Indigenous music has always been a significant part of Taiwan’s music scene, and an ever-present rock in the traditional foundations of the industry. With her latest project N1: Nanguaq No.1, Taiwanese indigenous singer-songwriter ABAO aims to push the boundaries and bring indigenous music into the modern spotlight, paving the way for future generations of indigenous musicians.
Released in March this year, N1: Nanguaq No.1 is a compilation album featuring originals from seven young indigenous singer-songwriters aged between 17 and 29. The young musicians hail from four different indigenous groups — Paiwan, Rukai, Bunong, and Amis — with their songs all composed in their respective mother tongues, singing of topics ranging from love and longing, to pressures from modern society.
The album is the latest project from ABAO’s own label Nanguaq (which means “good” in her native Paiwan language). The 39-year-old singer-songwriter, whose full name is Aljenljeng Tjaluvie, also brought on the support of producer Huang Shao Yong to work on this album.
“The way I see it, indigenous music can be divided into two categories,” said ABAO in an interview for Taiwan Beats. “There is the traditional, with traditional music and lyrics which cannot be changed because of its traditional beauty. But there is also the modern, which is portrayed in this album. You write the lyrics in your mother tongue, and bring in the style you want to achieve through music, before finally working on the song with a production team that specializes in pop music.”
“Music tastes are diverse these days. I believe that if we can at least create some interest in indigenous music among the young people of our tribes, and begin to form a culture around it, we would have succeeded in meeting our objectives.”
Each of the seven singer-songwriters involved with the album are musicians that ABAO had worked with in recent years at different points of time, and hopes that the album can provide an opportunity for these musicians to have some first-hand experience as professional musicians.
“Back in 2014 and 2015, I was collecting songs for my upcoming works, and I got the chance to meet a lot of talented young people and their works that push the boundaries of tradition. This was the initial spark that led to N1.”
“This album is not just a piece of work, but also a chance for them to experience the life they may have to face when they become indie musicians, or are signed by labels, in the future. They should also take this opportunity to see if this industry is what they thought it would be.”
A Myriad Of Musical Styles
Another thing that makes N1 stand out is the wide range of styles that can be found in the compilation. Producer Huang Shao Yong breaks down each track for Taiwan Beats:
Track 1: “Fu’is” by Natsuko
“Natsuko is already an experienced songwriter, so ABAO picked an electronic beat for her song to let her attempt something different from what she used to play with her band. When we received her demo, her vocal arrangement was already almost complete, and that left a deep impression on me. She was also very professional and was able to complete a final piece that everyone was happy with very quickly.”
Track 2: “Spi Adringi Na Ico” by Arase
“We combined the sounds of an accordion with electronic music for this track, which is a first for me. During the recording sessions, we realized that this was very challenging, but Arase’s strong vocals really impressed me. He was able to perfectly portray the emotions of the song on his first recording.”
Track 3: “Ngadan” by Dremedreman
“This track contains nu disco elements, mixed with Dremedreman’s sweet and strong vocals, forming an unexpected pairing. During the recording day, she got lost on the way to the studio, but this did not affect her vocals at all, and she was able to easily perform this difficult song with the right techniques and emotions.”
Track 4: “Kaseljangi” by Stingie
“I was very confused the first time I refused his demo. There was vocals from all sorts of people — men, women, adults, kids — and it turned out that all these voices came from him alone. I really liked his arrangement on the harmonies, and we added elements of 8bit and gospel to create this adorable song”
Track 5: “Life’s Pazangal” by Drangadrang
“Drangadrang is a dancer, so we created a trap dance track for him to showcase his dancing skills in the music video. The recording process was extremely fun, and we tried different screams which was so hilarious. The mixing also added in a lot of vocal effects. I myself had the chorus stuck in my head for a few days.”
Track 6: “Embiyax Su Hug” by Makav
“When I received Makav’s simple demo created on the GarageBand iPhone app, I was immediately attracted to the melody and her unique breathy vocals. We decided to go with an alternative R&B style for the track to showcase her attitude and liveliness. I really look forward to more of her works in the future.”
Track 7: “Macidilj” by Kivi
“I combined electronica and chill house styles for Kivi to attempt a genre that she has never tried before. Her confidence when it comes to her works were not high, but she exhibited shocking prowess when she came into the studio. This track also helps to showcase Kivi’s vocals and how they can perfectly navigate a psychedelic electronic style.”