桑梅絹 Sang Mei-Chuan is an award-winning Paiwan singer and performer from Taiwan. She is the youngest child in her family and due to the senior age of her parents, she only communicated with them in Paiwan language. She remembers the first song her mother taught her was a love song called ‘Kinaiveljeleman’, expressing love at first sight. When she reached schooling age, the government enforced a policy where native languages were forbidden and often times she got punished for using her mother language.
When she got older Mei-Chuan became a teacher in her hometown, she taught the children the traditional songs and served as a tribal guide and lead singer in the festivals of her own community or the neighboring village. More recently Sang Mei-Chuan has become an acclaimed performer in Taiwan, touring nationally and winning the prestigious ‘Golden’ Music Award.
Music is important to the Taiwan Indigenous Peoples, especially to the Paiwan tribe, who love to sing. To us, music and songs not only record our daily lifestyles and express emotions, but they also record our histories, beliefs, and cultural identity. Tribal Music/ Songs are like “Roots” that absorb the nutrients from the Land in Taiwan, for those Indigenous groups that do not have writing systems, music and songs are one of the most important mediums in passing down their cultural identity.
For six-weeks in August – September 2018, we welcomed Sang Mei-Chuan to the Northern Territory as our artist in residence. The majority of Sang Mei-Chuan’s residency was spent on Larrakia Country in Darwin and commenced with a Welcome to Country from Larrakia Elders Bilawara Lee and Tony Lee. Coinciding with the Darwin Festival, the National Indigenous Music Awards and Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair, Mei-Chuan attended local arts events and performances. Collaborations were also established with visiting musicians Russell Smith and Warren H. Williams and the local studio at Bagot Community, as well as Skinnyfish Music.
Sang Mei-Chuan was also an invited guest of the Desert Song Festival – a vibrant celebration of world music and culture held in Alice Springs. At the Desert Song Festival Mei-Chuan performed with a wide range of musicians and performers including the Central Australian Women’s Choir, Quetzal Guerrero and Basidi Koné among others – finding ‘her home’ among the stunning ranges of Arrernte Country:
The final performance at Ormiston Gorge was special. When I was performing there I really felt that I was home. Because when I am in Taiwan I often create music next to a creek. The landscape, the water there was very similar.
Mei-Chuan’s final farewell performance was held at the Frog Hollow Centre for the Arts in Darwin. Performing with musicians Francis Diatschenko and Akio Hoshi, under the beautiful Banyan tree, Mei-Chuan sung new work she had composed during her residency as well as traditional Paiwan songs and lullabyes.
Captivating audiences with her exquisite voice and powerful performances from the heart, Sang Mei-Chuan’s time in the Northern Territory was a significant exchange of Paiwan culture and music. With strong connections formed in the NT, she hopes to return to Australia in 2019 and has already been invited to perform at a range of Festivals!
Read our Behind the Scenes interview with Mei-Chuan about her time in the NT.
The Taiwan-Australia Indigenous Artist in Residence program is a collaboration between Artback NT and the Indigenous Peoples Cultural Development Centre Taiwan, generously supported by the Northern Territory Government, Taiwan’s Council of Indigenous Peoples and the Australian Office in Taipei. The program presents a unique opportunity for cultural exchange between First Nations artists.