The Taiwanese singer talks about his latest work.
SINGER-songwriter Wakin Chau’s idea about his latest album, Jiang Hu, was born in a small noodle restaurant in Taipei, Taiwan, six years ago, when he was dining with notable author and literary critic Chang Ta-chun.
Chau suggested Chang write the lyrics for his new album, while he composed the songs. Chang was at first dumbfounded because he has never written lyrics. That dinner lasted for hours and led to more dinners in the same restaurant before the completion of Jiang Hu, which means “world” in Chinese wuxia (martial arts) stories.
The two attended a recent preview concert of the album in Beijing, where Chau performed five new songs while Chang played the role of narrator.
All 12 songs on the album are written in ancient Chinese language and performed using Western instruments.
“He is a born singer-songwriter and keeps on pushing the boundaries,” 56-year-old Chang says when asked what drew him to Chau. “He is also an interesting man, who knows many people and tells funny stories. As a writer, sometimes I narrow down my perspective and stay in my own world, but Chau broadened my vision and imagination.”
The writer says he is not worried if the lyrics can be understood by the audience, especially the youth.
“Chinese people have the instinct to understand the ancient language because it belongs to the nation,” Chang says. “Even if they don’t understand the exact meaning of each word, they will get the emotion I want to express.”
Chau says Chang is like a man from ancient times.
“He’s so knowledgeable, just like a walking encyclopedia of traditional Chinese literature. Citing literary quotes and stories of poets is second nature to him. He once wrote me a letter using ancient Chinese literary language, which read like a poem. I couldn’t understand it at all but I toyed with the idea of turning the letter into a song,” says Chau, 53.
He has released more than 40 albums in Cantonese, Mandarin and English since the 1980s.
The letter did become a song and was included in Chau’s new album. It is titled Jin Lu Qu and describes the friendship between two men. The other songs in the album also depict various people and their emotions, such as a sad farewell between lovers, heroes on a battlefield and a beggars’ observation of the world.
“I have written and performed all kinds of songs during the past 20 years. I was looking for something different and meaningful,” Chau says. “This album fulfilled all my ideas about music. After this album, I can retire.
“I have been so fascinated about cross-cultural communication between the East and the West. I’ve learned Western instruments since college and married an American woman,” says Chau. “After 40, I realised that the older I am, the more I want to learn and return to my cultural roots and do something about it.”
Veteran songwriter and producer Jonathan Lee, who also attended Chau’s album preview concert, says: “It is a great thing to see a successful singer-songwriter like Chau doing something unconventional and meaningful.”
What was it like for the two men to work together?
“It was also like two martial arts masters communicating with their swords. The difference is that I used a pen and Chau used a guitar,” Chang says.
But there were challenges, and both admitted having to move out of their comfort zones.
“There were definitely moments when I thought it would be impossible for me because I couldn’t find the right word for a simple tune,” Chang says.
Chau, too, calls the album “the hardest journey for him” because Chang’s poetic approach meant that he had to rethink his work process completely.
“I had to understand the meaning first and then follow the format to compose melodies,” Chau says.
After six years, Chau and Chang eventually found common ground.
“Now, I am a man from the ancient time, too, and we share an interest in calligraphy,” Chau says, laughing. – China Daily/Asia News Network