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* aural cavity located on the sides of the head for insertion of local music scene
compass magazine, December 2001


Photo: Henry Westheim © 2001

Advocating a Better Understanding of Taiwan's Aborigines Through Music: A COMPASS Interview with Biung

By Cheryl Robbins

Biung, a member of the Bunun aboriginal tribe and up-and-coming musician/singer/songwriter, grew up in a small village in the mountains of Taitung, where music played an important part in everyday life. These roots were reflected on his first album, "The Hunter", which he produced during his last year of college and exclusively recorded in the Bunun language. On his newest self-titled album, however, he sings in both Mandarin and his tribal language. At this year's Golden Melody Awards, Biung was chosen Best Male Vocalist in the non-Mandarin category. During a recent tour to promote his new album, Taiwan Fun's own Cheryl Robbins spoke with him. Below are excerpts from that interview:
Photo: Henry Westheim © 2001

Photo: Henry Westheim © 2001

C: How long have you been interested in music?
B: I have been singing since I was very young. I grew up in a remote mountain village so there weren't the pastimes that city kids enjoyed, like going to the movies. The children in my village liked to sing together and have barbecues.

C: When was it that you decided to make music your career?
B: A lot of people think that what I am doing is making my interest my livelihood. But, that's not exactly true. I don't have a concept of "job" or "work". I don't want to give myself that much pressure.


C: How would you describe your music?
B: My music is very related to my experiences. It's not like pop. Pop is more fantasy-like. My music includes old tribal legends, my experience of growing up in an aboriginal village, and my feelings of leaving that village to study elsewhere. It's very reality-based but with a relaxed style.

C: Do you feel it is difficult for an Aborigine to enter the music market?
B: There is still some discrimination, but not as much as before. In the past, aboriginal singers kept their aboriginal identity a secret or pushed it into the background. Now, it is possible to make music in aboriginal languages. It is more accepted because people are starting to have more interest in aboriginal arts.

Photo: Henry Westheim © 2001

Photo: Henry Westheim © 2001

C: Are there any local pop artists that you like or respect?
B: Taiwan is a small island, so the pop industry is somewhat confined. I prefer foreign pop music. In Western countries, there is a mix of musical styles like R & B, reggae and soul. In Taiwan, I think that innovation in music does not lie in the pop industry, but in aboriginal music. Aboriginal artists, who are entering the recording industry in growing numbers, mostly write their own songs instead of doing remakes or translations of songs.

C: What do you hope people will take away from listening to your music?
B: When people think of Aborigines, they often think of vices like drinking. However, aboriginal culture has many positive aspects, such as a deep relationship with nature. What I know of my culture, I try to pass on to others through music. I also hope to help people understand that aboriginal music cannot be lumped together in one category. Every tribe has its own music and style. Therefore, I also want to pass on musical elements that are unique to the Bunun culture.

For more information about Biung's latest album, see this month's CD Reviews.
Photo: Henry Westheim © 2001



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