When Chalaw Basiwali talks about anything to do with Taiwanese Aboriginal culture, his eyes light up. Within the space of our short, ten minute conversation, the quiet, unassuming musician who is a strong advocate for preserving Taiwanese Aboriginal culture was able to paint me a picture of a Taiwan that I had never personally perceived before.
“I hope that the whole world can get to know Taiwan as an island all over again; because Taiwan is a place with many languages, and so I hope the whole world does not just see Taiwan as an island next to China, or as part of China. I even more so hope that Taiwan’s music and culture can allow people from all around the world to get to know Taiwan all over again, as a place with a lot of creativity and many languages.”
Coming from the Amis Aboriginal tribe, Chalaw explained to me how the language of his tribe would soon die out, and how he hoped to use music to pass his knowledge and mother tongue on to future generations.
“My mother tongue is soon facing natural extinction and so I have added some of my mother tongue into my music, to allow my future generations or children to follow in my footsteps, or learn about my language.”
Coming originally from a fishing tribe, Chalaw has always had a great connection with nature, an influence that comes through strongly in his music, which is often filled with themes revolving nature and the Earth. When asked what he thought about the many negative effects we’ve been seeing in recent years, his answer gave me a poignant insight into Taiwanese Aboriginal culture’s deep and intimate connection with nature.
“Actually the earth will always have different changes, it is also old. The earth, to me has a very direct, like a motherly relationship (with us). I was a child who was raised on the sun and sea, as we are a fishing tribe so from when I was young my school fees were given by the sun, allowing me to study. As for a few earthquakes and global warming happening now, if we were to care a little bit more for the earth and the sun, it would allow global warming’s effects to be lessened. So I hope that I can use music as a method to change the current situation, to allow people to know more about our earth.”
For Chalaw, music is the way that he chooses to express his many ideas about society, and is his instrument of choice to enact social change, no matter how small or big. These themes and his musical influences came to him quite naturally, organically coming together to create his own unique musical style and ideas.
“I started by creating folk music influenced by my Amis tribe, and then naturally started adding elements from the Huadong Amis traditional songs, and now have moved towards incorporating rhythms that people are more familiar and approving of. When I was learning I didn’t think too much about it, I just liked music.”
A serene and gentle-mannered guy, Chalaw was flanked during the interview by his band, which included Madagascan musician Kilema. The latter, who is an artist back in his home country will be working closely with Chalaw on his upcoming album, which mainly explores the interactions between Taiwanese and Madagascan musical influences.
“At earliest, the album will be released at the start of next year, and it actually follows on from the last ‘Polynesia’ album. This album goes to even further to more distant countries, taking on their perspective and looking back on ones’ own hometown, and I hope to even more directly put my visions for music together with musicians from other countries such as Madagascar to create a compilation. I also hope to be able to even more directly fuse Taiwanese Aboriginal music with World music.”
Chalaw, unlike many other Taiwanese artists thinks broadly about his position in the musical industry by exploiting his personal interests in collaborating with people from different parts of the world. But as always, his heart has never left the Aboriginal people. When asked about who he would be rooting for at the 27th Golden Melody Awards, he tipped off Matzka as his pick for Best Male Mandarin Artist without hesitation.
“I really hope the Best Male Mandarin Singer award goes to Matzka (laughs), to us as Taiwanese aboriginal young adults is the highest honour and I hope that even more musicians because of this influence will be even more passionate about their music. I even more so hope that all the Aboriginal artists and musicians who have been nominated at the 27th Golden Melody Awards will be able to attain the best results.”
While I harbour a passion for sharing Chinese music with the world, speaking with Chalaw certainly opened my eyes to the pressing urgency of raising awareness for Taiwanese Aboriginal culture before it disappears completely. All the Taiwanese Aboriginal artists whom I spoke with during the festivities including Jia JIa and Boxing also expressed similar sentiments to Chalaw, further reinforcing the need for preservation and restoration of Aboriginal culture through music or other mediums. It’s very simple if you, too would like to be a part of this movement for cultural preservation. All you’ve got to do is listen; to Chalaw’s music, to Jia Jia’s music, to Boxing’s music with an open heart and an open mind; and awareness will follow soon after.