Funerary rituals in Taiwan and southern China consist of music and dance performances by professional mourners. Hired by family of the deceased, dance and music troupes deliver a festive sendoff of the dead. Women performers, sometimes scantily clad with sequins and go-go boots, represent the “down-home” sensibility of Taiwanese nakashi (那卡西). Performances usually take place around the casket inside an ad hoc tent-like performance space.
Traditionally, opera troupes perform Taoist tales of postmortem spirit journey. And professional wailers cry to express sorrow on behalf of the family. These performances have been updated by contemporary and non-Chinese performance practices such as marching bands and “belly dance.” More examples of new funerary performances in Taiwan.
On my way to Di Yi Record Store, my friend Charlie took me to 台北霞海城隍廟, a temple famous for its efficacy of uniting lovers. The temple has attracted young individuals seeking for a marriage partner to worship 月老 (Yue Lao; “moon god”), a Daoist god responsible for 姻緣, or Yinyuan, a predestined union of romance. On a incredibly hot summer afternoon, I experienced a stream of young yinyuan seekers in and out of the temple. I also witnessed couples—who believe that they were brought together by Yue Lao—coming back to the temple with their wedding cookies to express gratitude. According to Charlie, this temple has lots of 香火 (xianghwo): the literal meaning of the term is incense burning, used to describe a temple’s amount of adherents, and by inference, its efficacy.
On the plaza next to the temple, a Taiwanese opera (歌仔戲, ge-zai-xi, or ko-ah-hi) troupe was setting up. The troupe would put on its third show during its week-long residency at this location. I asked Charlie if this play had something to do with the temple, she said yes. It’s possible that an individual or a couple whose wish has come true has put on the show to thank the gods.
It was 5pm. And the show would start promptly at 7:30pm. The seats were almost all occupied by elderly folks fanning themselves. Various belongings like umbrellas and drinks, sitting on the red plastic stools, were holding seats for those opera goers to come. I took some pictures of the stage and backstage where the troupe members were donning costumes, stretching, and prepping for the performance.
Addendum: after reading this blog post, Charlie adds that each yinyuan seeker would receive a red string after offering to Yue Lao, the moon god. Yue Lao pairs individuals by tying them together with the red string. More on the red string (in Chinese).
I extracted stills from a series of ethnographic videos by folklorist John McDowell. These video segments featured performances by The El Treinta brass band that played along the highways, en route to a palenque (shelter) where a dance would be held to honor the Virgin Mary, who is believed to have saved this town from a tropical storm several years ago.” These screenshots capture the multi-contextual performance of the brass band. The last image — dancers moving to the a cumbia song played by the brass band — represents the synergy between music and dance in this style of performance. The band plays songs mostly in the chilena rhythm, but also in cumbia, pasodoble, and other dance rhythms popular in the region.
This is a local band that play in public spaces for various celebrations and events. According to McDowell, “the instruments are makeshift and the sound raucous, but the music of bands like these is a necessary companion to all festive occasions in this region of Mexico—a role that is common for brass bands throughout much of Latin America.”
Archived by EVIA Project, these videos are a part of McDowell’s large ethnographic video collection that features “the wonderful song, dance, and music of Mexico’s Costa Chica, a coastal region running south and east of Acapulco along the Pacific Ocean and inland to the foothills of the Sierra.”
I took screenshots of Christopher Kirkley’s short film I Sing The Desert Electric, a part of his multimedia essay “Adhoc Networking in the Sahel." The last section of the film features footage of Hausa ceremonies shot in Northern Nigeria. These performances exemplify the kind of loudspeaker-based street music performance — street-side performances in which musicians and dancers use drums, reeds, brass instruments, and loudspeakers to take over public spaces — that I’m interested in. More about Kirkley’s ethnography of Sahel sounds here: http://sahelsounds.com/
Musemizing Bangka: a striking contrast between the historic and current ways of living in Bangka, the oldest part of #taipei, stuck out to me. Bopiliao exemplifies the recents urban renewable projects. Bopiliao — a site of historically restored architecture from the Japanese occupation era —is located right in the heart of tourist central Longshan Temple in the Wanhua 萬華district. The site displays Taipei’s “glorious” past by exhibiting artifacts related to education and medicine, stories of the cultural elites. I spotted a cartoonish cardboard cutout of an amicable (cute!) elderly man on a bicycle (top photo). This stood out in juxtaposition with the actual old men and women bicycling down the surrounding city streets (bottom photo). Most cyclists here are collectors of recycled materials and waste. Sanctioned by the city government, due to noise control, they have been forbidden to project recorded messages to notify local residents for recycle pickup. My conjecture is that these recycling collectors belong to the urban lower class of individuals whose hangout, Longshan Park, is near its eviction. The fossilized Taipei is much more sanitized hence tourist-ready and friendlier than the living bustling district of Wanhua. (at 剝皮寮老街)
Riverside parties: nakashi in Taiwan spawned as an itinerant performance practice in tea parlors along Danshui River during the Japanese Occupation Era. There are no longer tea parlors along the river, but street musicians still congregate in the government-sanctioned riverside parks to busk. My dad and I stumbled upon a saxophonist who played along MIDI instrumental tracks on a laptop through a diesel-generator-powered PA system in the park. A female singer and dancer joined in to add a flare to the playback-based performance. Audience members sat on plastic stools and chairs provided by the performers. Cyclists stop to listen to the music, young people come to hover in an around the romantic ambience. The elderly walk to the park to listen to their favorite “old songs” 老歌. I imagine that this is the most affordable and enjoyable pastime for most members of the audience. (at 大稻埕 Ta Dao Cheng Riverside Park)
Sounding of the thin line between sacred and profane — Buddhist music vendor #nakashi 那卡西 truck in front of the Longshan Temple: nakashi tunes blasting out of homebuilt speaker cabinets, LEDs flashing, shelves of homebrewed Taiyuge mixtapes on cassettes and CDs, postwar folk recordings, prayer messages painted over a bright yellow motorized tricycle. I asked my dad to stop riding his scooter so I could take a field recording f this rare gem. The vendor seemed more like a business man than an evangelist. He sold secular music but packaged the store with an expressed religiosity infused with a nakashi sensibilty (mobile sound blasting platform with party lights). This truck displays the slippery line between the sacred and the profane that I have observed of the nakashi street culture in Mongkan (old #Taipei), a stomping ground for musicians and music lovers of the underclass of urban #Taiwan — the homeless, disabled, impoverished elderly, gang members and prostitutes. #ethnography #fieldnotes #fieldrecording (at 艋舺龍山寺 Longshan Temple)
Spotted a mobile music stage equipped with a large horn speaker and towed by a tractor in Burma — in a deleted scene in Robert Milis’ psych experimental documentary with Sublime Frequencies. This mobile performance platform reminds me of the Nakashi music trucks that I’ve seen in Taiwan. - Wendy
Mobile music making on a cart with loudspeaker in Burma: out of a deleted scene in Robert Milis’ psych experimental documentary about the musics in Southeast Asia [Burma, Myanmar, Thailand, and Laos],released by Sublime Frequencies. I wonder if the cart moves during the performance. - Wendy
I love this video for many reasons. I love the use of the Vong Co guitar, an modified electric guitar with raised frets and a scalloped fretboard made exclusively in Vietnam for the performance of traditional Vietnamese music including Cai Luong (renovated opera). I also love that the electric guitar and vocals come out of a horn speaker. The small loudspeaker gives the tone a natural distortion, a tone that I love. And of course, the walking-as-playing performance mode is all the more impressive, especially for performers with a physical disability. - Wendy