Qiu Miaojing, MA student, Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Taiwan University
The Labor Exchange Band (1999-2003) put out two albums, Let’s Sing Mountain Songs (1999) and Night of the Chrysanthemums (2013), and in 2013 Wind Music reissued a new commemorative editions. Backed by Tamkang University’s “Music Pit,” the Labor Exchange lineup included Lin Shengxiang, Zhong Yongfeng, Chen Guanyu, Zhong Chengda, and Guo Jincai. When the movement to resist construction of a dam in Kaohsiung’s Meinong area was going on in the 1990s, fellow Meinong resident Zhong Yongfeng encouraged Lin Shengxiang to contemplate music’s practical social significance. Thus, Lin resolved to return to Meinong to allow his music and hometown to interact organically. In the Hakka language, gau gung (交工) means “labor exchange.” In the past the notice often appeared in Meinong tobacco-curing barns (Meinong is a tobacco-producing area) at harvest time. When the Labor Exchange Band returned to the town, the group set up a recording studio in a tobacco barn, naming it the “Team No. 7 Tobacco Barn Studio.” Meinong residents joined in as well, together making music in support of social movements.
Night of the Chrysanthemums is a concept album. The vivid and direct Hakka lyrics are a blend of magical realism and narrative poetry, telling the story of A-Sang, a young man who leaves Meinong to make his way in the world. Unsuccessful, he wants return to his hometown but is ashamed to face his family and neighbors. In “Night of the Chrysanthemums,” the title song, A-Sang has gone back to farming, plodding in the mud, raising over half a hectare of chrysanthemums. At night he dreams he’s a chrysanthemum commander-in-chief, leading a vast army of chrysanthemums, bitterly battling exploitative market forces. Furthermore, A-Sang disappoints his parents by not taking a Hakka wife and continuing the family line; instead, he goes off to Southeast Asia and marries an Indonesian woman, A-Fun. Here, lyricist Zhong Yongfeng turns to a woman’s perspective, depicting the pregnant A-Fun’s inner world as she sings out her hopes: “After enough time has passed a strange place will come to seem like home.”
The Labor Exchange Band’s music and lyrics incorporate many traditional elements: opera narrative, chants in honor of a teacher or master, story-telling, Hakka nursery rhymes, Hakka hill songs, the “moon lute” (a stringed instrument), the Hakka eight-tone shawm (an oboe-like instrument), the Chinese two-stringed fiddle, and Hakka-community choral singing, as well as sounds from the natural environment – listening to the music is like visiting the town of Meinong, as though a movie is playing before one’s eyes. The Labor Exchange Band carries on the tradition of Wu Shengzhi’s 1980s “new Hakka music,” giving Hakka song a new aesthetic, going beyond earlier styles and limitations.
Thanks to the success of Night of the Chrysanthemums the band won the 2002 Golden Melody “Best Band” Award, but split up the following year. Chen Guanyu, Zhong Chengda, and Guo Jincai went on to form the “Hospitable Hakka” band, while lyricist Zhong Yongfeng and composer Lin Shengxiang continued their long-term partnership, turning out a series of albums with other musicians: Eventide (Shengxiang and Tile Kiln Pit 3, 2004), Planting Trees (with Ken Ohtake and Hirayasu Takahashi, 2006), Wild (with Ken Ohtake, 2009), Mother Earth’s Study (with Ken Ohtake and Toru Hayakawa, 2009), and My Village (the Shengxiang Band, 2013).
1Greater Kaohsiung’s Meinong District is home to a large Hakka population. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meinong_District
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