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EXOTICA


it seems recently all i listen to is shibuya-kei(japanese bands like pizzicato five, fantastic plastic machine, hideki kaji, cornelius, kahimi karie,...for those not in the know) or exotica/lounge type music(martin denny, les baxter, peter thomas, raymond scott, that sort of thing). i'm still listening to some old favourites such as current 93, lpd, coil, nurse with wound,...but for the most part i seem to either be listening to japanese bands or discovering old lounge favourites. a lot of this stems from being on the p5 list(which discusses much more than just p5 by the way) and the exotica list both which have introduced me to all kinds of new music i wouldn't of known about otherwise. just about all the music i buy these days has been influenced by these two lists and i can't reccomend either highly enough.


as a result of being on the exotica list i have been trying to research or at least find out if anything similiar may of existed in taiwan in the past. i know this sort of music existed in japan and hong kong so it surely must of existed in taiwan in some form. unfortunately i know no one in taiwan into this sort of thing so the little information i have been able to dig up has been by chance or just pure luck.


kupaone of the english papers here* had a good article on the first swing/big band here in taiwan. they were originally called "the taiwan cuban boys" and were formed in the late 50s by hsieh teng-hui. they mainly performed for the u.s. soldiers stationed here at the time and for some of the locals. they would perform swing standards as well as jazzed up versions of taiwanese songs. after castro took power in cuba the band were forced to change their name to kupa(pronounced goo-ba) by chiang kai-shek. kupa sounds like cuba in chinese but that was deemed still acceptable for some reason. their popularity began to soar and from 1962-1984 they performed nightly at one of the big hotels here in taipei.actually at that time there were really two versions of the band. each playing at different big name hotels. when the first taiwan operated television station came into existence a portion of the band left to do work in radio and tv. the other half continued to perform. they don't perform as often anymore. sometimes they will perform for a dance contest or for the grand opening of a department store. more recently they played for a few rallies for different canidates running for president. most of the young people today are more interested in a-mei(taiwan's answer to mariah carey)kupa than this older music. most young people have no idea who i am talking about when i ask if they know about this band. i've been looking in vain for cd re-issues of any of their music. but at this point i doubt any exists if they ever recorded at all. but i continue to look...incidentally, taiwan isn't alone in having a band called the cuban boys, in japan there were the tokyo cuban boys and i believe there may of been a cuban boys band out of the phillipines as well.(*most of the information(and pictures) in this paragraph comes from an article in the taiwan news written by gavin phipps).


old taiwan music compilation cd cover in addition to kupa i have discovered a whole series of compilations from old taiwanese singers. they are sold quite cheap here for the oldies market. the series i picked up(a 7 disc set) are nearly all sung in taiwanese. musically it is a mix of traditional taiwanese music, japanese enka music and western jazz, blues, rumba(some of the songs make me think of billy holiday or cab calloway though that may be more misleading than helpful). this style of music is referred to as nagashi here in taiwan. you can find elements of this style of music in lots of taiwanese music. there is even a punk rock band here called ltk that incorporate some nagashi into their music. traditional nagashi singers existed to entertain guests at restaurants. they would travel around the island and perform at various establishments. their status was just above that of a prostitute and what the guests wanted they basically had to perform. the songs were mainly sad broken hearted love songs. the more songs you knew the better off you were. if someone requested a song you should know how to play it. there was a heavy japanese influence on these songs and it is possible that some of these songs were originally japanese songs that were just being sung in taiwanese for the audience here. though the influence was probably going both ways. taiwanese influencing japanese music and japanese music influencing taiwanese music. some of this music can still be heard and seen on tv here. there is a television show here that features this style of music. sort of the taiwan version of the lawrence welk show. no bubbles though. some of the original singers perform these old songs too, however it feels a bit too clean and sterile for my tastes. the old recordings have a certain energy and kookiness which is missing from the television performances with modern muscians. the label has a website which can be found here.


pix from the holeon a recent trip back home to seattle, my friend cat and i rented a taiwanese film by tsai ming-liang called "the hole". in the film there are these day dream sequences where song and dance numbers are performed to what i believe to be old chinese songs of some sort. they fit in with the whole exotica or lounge scene. but i have been able to find out very little information about the music. as far as i know it was either performed by or influenced by a singer pix from the hole who's english name is grace chang. the only information i have come across about her says that she was in some old hk musicals, though i am pretty sure that the songs in this film are in mandarin but other than this i have come up empty handed. if i knew her chinese name(especially written in chinese characters) i could find out more information on her and see if any of her music is available. if anyone out there knows please let me know. according to the english translations in the film one of the songs was about "sneezing your man goodbye". hmm.

well, shortly after writing the above the mystery was solved somewhat(the sneezing your man goodbye song is actually called achoo cha cha). grace chang is really named ge lan and apparently she was the first hk singer to go to the u.s. and appear on american tv shows. i'm not sure which shows, but i suspect it may of been the dinah shore show. i've still had no luck tracking down any of her releases though. ge lan has a track on this excellent compilation out on EMI/PATHE(hk) called "the age of shanghainese pops 1930-1970". my thoughts on this disc will surface here in the not too distant future. she also has two tracks on a compilation from EMI HK called something like "60s millenium best", not sure if that is still in print or not though. here are two links on ge lan my friend taro sent me. one in chinese and a small one in english.

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musical tastes want to tell the world about your favourite song? this is the place to do it. input your reviews of songs or search for what songs other people are into. very cool.

exotiquarium a searchable database of reviews and other information from the exoticalist

spaceagepop a detailed site on a most of the major exotica bands

bellybongo music, tiki paintings, and other groovy things.