece of epic music, "The Night March of Chrysanthemums". It talks about a rural young man who returns to his hometown, picks up husbandry and tries to reach some achievement from the agriculture under the inexorable stress from WTO. It depicts the reality of farming villages of the 90¡¦s, and for the first time, to express the frame of mind for the international brides.
In their composition, they attempt to create dynamic pictures by the sounds. They collect the live sounds, such as oxcart or whistle, and reproduce it as encircle/surrounding effects. Besides, they imitate the speeding sound of motorcycle with a suona horn, and extend the sounds through the whole album. Moreover, they put to good use of magic realistic style, such as moaning a road in funeral-oration like declamation of, and the lyrics that personified Chrysanthemums, successfully describing the transition of farming villages.
Born in Inner Mongolia, the prairie folk songs Urna sings are
mostly learnt from her parents and grandparents. Having a world
music experimental band and working with international musicians,
Urna explores the possibilities of music and at the same time
keeps the Mongolian folk traditions that running in her bloods.
After residence in Europe, she still travels back to the prairie
very often to find her music inspiration and to create her mother-tongue
music. "Hodood" collects many Mongolian traditional songs, and
what¡¦s interesting is that, instead of using the traditional instrument
like matouqin (a bowed stringed instrument with a scroll carved
a horse's head), the music is played in a wonderful instrumentation
with zither (an Alpine folk instrument), sheng (Chinese wind instrument)
and cello, which creates a new Mongolian tune that combines east
and west cultures.
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