I did not figure this out until I listened to Suming’s album.
First of all, I love Suming. After all, he was the man who (with Totem Band) gave us this:
“Over There I Sing” was a breakout hit for the band, and it put them on more mainstream radar screens.
Now, Suming’s self-titled album is up for all kinds of Golden Melody Awards, but it illustrates the perennial debate in the Golden Melody Awards about whether there should be separate categories for non-Mandarin Music. Does that isolate those linguistic groups and, more importantly, their music, off into one set-aside category, segregated from the mainstream? Or does it simply make it more possible to recognize albums that would not have a chance against the voodoo practiced by one Cowboy Jay Chou?
Suming is not simply making a “traditional music” album here; he’s playing with the distinction between traditional music and pop music, something that Totem Band did pretty effectively in the Amis/Paiwanese polyphonic climax of “Over There I Sing.” You can see this in action in this music video, which combines Amis culture with dance music videos:
The whole album is a lot of fun for these reasons – foot-tappingly catchy one minute, hauntingly melodic the next. But if you listen to the whole thing, you might come across a song that sounds strangely familiar. Here’s Suming singing this song in the Ximending Eslite bookstore:
Except… anyone remember the 1996 Atlantic Olympics? Certain song used to advertise it? ‘Course, it was out before the Olympics too, and on the radio. Refresh your memory a second:
So why is Suming singing the same song that Enigma has going on in the background at the beginning and in the chorus? Well, looking to that font of knowledge, Wikipedia, it seems the “Jubilant Drinking Song” that Suming is singing is a traditional Amis song. During a past tour of a pair of Amis singers to France, they were recorded and their song sold; the performance was thought to be in the public domain, and Enigma sampled it in their song (and have since reached some settlement including royalties for use of the singing performance). There’s an open debate about whether traditional music can be copyrighted, though certainly individual performances can be copyrighted even if the songs themselves can’t. The original performers, Kuo Ying-nan and Kuo Hsin-chu, were finally credited, though perhaps too little, too late.
But what really boggles my mind here is that I spent the summer of 1996 driving around Minnesota listening to the radio. I graduated from high school that summer, and wouldn’t think much about China until a Chinese history class I took in college that fall, and didn’t start taking Chinese until I started grad school in 1999, and didn’t think about going to Taiwan until I was past my Ph.D. exams in 2002… but that summer, I was driving around Minnesota blasting the radio, unwittingly listening to Amis music.