i wrote this post a couple weeks ago, before kiluma’an, but didn’t get to posting it until back in the u.s. it’s about some possible roles that musicians can take in contemporary social movements

Do you remember back when the Hohaiyan Music Festival was still an alternative music festival, when it was just Purdur and his guitar, singing music that still let you hear the ocean? Hohaiyan before the Taipei County Government transformed it into a tourist event?

I know, nostalgia is often a longing for something that never existed. I know that back then Hohaiyan was a commercial venture. I am not saying that musicians should not make money on their art. After all, we all have to make a living—even Purdur, who works as a policeman on Pongso no Tao. My nostalgia is not for some pure music festival that I might pretend existed, either at Gongliao or back at Woodstock. And wasn’t one of the most poetic commentaries on that mythical music festival Joni Mitchell singing, “We’ve got to get back to the Garden”?

Ah, Nostalgia! It would have us wish for purity. That is not what I desire. What Hohaiyan meant to me was both a different relationship to music and between music and social movements. A different relationship to music, because one could feel that the music came from a surrounding soundscape and way of life. Unlike other music produced on Taiwan, this music neither imitated Western popular musics, even if it borrowed from them, nor did it wrap itself in the tattered trappings of Taiwan as China. One could feel that it came from this ocean, these mountains. A different connection to social movements, because it was music that did not shy away from speaking from a position that was political but that didn’t fit within the fixed oppositions of the political system: Panai singing of wandering; Pudur saying that one can be homesick where one was born, because the land no longer belongs to one’s people. What I remember about Hohaiyan was this willingness not to sound like or for a market or a program. It’s this willingness that seems lost, not by musicians, who continue their work, but on the part of the management, which would stifle their voices

This year I did not go to Hohaiyan. Truth be told, it was the thought of tourist crowds and the stifling July heat that kept me away. However, reports from those engaged with the festival as writers or musicians that the New Taipei City (former Taipei County) Government’s Tourism Office wished to muzzle them contributed to my feeling that going to the festival in Gongliao this year was not worth it. I felt bad about not seeing Samingad or Matzka perform on the big stage. On the second day of the festival my friends from the hip hop group Kou Chou Ching also noticed that even the so-called “green leaning” media avoided reporting on the musicians who made environmentalism, particularly opposition to Nuclear Reactor 4, the East Coast Development Policy, and a planned nuclear waste facility in Taitung, an unofficial theme of this year’s performances, particularly on the small stage. Was it just the Lady Gaga effect? Certainly the arrival of Lady Gaga in Taichung stole much of the media attention from Hohaiyan. The way that both organizers and the media avoided “sensitive” issues like environmentalism or indigenous land rights seems to be more than just sensationalism. Or, I would say that sensationalism allows a distraction and hence an excuse. Lady Gaga sells

As it turned out, going to Hohaiyan was unnecessary, anyway. I saw Matzka perform but at a more meaningful venue that featured A-lin, Suming, and Siki Sufin, as well as Matzka, not to mention Little Rukai and Takanaw. All performed at the “Don’t Say Farewell to the Ocean” concert associated with the protest movement to protect Shanyuan Beach from illegal development. The Shanyuan concert, like the protest, in which a group of local artists lived and worked on the beach for a month, aims to mobilize people to stop the construction and operation of the Meiliwan Hotel on Shanyuan Beach in Taitung County. Built without proper consultation or environmental impact studies on public land, the Meiliwan Hotel would both destroy the environment around the hotel, including a turtle egg laying ground, and would close the beach to a wider public that includes an indigenous village for whom the beach is important both ritually and for subsistence. More broadly, the hotel would be the first in an entire set of projects, in which public land is being privatized and developed for profit, without thought of environmental or social impact. It’s ironic that at a festival that borrows the word “ocean” to transliterate Hohaiyan into Chinese that this concern for Taiwan’s coastline has been stifled. So in many ways, the public art, free admission, informality, and social concern demonstrated at Shanyuan on 9th July brought back memories of the “old Hohaiyan” for me. It also underscored what musicians can do. Maybe many of the people who came to Shanyuan were there just to listen to music and to party. For them, the barbeque, beer, and music was enough. Hopefully, several of those casual listeners will be mobilized by the music to protect Taiwan’s endangered coastline. That’s something that Hohaiyan cannot do. If the Shanyuan “Never Say Farewell to the Ocean” concert could, it’s because it was organized by the artists themselves. I hope to see more concerts of this sort in Taitung in the future. I wouldn’t even mind if Matzka were a bit further away because of the crowd

for more information on the work to protect Taitung’s coastline, visit the East Coast Action Facebook page: East Coast Action