Huang Yuyuan, who holds a doctorate from National Taiwan University’s Department of History, is the book’s author.
Taiwanese enjoy singing and listening to others sing. Switch on a TV any time of day and you’re likely to tune into a singing program, a singing contest, or even a karaoke program you can sing along with. Sit for a while on a bench in any large park in Taiwan and you’ll hear of variety singing voices, boom-boxes, and song programs on the radio, as well as folks just walking along and humming to themselves – and what you’re most likely hearing are “golden oldies” from forty, fifty, even eighty years ago.
What are the origins of Taiwanese pop songs? When did the Taiwanese love for singing begin? And why do Taiwanese people prefer singing old songs? Early Taiwanese Pop Recordings: A History investigates these and other questions. The book focuses on the 1930s, the middle of the Japanese colonial era, researching the production and contents of popular songs of the period, discussing important composers, lyricists, singers and songs, as well as Taiwanese popular music’s relation to Chinese and Japanese songs of the day.
Records, movies, and print media flourished in 1930s’ Taiwan, initiating the first wave of nativist popular arts, spurring a “new song” trend. At the time, records and phonographs were still uncommon on the island, but everyone knew what those things were. Commercial record companies developed the concept of “popular songs” from the traditional “eight sounds,” 1 folk songs, and kua-á (歌仔) – folk stories, legends, and exhortations in song form. Song-writing teams, musical arrangements, and singers’ costumes all reflected the rise of a new kind of popular culture, symbolizing the emergence of a new, capitalist social structure.
Records circulated in cities, towns, and rural areas, the sounds of the modern era faintly revealing the “voice” of the society of the time. Popular songs of the period included the melodious and romantic “Longing for the Spring Breeze” and “Moonlight Sadness,” the plaintive “Night Flower in the Rain,” and the heart-rending “Sad Heart” and “Drunken Heart.” But there were also sweet and happy tunes like the beautiful, up-tempo “Romantic Breeze” and “Youth Ridge,” as well as simple, down-to-earth ditties such as “Farm Village Serenade” and “Our Taiwan.” All these songs had special social implications.
Text and illustrations can’t convey the sound of music; however, by means of archival research and song analysis the book uncovers the stories behind many classic Taiwanese pop tunes. In addition to traditional familial and social pressures, people living in the new era were confronted with the harsh realities of urban life, and the fickle, often disappointing ways of the world, but singing and dancing helped them to optimistically face life’s challenges. In the latter 1930s, the Taiwanese music world responded to the looming specter of war, but popular songs also conveyed a loving attachment to home. At the same time, people’s identification with Taiwan was gradually changing. By analyzing songs, recordings, and compositions, Early Taiwanese Pop Recordings provides a better recognition of a key period in the formation of modern Taiwanese society.
1“Eight sounds” are the materials used to construct various traditional East Asian musical instruments: metal, stone, silk, bamboo, gourd, earth, leather, and wood. See: https://zh.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E5%85%AB%E9%9F%B3
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