Photo from 聯成娛樂 On Line's Facebook
Before I even stepped into the venue, I knew Anpu’s ‘Refining Clouds煉雲’ live performance at the career-defining Taipei Arena would not be just any other concert. The enigmatic indie singer-songwriter has been in and out of the scene since announcing the retirement of her former persona Deserts Chang in 2014, yet has made several unannounced pop-up appearances at indie gigs since then; most notably at Taiwanese Waves showcases in New York from 2016 to 2017.
Although this provided some reassurance to fans of her continued influence on the scene, she has yet to release any original music since her retirement in 2014. So when the concert was announced, the term ‘a pleasant surprise’ was probably an understatement for diehard lovers of her music, cumulating in two sold-out shows at the famous Taipei Arena, bursting at the seams with fans eagerly awaiting what the mysterious artist had prepared this time around.
And indeed, the concert was like none I had ever experienced. While most concerts in the pop realm are built around an artist’s persona and their repertoire; featuring flashy costumes and concepts, ‘Refining Clouds’ took every expectation and unspoken rule of the concert experience and broke it with sophistication and artistry. As while the best way to categorise this concert was as a ‘cover’ concert, it was non-traditional to say the least; incorporating 22 hand-picked songs; many by unknown or independent artists over the last three decades to piece together varied perspectives and facets of life. From songs by indie pioneers Susu Yeh, Lin Qiang and Sandee Chen to contemporary game-changers such as No Party For Cao Dong and Sunset Rollercoaster; Anpu left no stone unturned in her 22 song-long set list, surprising time and again with each song.
Yesterday night I had the pleasure of attending 龍虎門音樂節 Long Hu Men Festival, one of few (if not the only) festival in Taiwan primarily showcasing Taiwan's local hip-hop scene. Beginning in the 1990s, Taiwan's underground hip-hop scene has gone from strength to strength, with much of it‘s best and brightest including 蛋堡 Soft Lipa, 李英宏 aka DJ Didilong, DJ Mr Gin, 熊仔, Julia Wu 吳卓源, SmashRegz/違法, RPG, NEOSO 戴岑樺, and more in attendance at the festival.
A venue packed with youngsters who wore black caps and showed their appreciation by yelling rather than clapping (is this what the hip crowd does these days?), it was an eye-opening experience to be able to witness what I would say was a coming-of-age event for the Hip Hop scene, cementing its rise to the forefront of Taiwan's mainstream.
By Guest Contributor Ciarrai Donnelly
It’s not every day that you hear a nose flute on 5th avenue, but walking through the Upper East Side towards Central Park on a hot Saturday evening, the soft and distinct sound washes over me, and I know I’m in the right place. July 29th marked the second of SummerStage’s Taiwanese Waves: a showcase of Taiwanese musical artists on Central Park’s Rumsey Field stage (the first of which, in 2016, broke SummerStage’s 30 year attendance record). 2017 boasts a completely new lineup of four Taiwanese artists from different ends of the music world: punk, indie folk, and aboriginal music. Not only are the artists performing in completely different genres, but also in completely different languages: Puyuma, Taiwanese, and Mandarin. As someone who knows virtually nothing about Taiwanese culture, I’m certainly excited to see the multitudes of talent that tonight has to offer.
The crowd was hushed when I entered, mesmerized by our first performer: Sangpuy. Sangpuy Katatepan Mavaliyw is a prolific and accomplished musician with 2 studio albums, the most recent of which (Yaangad) he received Album of the Year, the most prestigious award of the Golden Melody Awards (among others, he also took home Best Vocalist [aboriginal] and Best Vocal Recording Album). He sings in the language of the Pinuyumayan people, an indigenous group of Taiwan, from whom Sangpuy is descended. The audience was completely captivated; both solemn and joyful, soft and strong, old and new, Sangpuy’s vocals take us somewhere else. I won’t be the first (or last) to call Sangpuy’s voice profound or penetrating, but it’s no exaggeration. It’s easy to understand his success, he’s as charming as his voice is stunning. Between his soulful melodies, he joked and talked with the audience, encouraging them to laugh and sing along. I don’t understand a word (aside from the universal “woohoo”) but by the end I sang along too. He brings Taiwanese aboriginal music into Central Park with ease, seamlessly blending traditional vocals and an ancient language with modern musical arrangements with complete success. He departed to great applause as his last notes hung in the air.
Hi everyone! It’s been a while since I last updated this blog, but as I write this, I’m sitting on a plane to Seoul, South Korea for a short holiday! Then I’ll be heading to Taiwan to work for a few weeks. All in all, let’s just say it’s been a busy six months for me. For the last 10 months, I’ve been working on my thesis, which is on the Taiwanese music industry and how it can be internationally successful by applying marketing strategy to the government’s policies. I’m so excited to share it with everyone, but there’s still a bit of red tape so I’m still unable to share it at this point in time! But the thesis is truly my baby! Although many friends and peers find my decision to do honours questionable, to me it was something I have always wanted to do. Essentially, I decided to do honours because it was kind of like an exercise in patience and discipline. I often have a tendency to work too fast and tend towards desiring immediate gratification. For example, this blog post may be done in under an hour and I’d already feel accomplished even though I didn’t put that much work in. I believed (and still do) that writing my thesis would truly be instrumental in teaching me to be patient when I embark on larger projects in the future. It also happened to be a huge time management and organisational feat which certainly enhanced my skills for the future too!
The second reason I decided to do my thesis was that I wanted to make an academic contribution to writings on the Taiwanese music industry. I’ve actually been studying and researching the Taiwanese music industry for about two years since my undergrad days (I was very lucky to have teachers who were supportive of my passion), and from that research, my main conclusion was that there weren’t enough writings on the Taiwanese music industry available. Pitifully few, I might add. Although many people have told me that they see very little value in academic work, I on the other hand find it to be immensely valuable. If you think about it, all knowledge comes from research. And all research has to be carefully handled so that it can lead to trends and those trends have the potential to eventually turn into facts and become part of history. Although writing opinion articles and news articles and dabbling in various formats of journalism has been especially helpful for me as I traverse the Taiwanese music industry, I’ve always felt that it just wasn’t enough. The question of how Taiwanese music (or Chinese language music) in general can be promoted to wider audiences has been on my mind for probably the last decade. And although I’ve desperately yearned for answers, trying every possible avenue I could and doing my research, there was nothing that could give me the answer I wanted. So as usual, I decided to create my own, in the form of this thesis. Suffice to say, it has furthered my knowledge and managed to an extent confirm my hypotheses for me (that Taiwanese music is indeed valuable and deserving of international promotion), but there is still so much to be done before I can find a full answer to such a question.
Nevertheless, I have learnt so much and pushed my boundaries so much farther with this thesis and I am proud of myself for it! So for those of you out there pondering post-graduate study, my advice would be-only do it if you’re truly interested! If you do, that’s when the work becomes fun and research just light reading. If anyone has any other questions about my post-graduate experience or would like me to expand more, feel free to let me know! I really look forward to being able to share my thesis, so watch this space! I've attached one of the songs I referred to in my thesis for you to listen to. Can you guess why I mentioned it?
Asian Pop Weekly Creator
To all readers (especially the female ones), a very happy #InternationalWomensDay to you! As an aspiring creative professional in a very niche market, it gets pretty hard at times breaking through the clutter. But somehow from my experiences, I get the feeling that it's even harder to be taken seriously as a baby-faced young lady. I've slogged long and hard at this game and clocked in the hours, but especially as I up the ante in trying to turn this hustle into a career, I've met with obstacles that should not be there.
My drive taken for insolence, my kindness taken for granted, my experience exchanged for envy and blocked opportunities, my youth and feminine appearance mistaken for amateurishness. More and more, as I witness the ugly side of this industry do I wonder to myself; 'If I were a strapping young man, would I be facing these exact situations?' If I were a boy, would my drive be admired, my kindness praised, my experience applauded? Would envy dissipate and grant me the opportunities I deserve? But alas, all these 'what ifs' create are self pity and doubt. What use would that be?
So to all the girls out there with a great idea in their heads, with a passion that cannot be snuffed, believe in the potential of your voice. Having a voice does not mean literally having to stand up and speak, or having your writings published. To have a voice means to stand up for what you believe in, to speak when no one else has the courage to. Be brave, and don't be afraid of how other people see you. Sit in the front row of the classroom by yourself, ask for the opportunities you desire, be a strong, goddamn independent woman. Because progress is progress, no matter how big or small. By having your voice heard, prove your mettle to the rest of the world and soon enough, us girls will truly run the world. Happy Women's Day <3
I like to think that finding Kowen Ko (柯智棠)’s music was fate at work pointing me in the right direction. I first heard him live at the Golden Melody Awards showcase in July this year, where he appeared as a special guest for his cousin Waa and performed a couple of songs （Note: This was in fact not the first time I had heard him sing; I had merely forgotten…see the post from April 2015 below. Seems that his music has passed me by more times that I can remember!).
Stressed as I was about the slew of interviews I would have to conduct right after her show, I made a mental note to look into his music later and promptly forgot twenty minutes later. The second time was at the Love Love Rock festival in November this year, where I brushed shoulders with him somewhere on the festival grounds. I had planned to catch his performance the day after, but decided against it due to the hassle of transport to the venue. The next time I saw him was at the Simple Life music festival a few weeks later, and it was this meeting which sealed the deal for me. I was on the way home from a day of performances and pondering over whether I should catch Eve Ai or Kowen’s showcase the next day. As soon as I had that thought, there he was again! Call me crazy, but I promptly decided that that was a sign that I should finally check out his music, and when I did the day after, I was-to say the least-pleasantly surprised.
He took to the stage; a tall, slight figure with a guitar held firmly in his grasp, and when he began to perform, all preconceived notions of his music went out the window. I had assumed him to be somewhat similar to Eli Hsieh, this year’s best newcomer at Golden Melody Awards who was a passionate, driven singer-songwriter who was highly adept with the guitar, but what I found was a boy with a husky, comforting voice and folk-inspired tunes which were the perfect combination of soothing and uplifting.
He began his set with his sentimental and nostalgic song ‘It was May” and followed it with “Me and my Candy House”, a song with a clean, adventurous melody that paired well against his husky vocals. Within the first six minutes of the performance, I was already doubly impressed; surprised to note that he had a sizeable, well-written English repertoire and by his musical prowess in a genre that was right up my alley. His songs were so well-written, that I disbelievingly assumed it to be a cover song, but instead was even more impressed when I found that it was all written by him, music, lyrics and all. Despite the conflicting of sounds that drifted over from a nearby event, Ko had my ears from the moment he opened his mouth to the last note of the song. Using a slight acoustic rearrangement for each of his songs, he sounded just as good as he did on his album that day.
Another reason I found his sound so intriguing was because he clearly subscribed more to British music than the normal American styles his other accomplished counterparts felt so inclined towards (You would not be surprised to know that Kowen’s idol is Damien Rice). I have always admired the clean sound and sophisticated wordplay associated with British folk music, and so was even more amazed to hear the depth within his lyrics and such an internationalised perspective coming from a born-and-bred Taiwanese singer. His meandering, world-weary vocals impressed me most in his performance of “Down oh Down”, while he showed off his versatility by perfectly executing long vocal crescendos in “Strange”.
I also especially loved the pairing of the electric guitar with Ko’s own folksy strummings. As I usually watch pop performances, it was very refreshing to see such a non-conventional pairing, especially when the electric guitar was used as a background piece to lend an uplifting, serene atmosphere to the song, rather than for some sort of screeching solo. He followed this with a stripped down, sentimental performance of a yet-to-be-released new song, so new that it doesn’t yet have a name but which caught on my heartstrings anyway, and finished the set with the strangely familiar melody of “You don’t really wish to be a drifter” and lastly the very fitting “Goodbye and Goodnight” with its haunting yet enchanting atmosphere.
If I may be perfectly candid, I wasn’t focusing too hard during his performance on technique, stage personality, or any of the things I usually take into account when reviewing live performances. Firstly, it was because I was too burned out from work, but secondly, it was because his voice and his music was too mesmerising to concentrate on anything else. That’s what good music is; the kind that allows you to lose your train of thought and throw all logical sense out the window.
Kowen's music reminds me of the beauty that one finds in melancholy; how delectable, tangible, gorgeous it is to sit alone in a dark room and brood over life. Over this past month or so, his music has accompanied me through many ups and downs, made me cry (more than once, I might add), but essentially buoyed me through the tough times, allowing me to find beauty and make time for self-reflection in sceneries and situations that are not classically beautiful. His mesmersing performance has sparked a obsessive cycle of repetition of his music be it day or night amongst myself and my colleagues, and I don't feel one bit guilty for causing a new wave of the 'Kowen Craze'. My only regret is that I missed the previous several chances to watch him perform before I left Taiwan, but I am sure that fate will draw me back to him sooner or later. Stay tuned for my review of his album!
When people hear that I'm a music reviewer, often the first question they have is "How do you appreciate so many different kinds of music?" Believe me, I had the same question for myself when I first tried my hand at reviewing albums. It seemed like such a huge feat that I was most certainly under-prepared for to treat different types of music objectively and appreciate them equally. Of course, I didn't always start out loving all kinds of music, initially I was most inclined towards R&B and Pop, and it took years of patient listening and maturity as a person for me to immerse myself into different genres. Here's a rough timeline of how my musical tastes have expanded over the years:
2007: R&B, Pop
2008: Initial appreciation for Rap and Hip hop
2009: Further appreciation for Hip hop
2010: Grew an appreciation for Rock & Easy listening/Folk
2011: Developed an appreciation for Jazz
2012: Got into Alternative Rock/Folk Rock and Brit Rock
2013: Initial appreciation for Electronic Dance Music
2015: Deeper appreciation for independent genres and Jazz, and gained an increased appreciation for EDM music
2016: Gained a greater love for Rap music, EDM, Reggae and Indie music in general
So as you can see, my appreciation for music and different styles of it has grown over time, and is still growing and changing every single day. Some of my appreciations of genres were love at first sight (rock, folk) but with some others such as alternative rock, they were slow to take shape but got there in the end! I do not claim to be an expert on any of the genres that I love, but as a music reviewer I believe its important to have a base of knowledge and understanding of how different genres have come to be, and what characteristics artists who are inclined towards these genres share.
However, my appreciation for a wide range of genres did not happen organically, nor overnight. Some songs from different genres I may have immediately taken a liking to, but for others, it took perseverance and persistence. I managed to discipline myself by taking a critical approach to every song that I listened to. Rather than just listening once and from there deciding whether I liked it or not, I listened again, again, and again (and wore out many MP3 players in the process). If I didn't like the song, I would ask myself why and listen carefully to pinpoint what exactly it was about the particular song which led me to dislike it. Was it bias that had led me to immediate dislike for a song? And likewise, if I liked a song, what was it about the melody, lyrics or arrangement which had attracted me to it? If theoretically speaking it wasn't a good song but I liked it anyway, was I being biased due to a particular artist's participation on the track? All in all, I constantly pushed myself to find justification that was relevant rather than arbitrary for my attitude towards every song. This constant questioning and critiquing of each piece of music I listened to led to an increased need for answers that I usually didn't have. So that meant listening to every piece of music and researching the characteristics and histories of different genres and contexts until I had an answer that I was satisfied with. In this way, finding an answer for why I felt the way I did gave me a greater appreciation for each of the different genres of music that I listened to, because I then had a better understanding of the way they were created and why they were created in that particular way. (On a side note, now you know why album reviews take me so long!)
Cover photo by Roman France.
Review by guest contributor Ciarrai Donnelly
Entering New York's notable downtown venue, the Bowery Ballroom, I was met by the familiar buzz of an eager crowd, excited but still patient, waiting for the show to start. The lights were low all over the house, leaving those up on the balconies in darkness, with the floor illuminated by a large, pink neon sign reading “End of the World” in cursive hanging over the small stage. Skeeter Davis's “End of the World” softly plays on repeat as the late arrivals hustle into the pink haze, pushing as close to the stage as they can get which, with no security barrier, is pressed right up against it. The old fashioned curtains and brass railings of the Ballroom, the neon sign, the people cheerfully chatting away while Davis croons overhead “...don't they know its the end of the world...” is positively dreamlike; and I seem to be the only one who doesn't know what's going on.
My relationship with Tokyo-based J-rock/pop band SEKAI NO OWARI is budding, a recent discovery, and as until last week they had never appeared in the Unites States I certainly have never seen them live. But their reputation preceeds them: an enormous and devoted worldwide fan base, three studio albums, a documentary, and sold out stadium concerts in world renowned theaters like the Nissan Stadium and Nippon Budokan. Their studio work, music videos, and live performances are famous for creative theatrical elements with elaborate and heavily stylized costumes, sets, and personas. So, I was frankly surprised when Bowery Ballroom was announced as the venue for their New York debut, and the final stop on their short American debut tour; an esteemed house of music of course, but a fraction of the size of Budokan, with a small stage not obliging to complex theatrics. The Ballroom turned out to be the perfect choice for a debut show: elegant and intimate, well known, and classically New York. The size of both the floor and the stage proved not to be a limit but an opportunity, showcasing the bands new aesthetic arrangements.
When the band hit the stage, the crowd loses it. The players include the four SEKAI NO OWARI members, Saori on piano, Fukase on guitar and lead vocals, DJ Love on the soundboard, and Nakajin on lead guitar, and two men clad in suits and what appear to be tapir head masks backing up on drums and base. The three male members all wear black tuxes and Saori sports a beautiful but simple black dress, a departure from their typical wild costumes; it's something more mature, even somber, but still maintaining their energy and edginess, matching the Ballroom's rock n' roll/classy art deco feel. They look like they belong there. With no introduction needed they jump right in, starting the night off right with “ANTI-HERO,” one of the band's latest singles, and an English version of “Monsoon Night” (my personal favorite of the night). The audience was having the time of their lives: singing and dancing, most notably during Saori's piano solos, and clapping and jumping at the command of DJ Love.
I'm not going to pretend to be a huge fan of Cheer Chen. In fact, I know very little about her music, but do own copy of her book "不在他方Placeless Place", where her honest and philosophical writing style sparked my interest. So on my recent travels to Taiwan, I decided to give her exhibit a whirl, entering with no prior knowledge of its theme or background and just an open mind.
Design feature of the Chinese word 'Wo' meaning 'Me' at the start of the exhibit.
So the exhibit was split into five different rooms, each with its own special theme and activities that viewers could partake in. Participants in the exhibition were interestingly enough encouraged to take photos throughout, which to me reflected Cheer's generosity in sharing her ideas and a part of herself with viewers.
The five rooms:
A. The Dark Room
B. The eye of memory
C.Amusement park of montage
D. The moving room
E.The flight of those who fail
F. Something for you to take away
A. The Dark Room
Designed and arranged in the setting of a photography darkroom, the room was lined wall-to-wall with Cheer's memories from her school days up until her career as an artist. Included were her grade reports from high school up until University, some of her essays. her uniform shirt with a scrawled message of greeting from a friend, a thick book of newspaper clippings of her appearances in the media, and an assortment of music-listening devices, cameras and pagers which had accompanied her throughout the days of her past.
After carefully browsing through each and every item in the room,trying to remember each item and piece together Cheer's story in my head, one thing became apparent to me, which was that although one would have though that I would feel detached from this person who has all her artefacts framed in glass cases for hundreds of viewers to peruse, that was not the feeling I got from this room at all. Cheer's grades were good, but not spectacular. Her journal entries which were shared had a comment written on it by her teacher, telling her to go make more friends as she was too introverted and perceived as unhappy. The uniform shirt which had greetings scrawled onto it did not say anything deep or meaningful, but were just a string of words hastily printed, locking into them a raw feeling of euphoria, youth, and now nostalgia. As I write this, I now understand why Cheer decided to design this room as a dark room, as it is a place filled with her memories, each like a photograph in its raw, unfiltered state. Cheer did not wish to glorify her personal history, but instead used it as a tool to encourage viewers to reflect upon their own related memories. As I went through the pictures and artefacts, I too remembered the countless moments of dismay at the assortment of letters on my report cards, teachers remarking about my 'potential' but trying to pull me out of my introverted state, my bunch of broken mp3s that lie in a basket back home as a reminder of my passion for music. Is there anything you can recall?
B. The eye of memory
Upon stepping into the second room titled "The eye of memory", I was automatically transported into an alternate reality where time and space seemed to not exist. There was a table and chair suspended in the air, moving, greek mythology-inspired animations which drifted lazily across the walls, and a microphone with a wall full of words transcribed by Cheer Chen herself. Simple instructions were written here and there, with a music stand placed next to the microphone with a single sheet of paper instructing one to read the words off the wall.
As one spoke and read the words, the words would begin to shine brightly, spinning off surreal flashes of white light which transformed into a binary code of some sort, dancing across the walls and disappearing into a treasure chest.
Another object in the room which fascinated me to no end was a table suspended in mid-air which appeared to be completely blank. However, as soon as you ran your and across it, touching certain objects, reels of holographic film and polaroids of Cheer would appear on the table top, revealing to the viewer the memories Cheer might associate with these objects.
The last object in the room which fascinated me was the back wall which was adorned with intricate, mythology-inspired illustrations which I can only guess that Cheer drew herself. Observing the roman sundials as the story moves from day to night, the animation to me was an abstract, yet beautiful insight into Chen's mind, full of whimsy and myths that perhaps are her way of explaining the passage of time, navigating for her the realms of space. Watch the animation below!
Although I don't claim to be an expert on reviewing musicals, and especially not Chinese musicals, I decided to review the musical version of Jimi's "Turn Left, Turn Right" (or "Love, Regret" as they call it) as a way of memorialising the experience, much like how I write reviews for my favourite albums or movies. As I had never seen a Chinese musical before, I didn't know what to expect, but was in extreme anticipation mode about seeing the talented performers Waa Wei, Wang Dawen and Joanna Wang performing and interacting on stage together. Furthermore, it seems that the producer and composer for many of the songs within the musical was none other than George Chen, renowned producer and cult favourite within the Taiwanese music industry for his elegantly crafted works. What could go wrong?
The storyline of the musical differed a little from Jimi's original story, adding characters and making it so that Mr. Regret and Ms. Leaving (Wang Dawen and Waa Wei respectively) were brought together both in real life, and simultaneously by the will of a shoddy yet likeable bunch of muso misfits including a film director, a rock singer, and a writer (played by Cui Tai Hao, Yang Deng Jun and Yao Jen Chang) who do nothing but sit in Jimmy's Cafe all day and mooch off its friendly and motherly owner (Liang Xiao Heng) and assistant Ms. Weather (Datian). Joanna wang comes into the picture as the woman who is looking for her cat, who drifts in and out of the picture from time to time. Also present in the musical are a cat who is actually a human (played by Pan Zhiyuan) and a bird (played by Li Man) who ironically are a couple and often narrate the storyline or interject with their philosophical thoughts on life and love. Through several missed opportunities, Mr. Regret and Ms. Leaving repeatedly try to find each other but find their paths to be parallel each time until finally they decide to let go of each other, bringing them back together.
With any medium of the arts, be it movies, music or musicals, one of the main criteria I go off is the degree of immersion the work of art brings to me. In other words, a work of art (or musical in this case) to me is one that embraces me into their world and allows me to transcend time and space to enter a dimension of timelessness, where all that matters is the story in front of me. In other words, the overall criteria for me is whether I was fully engaged with the storyline of the musical.
And my answer to that question is both yes and no. Dawen, Waa and Joanna have been artists that I've admired for a long time, and it would be extremely easy for me to fall into the trap of viewing them not as their characters, but as their real-life selves. However, apart from the initial exhilaration of seeing them all on stage together, all preconceptions of what I knew about their real lives, their music, their ideas faded away, allowing me to entirely engage with these characters they had breathed life into. Dawen's musical theatre background certainly did not let him down as he convincingly played the friendly, yet lonely and downtrodden violinist Mr. Regret; stringing my heart along with every note he sang and every word he said. The versatile Waa, who played Miss Leaving was equally convincing in her role as the quiet translator who lived in a world of her own; a girl with unique perspectives and a fervent, yet subtle desire to meet someone who could truly understand her innermost thoughts and feelings. Both played their characters so well that to me it was just as if I was in their heads, and could completely relate to what they were feeling; their shy giddiness upon first meeting, their bittersweet yearning to see each other again, and their unspeakable happiness upon finally meeting again. Wei and Wang had an undeniable stage chemistry that I felt came not from their own personalities, but instead from the pair's intense dedication to their roles. In those three hours, as I listened to Wang and Wei's vocals fuse in sweet harmony, I did not doubt even once that Mr Regret and Miss Leaving were indeed soulmates.
Joanna also played her part as C, or the crazy cat lady (as I like to call it) superbly, but unlike with Dawen and Waa who changed themselves to fit the role, it seems that the role fit Joanna's personality perfectly. Although a side character who intermittently appears throughout the musical without rhyme or reason for the most part (I later found that she was supposed to be a woman who had lost her memory, and was instead looking for her lover), Joanna played her role so effortlessly that no one would even think to ask about the importance of her presence, slipping herself so seamlessly in and out of scenes with little fuss or overdramaticism, yet commanding all the attention in the room each time she opened her mouth. I later found out after reading up on the musical, that the cat she was looking for was instead not a cat, but instead a lost lover, symbolising a type of love that trails aimlessly with no rhyme or reason as opposed to Mr. Regret and Ms. Leaving's 'Left-Right' love story.
Vocal-wise, Waa, Dawen and Joanna's vocals were in tip-top condition, nailing all the harmonies and really singing their way into my heart. However, I felt there was a real difference in quality of the vocals of the chorus group, whose voices did not mesh in unison, and kind of detracted from the 'wow' factor of the musical.
The other cast members were enthusiastic in their reprisal of their roles; with special commendation especially going to Jimmy Cafe's lady boss S played by Liang Xiao Heng and her lovelorn shop assistant Ms. Weather played by Datian. S was the quintessential 'Lao Ban Niang'; humorous, tough on the outside but with a kind heart and a ear open to anyone who might need it. Datian had a strong set of vocals and was for me an integral character which linked all the various stories into a more cohesive whole, by skilfully being the person to befriend Waa's character, acting the part of the lovelorn fool pining for a lover in New York, while encouraging and partaking in the coffeeshop banter with the other characters.
The whimsical props, costumes and the simple yet beautiful songs composed by George Chen, and even Sodagreen's Wu Tsing Feng in part were for the most part a pleasure to listen to, and truly buoyed the musical along in terms of reading an eclectic, vintage yet whimsical theme and atmosphere. A nice of mix musical theatre stuff, with a little rock and bossa nova thrown in for good measure had my ears perking up at every listen. My favourites were the ones written by Qing Feng, especially "But dreams will only go farther" and "Curious City". Although I have to say I was a little disappointed in the arrangement and production quality as I had hoped for something a little more well executed and extravagant, it was still pretty good and did a solid job of conveying what the character's lines couldn't.
However, there were also parts of the musical which to me were less immersive, and were mainly the parts featuring the trio of misfit musos, played by Yang Deng Jun, Cui Tai Hao and Yao Jen Chang. Although they tried their best, cracking jokes and providing the audience with comic relief over their jolly antics, their performances to me were of mediocre quality, and failed in truly immersing me in their part of the storyline. I found the three of them to be lacking in personality; for example, the rocker played by Yao Jen Chang had a nice voice, but he was in no way a rocker. He didn't have the voice for it, and he most certainly didn't have the attitude for it. So although these three characters were the main link joining the inception-like happenings between Mr Regret and Miss Leaving's real-life love story and their scripted one, their lacklustre performance really blurred the lines for me, leaving me to pick up the pieces of the puzzle for myself.
Furthermore, another issue I had with the musical was that it was too focused on character development and ignored the importance of clarity in the storyline. There were inherent complexities that made storytelling more difficult, due to the extra layers that were added to the plot involving side stories between Joanna's cat lady C. and the Rocker Y., Ms Weather pining for a lover in the States while amateur director K. fawned over her, the random love story between a cat who is actually a man and a bird (there is ABSOLUTELY no way I would have known this without further research into the characters), and the alternate reality concept of Mr Regret and Miss Leaving's story being retold in reality as the artistic trio reviewed their scripted version of it. Although I was able to appreciate each of these little stories on their own, I nevertheless found it hard to put all these stories together in a cohesive whole, other than trying to put together scraps and bits of pithy lines uttered by the characters to link all these stories of love and loss together. Personally, I would have liked for the story to be more simple and streamlined, as I feel although the musical is strong in terms of its free-flowing artistic direction, it lacks in clarity by trying to use whimsy as an excuse for all the loose ends within the musical.
All in all, I was nevertheless still able to appreciate the sweet story and enjoyed myself, even gaining a few pithy sayings about love and loss from watching the musical. I came out of it better than when I went in, so despite the downsides, "Turn Left, Turn Right" was a pleasure to watch and was a welcome escape from the mundane issues of daily life.
Photos taken from Mr Wing Theatre's Facebook Page.
Hasty pictures taken during the performance...
It's been my dream since I started getting to know more about Chinese music to be able to live in Taipei, and now I'm finally going to be able to! Starting from the 11th of February, I will be staying in Taipei for 139 days and hope to share parts of my experiences that may be helpful with readers everywhere! (Feb 2014)