Qiu Maojing, MA student, Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Taiwan University
A native of Hsinchu County’s Guanxi, Chen Yongtao (1956- ) moved to Taipei as a youth. After graduating from the Shih Hsin School of Journalism’s Department of Film Writing and Directing (today’s Shih Hsin University Department of Radio, Television, and Film) Chen worked for many years in media, publishing, environmental protection, and culture-related jobs. In 1996, to comfort his ailing grandfather who spoke only Japanese and the Hailu Hakka dialect, Chen wrote the song “Years Gone By” in Hailu Hakka. A look back on grandfather and grandson’s earlier lives in a Hakka community, the song’s lyrics greatly pleased the older man and set Chen Yongtao off on a new career path – writing modern pop songs in the Hailu dialect.
After the release of Years Gone By, his first album, Chen Yongtao moved back to Zhupu Township in Hsinchu County in the summer of 1997. Every Sunday he sang in front on the Temple of Heavenly Compassion, bringing his music back to the Hakka community where it was born. He continued the performances for two years, becoming a fixture of the area’s cultural landscape. Chen’s second album A-Tao’s Songs/800 Miles from Taiwan (2000), which carried on the first album’s blend of humor, descriptions of natural landscape and reflections on civilization, was well received. Music critic He Yingyi said, “This blend of traditional Hakka music and modern musical expression embodies the spirit of world music.” The same year Chen released another album, A-Tao and Children/School’s Out, singing with Emei Elementary School students. In 2003 he released Water Road, which differed from his first three albums, adding strings, Jew’s harp, and tambourine, the lyrics meditating on rivers and the natural environment. In the summer of that year Chen held a farewell fund-raising concert, declaring that he was ending his singing career in order to set up a workshop devoted to the environmental preservation of Emei Lake.
After a ten-year hiatus Chen released Those Were the Days (2014). In addition to remakes of eight songs from Years Gone By, the album included five new songs, “Mother River,” “Endless Love,” “Father and Son,” “Those Were the Days,” and “Reborn.” According to Chen two of the songs are “Siamese twins” – “Years Go By” and “Those Were the Days” – echoing his deep emotional attachment to the past. As a review of his creative career shows, Chen Yongtao is both a nostalgic lover of nature and an itinerant Hakka songster. What concerns him most is not fame and fortune, but the question of how humans and nature can coexist in harmony.
1The Hailu (海陸) dialect is primarily spoken in the Hsinchu area.
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