In October last year, it was the first time I listened to Kimbo’s live. He was singing <Cong Cong>, with only one bunch of spotlight on him and his piano on the big stage of Workers Stadium. His white hair was quite shining on the stage. When the lyrics went to, “life is like a road, sometimes in east, sometimes in west, quickly passed away”, his thick voice and the piano were perfectly combined with him, seemed every note and word has the power to knock on everybody’s heart.
Suddenly, I started to ask myself, on earth what he has been through these years and why we started to listen to his music when he was this old.
A few days ago, Kimbo brought him latest book <We’re all People on the Way> and his new single <Tear Up> to Beijing. Before we arrived at the predetermined place at 1 o’clock, he had attended two interviews and a photography session. When he came back, it was nearly 2 o’clock. After he had his quick meal prepared by the staff, he started our interview.
“You’re so busy and it seems we make it worse.”
“Alright.” he answered with smile.
“Is promoting your new book the purpose to come to inner China again for you this time?”
“Yes. Besides, I’d like to have a tour, walk around and have a delicate look of a few cities in inner China, since there are few cities for tour show in Taiwan now.”
Now, Kimbo is in his 66thyear. He published his first album when he was 55-year-old. In recently years, he has held many concerts in inner China. It seems he started to be known by others in a very late age. However according to his agent Calvin, he has spent his music life already more than 40 years. “In inner China, Mr. Hu is the only singer in this age now. His life is full of music, and this status won’t be broke. About live shows, it will depend on the acceptance of the audience in specific cities”, said by Calvin.
“I don’t care so much about the market. Singing is the only thing that I care about.”Kimbo waved his arm as a child.
With no professional music training, Hu De-Fu is a born-singer, since he’s the original Taiwanese. He called himself “Singer by chance”, but the accidental singer like him becomes a very important promoter of Taiwan folk songs.
At the beginning, he had regular singing in a coffee bar and he could only sing English songs. He loves Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie and other America folk singers. Also, their songs and their composing theories have great influence on Hu De-Fu as well.
In 1973, he held his original concert, which was the first original concert in Taiwan. “It was the first concert I’ve ever seen in my life and I was on the stage.” When he talked about his writings and his performing experience in his old times, he would close his eyes and remind the amazing moments in his head. By his delicate description, it would make the listeners imagine the beautiful scenes with him.
In this one-hour interview, it was more like a story-telling session of an old man. Our emotion followed the sceneries of his stories, sometimes it went up and sometimes it went down.
After the interview, he was like a kid just finished his homework, and started to sing and dance with his original ethnic song. His staff tried to persuade him to stop, since he would attend the autograph session in later time.
He’s still singing, dancing and taking photos with us. When he saw the photographer is a boy, he said, “We need to stand up and take photos”. It made me reminds the preface wrote by Bai YanSong in his latest book, “How Time and Way 0f a man has passed by”. In this way, he knows how a boy became a man, how to keep unchanged and what to remain, and the more important is he knows how to sing as a real man for years.
From folk to pop, a cowherd boy became the cradle of Taiwan folk songs
Hu De-Fu is an aborigine of East Taiwan. As the ethnic people in the southern part of China, the Taiwan aborigines are born to sing and dance. When they are happy, they sing; while they feel sad, they sing too. Singing is a way of communication between Taiwan aborigines in their daily lives. Kimbo is born in this atmosphere.
When he was 19-year-old, he became a friend of a Taiwanese singer Wan ShaLang. They’re both Puyuma people. At that time, Wan ShaLang hasn’t been well known, and it was lack of a harmony role in his bandWave.He would like Hu to have a try. Then, in his band Hu also learnt playing keyboard.
After becoming the official member of Wave, they won the chance to sing in The Inn of the Sixth Happiness in Taiwan. They started to have steady income after they got this job. Before long Wan ShaLang became famous since he’s sung the theme song of a movie <Where Wind Comes>,Wavedismissed. In the next year, Hu’s father became very ill. A large amount of medical fee was needed. Hu left school, started business to earn some money and had regular singing in a coffee bar at the same time.
Hu recalled these memories silently in the sofa, “at the beginning the singers in Taiwan all sing English songs, since the American armies were everywhere on the streets. Then, Taiwanese started to drink imported wine and have imported cigarettes. Almost everyone was chasing the western fashions at that time, while I was singing English songs in a Columbia coffee bar naturally.”
Then, he made friends with Li ShuangZe and Yang Xian at that coffee bar. They sang English songs and had Coke every day. One day, they realized why not writing their original songs for Taiwanese in this time. In the next days, these three young men without any professional music knowledge started composing their own pieces then. <The Kid on the back of Cattle> of mine, <I Know> of Li and <Homesickness> of Yang were written when we were together. “When we finished half of the song, we sang to the others”, Hu said.
At that time, they were perceived as nuts of music, however no one could imagine these three weirdos stuck together every day moaning some melodies that only they know, became the most prestigious singer and initiator of Taiwan folk songs.
<The Kid on the back of Cattle> became the first official work of Hu De-Fu. He recalled the composing process of this song and said, the method of composing was quite immature but pure, recording an unforgettable memory of him when he was pasturing cattle in a valley.
Gradually, the student in colleges in Taiwan started to write original songs. In June 1975, Hu and Yang held a folk concert in Taipei Zhongshan Hall, which became the remarkable event of Campus Folk.
Hu toldMusic Finance, “In 70s campus folk reached its climax. Sony Musicspent more than 20million TWD for investigation. They qualified Li Taixiang as the music director of that activity to select outstanding folk songs and singers. Some famous folk singers were rose to fame at that time were not composers but they grew up in that atmosphere, such as Qi Yu, Ye Qianwen, Pan Yueyun and Xu Jingchun, etc. ”
<Olive Tree> composed by Li Taixiang has a huge influence on Taiwan music industry. It not only became the greatest hit of Qi Yu, it also changed the direction of Taiwan pop music. The philosophy meaning in this song and the literary level of the lyrics is regarded as the enlightenment of Chinese pop music. After that,Sony MusicandRolling Stone Recordbegan to promote original songs.
In the next stage, Taiwan’s Golden Melody Awards nominated quite a few greatest hits. Loads of the promising artists were explored and signed by the record companies. The prestigious producer Li Zongsheng produced more than a hundred records in two or three years. Taiwan record industry seemed getting into its golden age.
When Hu was reminding these memories, he’s quite excited and said, “There was a coffee bar with a huge spinning stage. Qi Yu, Qi Qin, Cai Qin and I were singing there. Every singer was quite busy and we almost couldn’t stop working.”
Sing <Cong Cong> better and better from young to old
Hu’s first album <Cong Cong> is published in 2005 and he was 55-year-old at that time. Actually, this song was completed in 1975. Chen Tianjun, a famous Taiwan TV producer, wrote a poem called <Cong Cong> for the New Year Festival. Then, he asked Hu to compose a song for this poem in three days, since three days later three important TV channel in Taiwan would broadcast the New Year Festival the same time and <Cong Cong > would be the theme song of the festival.
It was almost the same situation as that in inner China. Every year, the opening song is <Wish You Joy and Happiness>. Thus, Chen decided to make a change. First of all, he wanted to change the music style of the opening song.
When he just got the lyrics in hand, he felt it was quite hard and didn’t know how to start either. Even one of his songs <The Kid on the back of Cattle> won quite a few praises, he admitted it took him quite a long time to finish. However, facing the brand new lyrics, he had only three days to complete it which pushed him sitting before the piano, played and played, to catch some notes.
<Cong Cong >is a song about time. In Chinese traditional concept, time is like a single arrow. If we are unable to fetch it, we’d be dumped by it far away. At that time, Hu was only 23-year-old and he had no big feeling about time. It reminds me about a song called <Time in a bottle>-Jim Croce, and as the lyric says, “if I could save time in a bottle, till the wishes and dreams come true.”
However, the composing process of <Cong Cong> is totally different as that of <Time in a bottle>. He went over the lyrics again and again, thinking about the melody that Taiwan aborigine would often sing. Gradually, he worked out the intro part, and then the interlude and coda parts. Finally, <Cong Cong> was finished in three days.
On that day, Hu performed <Cong Cong> on the New Year Festival and the most famous host Bai Jiali ceremoniously introduced Hu to the whole Taiwan audiences. At that age, who’s standing next to Bai means he’d become very famous soon. <Cong Cong> helped Hu getting into the right way of music. The live performing of that show was like a light shining into his life.
Since then, <Cong Cong> became his most representative song. In many of his concerts, <Cong Cong> is always the opening song. Hu said, “When I was young and sang <Cong Cong>, it wasn’t persuadable at all; while now, I noticed I have responsibility to sing this song for the young ones to encourage them to save time, since I wasted a lot when I was young. At this age, I feel more comfortable when I sing <Cong Cong>.”
In the past July, Hu went through Chengdu, Dalian and Beijing. He’s busy with his new book promoting and his latest single publishing. As running with time, he showed the real “passengers” as written in his song.
In the past 40 years, Hu grew up from a very young man to an old man with a shock of white hair. “Every time I sing <Cong Cong>, it brings me the feeling of ‘time’ specifically. I truly hope I won’t be dumped by time. It also brings me the feeling of having dialogue with myself in the old times”, said by Hu.
Passed a long way, from prospecting the future to recalling the old days
<Cong Cong> helped Hu having a right attitude about writing songs, which influence him until now: not write the melodic ones only, the deep feeling of your heart should be write down, which should contain the sad feeling of your heart, the expectation of the future, what you’ve seen and listened, all can be written in a song.
In 1998, a spur was found in Hu’s body, which had a great influence on his daily actions also his mood.
He left his home and rent a small shed near the ocean, having pumpkin and porridge as his daily meal, sinking his body fully in the beach, hot spring or even cold water to release his feeling about the spur. Day by day, he stayed there, facing the ocean and the wind blowing from the Pacific Ocean, which reminded him about his birth place—New Port.
“Mama told me, I was born near a port, and I was really good at crying, even the sound can surpass the sound of the waves, so I have a nick name called ‘New Port’. When I reminded this, I really wanted to have a look of my birth place. Then, I slowly walked there with my stick, which took me several days”, Hu murmured.
He also described New Port in his latest book: it is almost the same as other small ports in Taiwan, in the few hundred years, typhoon landed in this place many times, and other matters would come to this small port as well, but it would always raise up with the wind blowing from the Pacific Ocean.
Hu came to this port in his worst time in his life, imagining the wind of Pacific Ocean when he was born, “I wear the wind, which is my first cloth of my life, and my sense and world. In my life, it has good times and bad times, win and lose. I embrace what comes to me every day, even without choices, which brings me the most real feeling of my life.” Standing by the shore of Pacific Ocean, Hu is seemed quite small. However, it seems he’s facing the whole world.
The song <Wind from Pacific Ocean> starts from a cape of a baby, end with the calling of the world peace. Hu’s songs always bring the feeling of warmness and full of the emotion from people’s deep hearts.
After the Taiwan Aborigine Movement, Hu’s songs started to have deep meaning. He always took his songs to participate varieties of activities. He said these songs were his only possessions, and singing became a special way of him to fight for the aborigines.
Hu also proclaimed, “I’m one of the earliest singer from the aborigines, and this way is near the end for me now. I know how hard the live of Taiwan aborigines. I come to city to develop my music career, and I’ve earnt a lot of money now. Thus, I’d like to sing for my fellows, cry for them and fight for them.”
Due to several aborigine movements, the young ages of the aborigines start to sing the local melodies nowadays. They get together discussing the life purpose and thoughts about changing the living environment of their own via singing. In the past, discrimination was quite severe in Taiwan. A lot of aborigines they come to the city for work and try to hide their identities to avoid discriminations.
By these aborigine movements, they try to win their rights and protect themselves. At present, many aborigines would tell other people about their real identities, and they would say, “we are aborigines and we are proud of this”, they start to pay respect on their own culture. The young ones who were in cities now come back to their original villages and write songs without utility psychology, generate a large number of great original songs for their fellows, which is quite moved.
“Our aborigines never quit from pop music area. In addition, the professional baseball team is organized by the aborigines. Now the youngers go out for better education and come back to their home to develop their hometown”, Hu said proudly.
How you appraise your devoting in music of your whole life?
Hu kept silent for a moment and said, “when I was young, I write more about the hope and expectation about future, would go out from the valley and never come back; or go to a far far place, as the Pacific Ocean; or I’d go back to the last mountain and have a look of the beautiful garden. However, the most I write now is about the way I walked through, the things I and my friends ever talked about, the pub we stayed or how we look like in the past…… I would write slowly and sing slowly now.”
CMBN:What the features of the songs written by the aborigines you think? Are they the born singers?
Hu: the aborigines are influenced by music in a very young age. We have lots of opportunities to sing with famous singer when we were young, and we are never afraid to show our abilities. We are quite free when we sing together. We can make songs, sing in pairs or sing with a guitar. At that time, one song can be sung from night to the morning, which is the most admired life for the youngers.
Quite a few aboriginal musicians who’ve already won fames outside, would always come back and sing for their fellows. They would share the stage one by one or sing together. They just can’t stop singing.
The tune patterns from the blacks also I’m familiar with, are the blues sung by the aborigines for thousand years actually. Blacks use short sentences to express their mood in a song and repeat it again and again, which is deemed as the traditional blues. You would never notice in these few repeating chords there is a several-page article hiding in the lyrics.
It is quite similar with the aboriginal songs. With only several pairing sentences in a range of notes, they can express themselves totally and frankly. Also, these songs are quite easy to learn and sing as well.
CMBN:You’ve attended quite a few activities held in inner China in recent years, what do you think the difference between the market here and it in Taiwan?
Hu: The market here is more prosperous than that of Taiwan, which can be strongly felt by concerning the TV shows. For a lot of TV programs, they’ve put loads of efforts and have their own point of views. No matter it’s about interview or newsletter, it’s quite attractive. Especially in music, film and other art aspects, they put larger investments. If Ma Yun says, he’s going to support a project, which would later become a significant event.
However, funds for development in arts are quite small in Taiwan. Quite a few number young people devote themselves to doing delicate music, but the funds have been reduced a lot, which largely influence their work and passion on it. Besides, the artistic activities are fewer and fewer right now. About media of news, the contents in several TV channels are almost the same. They copy from each other quite a lot.
About education, it was apprenticeship system before in Taiwan. Apprentices learn things directly from their tutors, which supports the traditional techniques passing on. However, it becomes a simple modelling pattern now. Products just produced in quantity, which has lost its features and uniqueness.
Which form will your next tour be in? Do you have a team to support you?
Hu: In the next tour, I’ll invite some special guests, such as Lin Guangcai, who’s the best male artist of the Taiwan Golden Award this year. He’ll bring some Taiwan aboriginal songs for the audience. Also, a new singer, Wu Hao-En, who’s a prize-winner of this year’s Golden Award as well, will play instruments in our band and bring some his latest pieces this time.
CMBN:Taiwan was the cradleland of Chinese pop music, but it descended in recent years. Expect the influence of digital music invasion, what else would be the factors you think?
Hu: In our ages, we didn’t have much skill and knowledge about music nor the market. We just focused on what we like and insist doing it. Then, Taiwan became the cradleland of Chinese pop music. At that time, we didn’t watch any Korean TV shows or listen to their music, since they were much lower than that Taiwan produced. However, after twenty years, from films and music to drama and science, Korea has obtained big progresses in every aspect, and they have cultivated many talents in every area.
I feel quite pity about Taiwan from this point, since there almost no one can inherit what we have in our time, neither Li Ann nor Lin Shuhao. For the citizens in Taiwan, they’d like to spend their money and time on Korean products, so that TV producers pay a lot of money to ask Korean directors to take films for Taiwanese, which has brought bad influences on our traditional culture at present, and it becomes worse and worse now.
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