Deep interview of 2023WMFT Artists
Dear Music Lover,
Do you enjoy listening to stories? Stories are born from feelings, and to craft compelling narratives, one must possess a depth of emotions. A memorable story that resonates in people's hearts, often requires a skilled storyteller to bring it to life, or a group of storytellers. A_Root from Taiwan would be the perfect role model.
Due to the 2023 World Music Festival@Taiwan Showcase, we had the honor of talking with the band. Let's see how these storytellers bring old stories to life.
A_Root members (LTR) : DK Chen, Jipo Yang, Wan_Ting Lin, Chiao Lin, Hao-Yu Cheng
The Deeper the Roots, the Taller the Tree can grow.
After the members’ individual experiences of studying abroad, exchanging ideas, and performing on international stages, they chose to return to their hometown of Yilan, Taiwan in 2018 to live and create.
Often, they were asked questions like, “What is Taiwanese music?” or “What kind of music is from your hometown?” These inquiries led to a journey of exploration and practice, with deep roots being a central theme. The importance of deep roots lies in the idea that the deeper the roots, the taller the tree can grow, with the ability to face the winds from around the world while remaining firmly grounded and undeterred.
A_Root means “Born from the same root” in Mandarin, and it’s exactly their original intention which we can see directly through their music. Its diverse musical genre rooted in Taiwanese traditional ethnic music and instruments. This fusion ensemble band combines Chinese and Western instrumental music like jazz, indie, and urban folk into a unique expression of world music in between modern and traditional.
They play traditional ethnic instruments such as Sheng, Ruan, Liuqin which are bringing incorporating together with Piano, Double Bass, and World Percussions. When it talks about their songs, it’s the most attractive part that they gained inspirations through the Taiwanese old histories, folklores and ancient stories, which are remarkable in Taiwanese people’s memories.
"Chiang Ku" by A_Root, 2023
*Chiang Ku is an activity that takes place after the Hungry Ghost Festival.
About the latest album “Holy Gazai“
Last year, A_Root released their second album “Holy Gazai,” which means “Thankfully, everything is fine” in the Taiwanese language. The name reflects the band's playfulness and sense of humor. The album contains 10 songs, each based on a different ghost story that has been widely circulated for hundreds of years.
They used a modern style to retell the stories to the audience, reconstructing the memories of these terrifying tales, with the aim of achieving “Transitional Justice” for the ghosts. Upon researching these stories, they discovered that many Taiwanese ghost stories revolve around female characters, reflecting certain aspects of a patriarchal society's values.
Besides, this album is the first time they combined vocals. “The fusion of vocals and instruments presented a significant challenge. While instruments were usually our primary focus, integrating vocals required us to learn accompaniment and adapt to various musical styles. It’s also a big challenge to maintain the distinct characteristics of Taiwanese music.” Also, they incorporated multiple languages, such as Taiwanese, Mandarin, Hakka, and English, creating a blend of styles like “Pingpu Latin,” “Hakka Samba,” and “Taiwanese Funk,” as well as Neo Folk Alternative Rock, Jungle Terror, and World Fusion.
"Holy Gazai" released on the Ghost Gate Day in August / Photo Credit: A_Root Official Facebook
Playfulness with Cultural Fusion
When we talked about what made the band distinctive from others, they said their creative process is often driven by a playful and daring approach. Many ideas stem from observations in everyday life, initiated by spontaneous conversations or humor. These seemingly lighthearted ideas often carry deeper cultural contexts, “The instruments are the medium, and the music styles become the storytelling format.”
To build the artistic database, they study music cultures and stylistic differences, combining their individual expertise. The key is that the process should be enjoyable and engaging. On the other hand, when being asked about the use of multiple languages in lyrics, they mentioned “These are the languages we encounter in our daily lives. Language, just like music, represents culture and identity. It's a natural choice.”
“Don’t restrict oneself to popular or traditional music, and embrace diverse listening habits and creative concepts.” — A_Root
From Taiwan to the Worldwide
In 2023, A_Root received the Best Band Award of the 16th FMA International Music Awards, as well as four nominations in the 34th Golden Melody Awards. These were significant affirmations for them, indicating that the changes and breakthroughs had been noticed by different communities.
“In Taiwan, the music genres are diverse, catering to a wide range of audiences. We aspire to continuously observe and evolve.” As creators, they constantly self-reflect, and once they've cleared one hurdle, they start thinking about how to challenge the next one.
Additionally, A_Root has been touring internationally since 2017. When being asked about the differences in the audience's reactions between Taiwan and foreign shows, they answered with a sense of humor:
“In general, foreign audiences tend to be more enthusiastic and proactive when it comes to interacting with us. During our tours in Mexico and Chile in 2022, the local audiences really enjoyed our performances. Even if they couldn't understand the lyrics, they would still dance along. In contrast, Taiwanese audiences often express their enthusiasm through social media stories after the show.”
A_Root rocked the stage at 2023 WMFT
Being Crucial and Vivid Storytellers
Compared to their debut at the 2018 WMFT, this year they arrived with a completely new lineup and an upgraded format in their playful and passionate style. With the traditional sounds of the Sheng, Ruan, and Liuqin instruments bouncing in the background instrumental music, A_Root's infectiousness always manages to convey stories to the listeners, bringing the roles to life, especially when they sing about old stories. Their imaginative and cross-cultural features have already established a new classic fusion style that seamlessly traverses cultures and modernity, consistently delivering fantastic performances to their audience.
To conclude the article, let's listen to the story of “Princess Bubble,” originating from Taiwan's Hengchun Peninsula. Drawing inspiration from Pingpu folk songs and incorporating Latin rhythms, they have created "Pingpu Latin," a unique style of Taiwanese dance music. Enjoy!
More information about A_Root