TaiwaneseAmerican.org has been proud to follow and support musicians Emily and Susan Hsu of the indie band Exit Clov for years, and in turn, they’ve been kind to us as well. Remember them from our Taiwan Typhoon Morakot fundraising campaign a few years back when their video went viral? Ever since then, we (and many of you) have hoped that they would put out a Taiwanese/Mandarin album. So now, we’re pleased to announce that they have. Island X. And dare we say that this may be the most amazing Taiwanese musical tribute we’ve come across. Ever.
We reprint the following from Emily and Susan’s personal blog, MousyBabe.com. Read on, and learn about the origins of Island X, both the historical name and the album:
The Story Behind… Island X
She’s here! Our newborn baby has officially hit the digital shelves.
Island X is a collection of songs in Taiwanese and Mandarin:
Just a little background on this record… We grew up singing some of these songs around the house. Most of them are quintessential Taiwanese tunes and, judging from the sentimental glee they always bring to our parents’ faces, you can tell the songs embody an experience that’s shared only by, well, the Taiwanese.
From everything we’ve seen and learned growing up, the Taiwanese are a peaceful people whose extraordinary strength of character has prevailed in spite of a long, and at times tragic, national history. From Europeans to other Asians to the United States, the island’s been subject to both the goodwill and the opportunism of outside interests over the last four centuries. But much like a resilient foster child who’s been passed from home to home, the Taiwanese have managed to nourish and still preserve their cultural spirit — one that today is distinct from that of any one of their rulers’ of centuries past. (As it is, the cultural symbols of Taiwan are the yam and water buffalo — a telling contrast from the mightier, chest-thumping symbols of many another nation. Yay yams and water buffalo!)
So, being musicians of Taiwanese descent, we decided to record these songs as a simple celebration of Taiwan’s story. ”Island X” was actually a term used by a U.S. admiral during WWII to refer secretly to Taiwan (then occupied by Japan) while preparing covert ops to invade the island and cut off supply lines to the Japanese army. Incidentally, the term also happens to symbolize Taiwan’s historical circumstances – the way it’s served as a vehicle for the agendas and interests of others, which inevitably sidelined the will and interests of the island’s own people for years. So we decided to name this album, “Island X,” as a way of turning the term on its head and highlighting, ironically, the identity and essence that has come to persist and indeed has thrived over time. In fact, in the last two decades, the island has flourished as a progressive, beacon model of democracy in Asia, a result due in no small part to the character and determination of the people who inhabit it (read: Thomas Friedman, NYT, March 10, 2012).
In essence, Taiwan has been “island x” for too long! We’re re-appropriating the “X” in Island X–no longer as an indicator of non-identity, but as a placeholder for all the things that Taiwan has achieved in spite of the odds, as well as all the potential its people are to realize in years to come.
Although our renditions of the songs are filtered by our two pairs of “Westernized” ears, they hopefully exude their original depth of spirit and character. Old Asian songs often to have a certain Eastern twang or ‘world music’ vibe to it, which tends to mask the purity and beauty of the melody for Western ears that are more accustomed to “pop.” Our versions of some of these songs have rendered them folky, others a retro vibe, and a couple others we strived for a stripped down indie pop sound.
We plan to play some of these live with our band, Exit Clov, during our Ilha Formosa 2012 tour to Taiwan next month. As a countdown to the tour in the coming weeks, we *hope* to publish a series of posts on each of the songs, describing some of the lyrical content and their historical context.
Before we bid you adieu, we want to give a shout out to HoChie Tsai (TaiwaneseAmerican.org) for his generous support and for always encouraging us in our artistic endeavors related to Taiwan. He is a true champion of the TA community! Dr. Wendy Hsu (Dzian!), an ethnomusicologist, introduced us to “Cold Rain Song” a couple years ago, which helped cement the track list that is Island X today. Jack Hsu (Hsu-nami erhu phenom) has also kindly served as our “Virgil” recently, guiding us through Taiwan’s inferno of an indie rock scene. Love also to John from Exit Clov for his singular production magic and to Aaron & Brett for lending their amazing talent as well.
And of course, in requisite Taiwanese filial fashion, endless LOVE to our mum and pops, who taught us these songs and who showed us unequivocally what it means to be Taiwanese.
TaiwaneseAmerican.org end note: Thank you Emily and Susan for the shout-out! If you’re a fan in Taiwan, be sure to catch them on tour between April 7-14, 2012. Visit their website exitclov.com for details. And for all of you out there, be sure to support them by purchasing or downloading a copy of their album here: http://islandx.bandcamp.com/