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Okinawa and Taitung Music and Cultural Gathering– 2021 HOT Islands Music Festival

Taiwan and Okinawa are separated by a vast expanse of ocean. Despite this, a hidden force binds these two maritime cultures together and has had a huge influence on the language, music and art of both places. For those who don’t know, this hidden force is the Kuroshio Current. The Kuroshio Current flows past the east coast of Taiwan, Orchid Island, Green Island, Okinawa and the Yaeyama Islands. Therefore, these areas all share common traditions and culture.

Okinawa and Taitung Music and Cultural Gathering– 2021 HOT Islands Music Festival

Since 2014, The National Taitung Living Art Center has organized the HOT Islands Music Festival. This event has become a platform for cultural exchange between Taiwan and Okinawa. The festival rotates between being held in Hualien and Taitung one year and Okinawa the next. This year, the festival will include concerts, art exhibits, conferences and documentary screenings. These events will utilize music and meaningful cultural exchange as a catalyst to showcase the cultural evolution and aesthetics of Taiwan and Okinawa.

Okinawa and Taitung Music and Cultural Gathering– 2021 HOT Islands Music Festival

The 2021 HOT Island Music Festival has overcome distance, language and the COVID-19 pandemic to hold on-line concerts in both Taiwan and Okinawa. This has allowed people from around the world to break free from locational constraints and enjoy music by connecting performers from both regions. The lineup from Hualien and Taitung included Xu Shi-hui, Rakka, A-fei, Tonya, the Taitung Youth Indigenous Band, the Amis Youth Chorus and Paliulius. Okinawan musicians include well-known innovative singers such as Suguru Ikeda and Claudia. Hirara, who has collaborated with CMO and has won a Golden Melody Award, will also perform. Musicians from both regions will use different instruments to put on peaceful and harmonious performances.

Okinawa and Taitung Music and Cultural Gathering– 2021 HOT Islands Music Festival

In addition to concerts, this year’s event is centered around the theme, “Preserving Island Memories.” Through the event’s conferences and documentary screenings, the music and culture from both regions can be revisited and remembered. Musicians and artisans from Taiwan and Okinawa will share their experiences of using the arts to pass on tradition. This also reflects many of the issues that these indigenous singers are facing today.

Okinawan artisan Oogame Asuka said that many artists also imbue their work with elements of traditional design to preserve local culture. Asuka applies traditional weaving techniques to curtains, lampshades, pillows and other items used in daily life. She also thinks that safeguarding culture isn’t merely copying the past, but rather using current trends to enhance tradition. Lin Xiu-hui, the founder of Taitung’s Ata Cultural Workshop, is working hard to revive traditional indigenous culture. Through extensive fieldwork, Lin has retraced the meaning of traditional Bunun beadwork. Lin’s efforts have allowed glass beads to become a way for indigenous Paiwan to transmit knowledge and sustain an important medium for preserving history and culture.

Okinawa and Taitung Music and Cultural Gathering– 2021 HOT Islands Music Festival

There are ten indigenous tribes and languages in Hualien and Taitung. Geographic separation has caused 6 different languages to form across Okinawa’s Ryukyu Islands. Being indigenous and bilingual is becoming increasingly rare due to the prominence of mainstream languages. However, musicians are currently using music to pass their mother tongue on through singing. Ikeda stated that folk music on the Yaeyama Islands have been passed down for hundreds of years through oral transmission. The dialect used in these songs are quite different than standard Japanese. Therefore, musicians find it necessary to seize this opportunity to preserve these important folk songs. Hirara pointed out that the language on Miyako-jima is very expressive and beautiful. Many traditional ceremonies have their corresponding songs sung in the local language. These songs are similar to the dancing and chanting found in Taiwan’s indigenous harvest festivals. Unfortunately, traditional song and dance on Miyakojima is disappearing. Ikeda hopes to do all she can to preserve indigenous performing arts. Laka Umaw thinks that the disappearance of indigenous languages is a trend that’s hard to reverse. Many children today have no recollection of their local indigenous language. Umaw keeps using his mother tongue to write songs. He wants to let other indigenous people know just how powerful traditional languages are.

This year’s Hot Islands Music Festival has already successfully wrapped up. Despite this, it’s worth revisiting soothing tunes and meaningful experiences. Those that are interested can visit the official website and browse videos of the conferences and highlights from the event. This is a great way to experience the beauty of music and art from islands along the Kuroshio Current.

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