In 1999 on the southern tip of Taiwan, where the majority population of Hakka Chinese had settled, the government planned to build a huge dam. The Hakka farmers went to the capital city of Taipei to protest. The dam, they said, would destroy the ecosystem, and was a risky enterprise considering the earthquakes and landslides the area experiences. (I was there during an earthquake...not pleasant.) Lin Sheng Xiang, a Hakka from the village of Meinong, and pursuing a musical career near Taipei, became involved with the struggle to prevent the building of the dam. He moved back to his hometown in Meinong, and the Labor Exchange Band was formed, giving a musical voice to the movement, and the dam was never built. Although the Labor Exchange band is no more, Lin Sheng Xiang has continued to create thoughtful music along with lyricist Zhong Yongfeng. When I interviewed him in the bucolic south of Taiwan, he played a Hakka folksong, a charming song he wrote about his daughter, and a song (co written with Zhong Yongfen) from his latest CD,"Growing up Wild" the concept of which is songs about females.
I was surprised that Lin Sheng Xiang's name came up as often as it did when I interviewed musicians and record people. And although no one ever called it "protest music" everyone acknowledged the call to social responsibility and greater awareness that his songs contain. Our own Woody Guthrie's songs reach out to the heartland, touching on family values and love of the land. I think there is a brotherly resonance in the songs of Lin Sheng Xiang.