What is stinky tofu?! When 3 artists of 3 different genres and generations, all independently say “the food” is the best in Taiwan, you know there’s something to that. October 24, 2014, at the Highline Ballroom in downtown Manhattan, was Taiwan’s big night at CMJ 2014, showcasing three of some of the best talent out of the island formally known as Formosa (which means beautiful). A rock star called Luantan Ascent, a pop diva called A-Lin, and a hip-hop artist known as Dwagie, performed to a packed house.
The night started with Luantan Ascent, a folksy rock star with a presence straight out of “Desperado” the movie. During the sound check, in sunglasses with guitar case in hand, he sauntered towards the stage in his skin-tight zippered black-leather pants, while his long hair sheltered his face, conjuring a pissed-off Antonio Banderas.
A good fella with a good-natured laugh, Ascent sings in a soothing husky voice, and seems to move in tangents separate from the rest of the band. That is, until they all come together at the end in a prolific jam session. His trans-like progressions seemed rooted in traditional folk music.
After his set we asked him about it, and he gave us a quick run down of the different styles of music that originate in the Taiwanese countryside and temples. He also spoke briefly on how he incorporates their changes in pitch into his music.
“Ascent is a very experienced individual in the Mandarin Music Industry. He started off as a lead vocalist in a alternative rock band, and since 1997, if not earlier, he has been dedicating his life in almost every sector of music production, either in front of/ behind the scene. “ – Linda Hsieh, Taiwanese music insider
Given his history in the Taiwanese music scene, we asked him what he thought the future holds for the Taiwanese music industry. He talked about how the listening taste within the island has improved over the years, but in order to attract a wider audience he thinks the music can be more experimental. He also suggested artists seek collaboration outside the region. (See more, in our interview, coming soon)
No one has taken the idea of collaborating outside of Taiwan to heart, quite like Dwagie. The Taiwanese rapper followed Ascent’s performance at the Highline, and was joined on stage by his rapping crew of BR and Dongbay, while DJ Mr. Gin held it on the “1s and 2s”.
Dwagie has notably collaborated with the icon the Dalai Lama in “People”, and with hip-hop great Nas in “Refuse to Listen.” The American hip-hop magazine, Complex premiered “Refuse to Listen” on their website 3 days before the CMJ showcase.
Not many rappers can boast of collaborating with Nas, and no other rapper out there can add the Dalai Lama to their list.
Asked how he came to collaborate with the Dalai Lama, he responded on how he simply picked up the phone and made a call. And, Nas? According to Dwagie “after I collaborated with the Dalai Lama, everything becomes possible.” So, once again he picked up the phone. Now, there’s a “… man with the master plan.”
Dwagie, whose first album was the first full-length rap album out of all of China, opened with “Refuse to Listen” with Nas blasting over the speakers.
Following in the footsteps of Tupac and Nas, who were the modern day philosophers of their time, Dwagie’s lyrical content is about social justice, human rights, and other relevant matters of his generation, including animal protection and the dangers of social media. Dawgie has a track called “Facebook.”
An imposing man with a piercing stare, whose name translates to “big,” Dwagie’s favorite thing to do in New York City is shop at Dr Jays, because it’s so hard to find things in his size at home.
“Dwagie is a legendary rapper in Taiwan, he is a hip-hop singer, as well. His style of writing lyrics is very sacarstic, joking and teasing, mostly based on topics like political issues, underpriviledged minorities, and current events. There aren’t many rappers in Taiwan, but recently with Miss Ko ( a Mandarin female rapper, who also performed at CMJ last year) being signed to Asia Muse Entertainment Group, rap music is catching more and more attention in the Mandarin music market.” – Linda Hsieh (Taiwanese music insider)
The most anticipated act of the night, A-Lin would follow after Dwagie.
A-Lin is an adorable singer with a quick wit. Her soft melodies swayed the crowd, while her remarkable pianist and back up singer kept up with her regular prodding and engagement. An extrovert with a love for her craft, she doesn’t hesitate to steal the audience’s heart with jokes and little quips, in between songs. She engaged with them like she’s known them all her life.
Although not an especially challenging moment, when the mic-stand suddenly came apart in A-Lin’s hands, she played it off, and handled it as if the audience was going through the experience with her. A-Lin was left holding the upper part of the stand, while the bottom part lay motionless on stage, and she continued the show. The ease with which A-Lin turned the whole matter into another round of jokes, and kept the show moving shows the veteran she is, with eight albums to date. It’s as if the stage is her playground, an extension of her home.
Appearing in a white textured peplum dress, hair pulled to the back and upwards, for the rest of the evening A-Lin showed her ability to move the crowd. Singing in Mandarin, she tackled emotions few can verbally express, but most feel at one point or the other.
“She has always been recognized as a singer-songwriter with very solid singing talent. A very powerful, soulful female voice, she sings mostly love songs in light rock genre. She has successfully established her fame in the Mandarin speaking countries. She has been around for a while, and she has just signed to Sony Music Taiwan this May.” – Linda Hsieh
A night of 3 different styles, united by language and geography, but each telling stories that are universal. A-Lin of love, Dwagie about human rights and social justice, and Ascent prodding us to reach a higher plane with his voice. Taiwan’s big day at CMJ 2014 was a human story, translation not needed.
Interviews of A-Lin, Ascent and Dwagie coming soon.