Taiwan with Jeffrey “Yello” Simon

— by Kate Rendell

Shelton, Vito, Yello, James and Darren with their welcoming 'Home to the B2M Boys' banner!

Jeffrey “Yello” Simon, recently journeyed to Taiwan with fellow B2M band members Shelton Murray and Darren Narul and producer James Mangohig to collaborate with the Amis and Bunun Taiwanese Indigenous communities. Here, Yello reflects on the experience of Indigenous collaboration and the universal language of music.

What was it like returning to Taiwan?

Our recent trip was so fantastic – we travelled to South Taiwan to connect up with the Amis and Bunun Tribes. We’d been there before so it was great to go back. The connection was instant, because we had established the relationships and knew that we wanted to work together to create new performances.

There are so many similarities between our culture and the communities there. Music is at the centre of it. So despite not sharing a language, it was easy speaking through music.

Fuli is beautiful. It’s spread out across a huge valley. It’s a totally different landscape to here. Lots of mountains, steep valleys and rice fields.

And the food! Our taste buds had never tasted anything quite like it! We’d never eaten pork like they cook it there or chicken like they cook it!

You worked with the Bunun Children’s Choir. What was it like collaborating with these kids?

Working with the Bunun Children’s Choir was amazing. The kids were so professional – it blew us away! We had to be on our game! They were very patient and are perfectionists – their skills are a credit to the Choir Master.  Despite not speaking our language, the kids listened very intensely and knew where to come in from off the bat. They understood our music and through that we found a common connection.

Our performance together at the Amis Festival exceeded everyone’s expectations. We are seasoned performers with B2M and are used to being on a stage – but it was the first time the Bunun Choir had performed on stage. The kids just stepped up and we came together. We felt comfortable adapting.

The performance was so special for the kids – because they were performing in front of their tribe and community. We could really relate to that. B2M hardly perform in front of our mob, but when we do get a chance it means a lot – it’s really special.

You also collaborated with Amis traditional singer Tenmoy?

Moyan was incredible, he was deep in his own world. We have so much respect for him as a true artist. Finding common ground wasn’t hard – despite not speaking a word of English. He was always listening to the music.

We did have a translator – but it was funny because we could see that there were parts of what we were saying about music that couldn’t be translated. Music is a language in itself. So playing with Moyan, we just came together just by listening and seeing where we fit together.

What’s next for the collaboration?

Working with Amis and Bunun musicians taught us a lot about ourselves and our capacity to collaborate. We got to stretch ourselves and show just how far we can take our music. Especially considering the obstacles – international travel, language –  that could have derailed the project. It took drive and me, Darren and Shelton had a commitment to make things work. And having James there, of course made things easy – he made everything happen with his hard work behind the scenes. It was his dedication that pulled it together and inspired the rest of us. James helped us take it to the next level – all his work after hours, mixing the tracks and adding his flavour!

We were touring as a three-piece. And the three of us aren’t the lead singers in B2M –  I just play guitar! Ha, I often joke that I am just the bloke the middle! But we had to go further on this trip! We always knew in the back of our mind that there’s a lot riding on it.

We have a fan base now in Taiwan. Which is amazing. But now we’d love to bring this collaboration and show to Australia. The show would be amazing at Darwin Festival, Barunga Festival and WOMAD. It’s a collaboration between two Indigenous tribes that has never been done before – and it is a unique show that needs to be heard!

If you are keen to hear more from B2M, check out their 2018 National Tour Mamanta – which is influenced, in part, by their recent collaborations in Taiwan!

All photos courtesy of James Mangohig and Louise Partos