Posts Tagged ‘Indigenous Peoples’


JUNE 18, 2010, 12:00PM

Joseph Campbell’s interpretations of humanity’s various myths are popular because they ring true; he was remarkably effective in revealing their wisdom about life and even death. Coming from a very similar place (though perhaps somewhat more curatorial in her process) is Virlana Tkacz, the director of the Yara Arts Group. She has been researching ancient songs and poems from Ukraine, Mongolia, Central Asia and points further east for years, and her work with the troupe reflects her desire to re-integrate the ancient “ways of knowing,” as she puts it, into modern life.

I first caught Yara’s work in 1999 when I was assigned to review their musical play “Circle.” It blew me away with its combination of great singing, songs, inventive staging, and earthy humor. (It was also where I first met Eugene Hutz of Gogol Bordello, who had a role in the play.) Ever since then I’ve thought more people should know about Yara, and now that I am “vlog enabled” (!) I finally can not only write about it, but bring you an interview with Virlana, and present some excerpts from Yara’s most recent production, “Scythian Stones.”
Even if you missed this last production, the good news is that Yara continues to create these intimate theatrical pieces here in NYC (and abroad, in the countries from which much of the the music and myth come) and you can catch more of them in the future. And there is more to Yara than just theater, as a visit to the Yara Arts Group website will reveal, at

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This post covers a lot of territory: electronica, performance art and hip hop!

Lim Geong was the first person I absolutely knew I wanted to interview when I went to Taiwan, because his work is right up there with the best electronica, and it always retains a strong Asian flavor. His story is unusual too, in that he started out with huge success as a pop singing star, and rejected that role to, as he says, “go from the front of the stage to behind the scenes.” He has since scored many movies, and even appeared as an actor in quite a few. To me, he’s practically a metaphor for what Taiwan has gone through: he expressed the freedom from martial law when he sang his big 1990 hit “Marching Forward” and then followed his star reaching out to the rest of Asia and the world, with music of the digital age.
On the other hand, the gentle acoustic venture “A Moving Sound” is the baby of Scott Prairie and Yun-Ya Hsieh, aka Mia. Mia studied interdisciplinary arts with Meredith Monk in the USA where she met Scott, and together they have brought the rather Western concept of performance art to the island, bringing dance, theater, music and plenty of audience participation together.
Hip-hop is of course no stranger to Taiwan, but Kou Chou Ching are the pre-eminent conscious rap band there. I first learned about them through their wonderful video “Black Heart”, a computer-generated animation based on Chinese puppet theater (still a high art in Taiwan) and flavored with both classical and traditional sounds. But the song is an indictment of amok capitalism that creates the black-hearted businessman, who in turn sends poisonous products into the marketplace. Kou Chou Ching is gradually tuning in Taiwanese youth to the need for more engagement with their world.

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We tend to think of Taiwan mostly in terms of its relationship to China. But there are eleven different aboriginal tribes still dwelling on Taiwan, some going back 7000 years.  Amazingly each one of the tribes is distinctive from the others in customs and language. What unites them is their common marginalization, as various successive powers have attempted to “normalize” them into the ruling or majority culture. Many have held on to their identities, and still live in the mountains, valleys and plains of the island.

Inka Mbing, an Atayal, was forced to leave her village at a young age in order to make a living in Taipei. But a lifetime later she is at the forefront of preserving the culture of her tribe. Her voice can be powerful and heartbreaking at the same time, and she is not without adventure, as I heard that she and the Nanguan singer Wu Hsin-fei (see Taiwan Journey Part 1)  have been known to jam, and wonderfully, too. By contrast, the rock band Totem is made up of young bucks from different tribes — Paiwan, Ami and Taitung — and they have an unapologetically commercial sound. That’s okay, it’s what they love, and the songs — which can be about leaving home for the city, or the pleasures of tribal life — also retain some of the melodic elements of their folk music. They’ve had some decent recognition at home, and won the music competition at the Ho Hai Yan Rock festival in 2004. In the lead up to that, they were part of the documentary “Ocean Fever.” After listening to their records, which have quite the “wall of sound” production, I think I can safely call my video “Totem Unplugged.”

There is no way that I could have covered all the different aboriginal music in Taiwan in the five days I was there. Suffice it to say that if any of this music piques your curiousity, there’s plenty more to be heard! I recommend checking out the catalogues of Trees Music & Art, Wind Music, and David Darling’s striking recordings with the Bunun tribe, “Mudanin Kata.”

My thanks to the very knowledgeable David Chen for his commentary.

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Here’s where you’ll find my weekly original world music video blogs that appear on Huffington Post, as well as an archive starting in April of 2009.

This is also the place where you will find video that is exclusive to my site. I’ve traveled to places like Uzbekistan, Morocco, and Taiwan and no matter where I go I have found amazingly talented and creative people working in every genre from the deepest traditions to the cutting edge.

It’s been incredibly rewarding to interview them and to capture some of what they do on video. Enjoy what you see and hear, and let me know what you think. I welcome your feedback.