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The first ever Indo-Formosan musical fusion

How a native Bengali speaker ended up collaborating with Taiwan’s indigenous music

For years, I have firmly held onto one belief: folk music stands as a singular bridge capable of uniting individuals irrespective of language, ethnicity, or cultural barriers. The captivating notion that two people who don’t share a common language can effortlessly forge a connection through folk music is truly fascinating. An earthly melody somehow finds its resonance, traversing continents and linking hearts. How do I know this? Because I have witnessed it, I have experienced it. It was a mesmerizing experience, a thing of beauty that exuded a profound sense of peace.

In 2012, I embarked on a journey to Taiwan for my PhD studies, and today, I hold the position of a postdoctoral fellow. Apart from this, music is my passion and I am an avid follower and practitioner of folk music from Bengal. Alongside my fellow musician comrades, I have performed on this beautiful island over the years. Yet, amidst these memories, one performance remains exceptionally dear to my heart. The date is etched in my mind: April 16th, 2023. This was the day when the India Taipei Association orchestrated the India Spring Festival, and we presented something very special on stage: the first ever Indo-Formosan Musical Fusion performance; the combination of Bengali folk melody with the enchanting music of Taiwan’s indigenous tribes.

Before every gig or event, a collective brainstorming session with my musical companions is customary. It’s during these sessions that we craft the musical narrative, select the songs that will resonate with the audience. This time, however, I harbored a desire for something unprecedented, something that would captivate all who bore witness. A dormant idea from the past sprung to life within me. Me and my friend Tracy Fang, a brilliant dancer, singer, and a musician, had a plan to collaborate with Taiwan’s indigenous musicians back in 2019-20. Although it remained dormant back then, the concept endured, rooted firmly in my thoughts.

In the early years of 2014-15, I was introduced to Taiwan’s distinctive indigenous culture—a world brimming with tribes, their vibrant attire, delectable cuisines, and, of course, their soul-stirring music. Tracy and I had the privilege of participating in an event as members of an indigenous singing ensemble. That was the time I learned one or two songs from the Bunun tribe. Then, I learned about the songs of the Paiwan, Amis, and Rukai tribes. And definitely, they were beautiful. As I mentioned earlier, the connection, though mysterious, was undeniable.

Indo-Formosan Musical Fusion

Now, let’s turn our attention to 2023. The invitation to perform at the India Spring Festival stirred a strong belief—an assurance that the time was right for an Indo-Formosan fusion, an unprecedented collaboration. This event marked a significant moment, one of the first major Indian gatherings after the pandemic pause. What better platform to showcase the blend of cultures?

So the plan was set, and now we need to find the right personnel. We knew the right person for it. It was Mulinang Tangiradan, a native Paiwan singer and Educator, who has worked tirelessly for the native Formosan culture. After several meetings, we chose a song— “Lalrualrumedhane” from the Rukai tribe. Mulinang, unwavering, taught us the song’s nuances, adding our harmonies. Learning it was amazing; its unique sounds and melodies left a lasting impression. The tune became a constant hum, etching itself in my memory.

And here comes the tricky part. None of the Bengali folk songs I held dear matched the pitch and melody of the Rukai piece. Faced with this musical puzzle, I took matters into my own hands. Crafting a Bengali counterpart—”Jabo Kon Pothe,” translating to “Which Path Shall I Take”—became my mission. With Mulinang and Tracy by my side, both versions were interwoven, and to my delight, they meshed seamlessly, conjuring a musical spell. This was the start of Indo-Formosan musical fusion.

Urban Folklore Group

Completing the ensemble were fellow musicians: Ivan on guitar, Jim with the flute, and Eason on the cajon. Their skills were pivotal, rendering the fusion an orchestral masterpiece. During rehearsals and the climactic performance on April 16th, 2023, a tangible connection enveloped me. It was as if two distinct cultures had converged, birthing a harmonious blend. This experience reinforced the belief that, beyond borders and distances, we are all part of the same tribe, journeying from one place to another.

Video link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SOasHfvTM6g

Rajat Subhra Karmakar is a researcher by profession and a singer and writer by heart. Presently he is working in NTU. He is an avid practitioner of Folk music from Bengal and with his friends he has worked for 10 years to showcase the unique connection between India and Taiwan through folk music.
Postdoctoral Fellow. Biomechatronics Engineering. National Taiwan Universitye.mail - rjtkarmakar@gmail.com

Photos Courtesy -Lin Dejavu

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