Taiwan: Music Not Missiles

04/11/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

When I first started planning for my trip to Taiwan I was warned that the only music I'd find would be a rehash of western pop. But here's my motto: If you can find one good musician, you can find a community of them. And I'm happy to report that I found plenty
of excellent musicians, and that engaging music full of Taiwanese character is alive and kicking. The variety is there, from aboriginal chants to jazz and hip hop, from ancient Chinese meditative music to electronica. This is all part of a music scene that exists alongside the glitz of the ubiquitous Mando-pop and the western music wannabees.
The musicians were terrific interviews, too. They've got a lot to say, and not just about music. You can't live in a place like Taiwan and not be thinking about national identity and a host of other issues. Martial law was only lifted in 1988, the space of one generation, and the repercussions are still being felt.

Lim Geong, the elder statesman of the trio I'm presenting, started his career by singing songs in the Taiwanese language, a controversial move at the time. He became a pop star, but found himself temperamentally unsuited for the limelight. In following his muse he has left that life behind and now fulfills himself with composing cutting edge electronic soundscapes.

"A Moving Sound" is an interdisciplinary performance art ensemble. Dancer and front person Yunya Hsieh aka Mia studied in the USA with Meredith Monk, but returned to Taiwan with her partner Scott Prairie and together they have forged a Pan-Asian sound that incorporates dance, theater, music and plenty of audience participation.

The hip hop group Kou Chou Ching presents conscious rap tackling the dark side of globalization, and more positive topics like cultural pride. They do it while at the same time using Taiwanese instruments and languages (yes, there's more than one!).

I can't show you everything I heard and saw in one shot, this is just a quick video capsule of some of the artists that are pushing the envelope. If this whets your appetite, you can check out more at