Immerse Yourself in the Music of the Mountains and Oceans
Text and photos by Candice Leow
Every year, in early to mid-November, residents of and visitors to eastern Taiwan can immerse themselves in the sounds of the mountains and oceans at two large-scale music festivals in Hualien and Taitung. The first is the Taroko Music Festival, a free live music event held in the spectacular natural surroundings next to the Taroko National Park Visitor Center. This day-long concert features local and renowned performing groups such as a classical pop ensemble with Chinese and Western instruments, indigenous bands and artists, and indigenous student choirs from elementary and high schools of Bunun and Truku (Taroko) communities, highlighting Hualien’s cultural diversity.
During the intermission, visitors can proceed into the magnificent Taroko Gorge, to enjoy an easy nature walk near the concert site, such as along the Shakadang Trail or Xiaozhuilu Trail. For lunch, bring your own picnic or purchase food at the visitor center.
The Ketusan Music Studio, led by Truku musician Pidelo Wukah, showcases stories of the Truku tribe in the form of a short musical, relating the traditional practices of hunting and weaving, and courtship customs. The songs and stories are a result of cultural heritage recollection with tribal elders. Listening to Taiwan’s indigenous music at the place of its origins, outside the confines of a concert hall, is an experience like no other.
The Amis Music Festival, the brainchild of Taitung’s Atolan community, is a ticketed one-day carnival and concert, leading up to an optional half-day craft workshop and cultural tourism experience in the village. Similar to music festivals in Europe, the Amis Music Festival aims to boost the economy and profile of Atolan.
Visitors have the option of a homestay in the village or putting up at Taitung City for a night, which is about half an hour’s drive away from the coastal town of Atolan (also known as Dulan). Visitors may also camp at the Atolan Police Station or on the grounds of Haodewo (Good Nest) Hostel, which leads to Dulan Bay and scenic views of the Pacific coast. Festival goers can sign up for traditional crafts workshops and experience making yarn pompom balls, which are a signature of Amis culture, or hand-weaving bags, amidst banter with friendly Atolan locals, as the event is aimed at sharing Atolan's Amis culture with visitors.
The Amis Music Festival draws a huge crowd that includes fans of Suming Rupi, a popular singer and musician from Atolan, and travelers who enjoy the scenic and cultural vibes of Atolan. The sale of handicrafts, food and drinks at the carnival sees the village go out in full force. In addition to dance, song and other performances, both outdoors and indoors, by the Atolan community and invited participants such as the Okinawa cultural troupe from Japan and other indigenous villages in Taiwan, stalls feature traditional arts produced by senior members of the Atolan community and trendier adaptations of crafts into contemporary products by the younger generations.
Children from the Dulan Elementary School sell their artwork and man game booths. Indigenous and local artisans and retailers are invited to hawk their wares as well, such as a wide selection of headbands, pouches and the like in tribal designs from The Garage, an art retail space at the Taitung Sugar Factory. This refinery, closed long ago, has been transformed into artist studios and art retail and exhibitions spaces.
The coastal route from Atolan to Taitung City includes several potential stops such as the Dulan Sugar Factory, which is similar in concept to the Taitung Sugar Factory, as once neglected sugar refinery buildings have been turned into artist studios and exhibition spaces. There is also the Jialulan Scenic Area, which features driftwood art installations created by local artisans and during the summer, crafts markets and concerts are held here.
The next Amis Music Festival is slated for 11 November 2017 (Facebook link: https://www.facebook.com/Amismusicfestival) and updates on the Taroko Music Festival can be found here (https://www.facebook.com/tarokomusic).