Beyond 'Innocence': Amis Aboriginal Song in Taiwan as an Ecosystem: 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Beyond 'Innocence': Amis Aboriginal Song in Taiwan as an Ecosystem

1st Edition

By Shzr Ee Tan


312 pages

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Taiwan aboriginal song has received extensive media coverage since the launch and settlement of a copyright lawsuit following pop group Enigma's allegedly unauthorized use of Amis voices in the 1996 Olympics hit, Return To Innocence. Taking as her starting point the ripple effects of this case, Shzr Ee Tan explores the relationship of this song culture to contemporary Amis society. She presents Amis song in its multiple manifestations as an ecosystem, symbiotic components of which interact and feed back upon one another in cross-cutting platforms of village life, festival celebration, cultural performance, popular song, art music and Christian hymnody. Tan's investigation hinges upon drawing a conceptual line between ladhiw, the Amis term for 'song' - a word vested with connotations of life-force, tradition, ritual and taboo - and the foreign term of yinyue ('music' - borrowed from Mandarin). This difference forms the basis of how Amis song is (re)constructed through processes of modernization, Christianization and politico-economic change. A single Amis melody, for example, can exist in several guises that are contextually exclusive but functionally mutually-supportive. Thus, a weeding song (ladhiw), which may have lost its traditional context of existence following advancements in farming technology, becomes sustained within a larger ecosystem, finding new life on the interacting platforms of Amis Catholic hymnody, karaoke and tourist shows. The latter genres (collectively, yinyue) may not rely on traditional livelihoods for survival, but thrive on a traditional melody's deeper associations to local memory and idealized Amis identities. While these new and old genres are stylistically separate, they feed into each other and back into themselves - through transforming contexts and cross-referenced memes - in organic and developing cycles of song activity. Drawing from fieldwork conducted from 2000-2010 as well as a background in ethnomusicology and journalism, Tan paints a vivid picture of song culture as an ecosystem in the lives of Amis people.


'… a detailed and fascinating account of the musical world of Taiwan’s indigenous Amis people and a background to one of the most well-known musical copyright cases worldwide… The examples described in the book, and those featured in digital format, are a wonderful asset to the book and provide a wealth of first hand material to support the discussion… Tan succeeds in convincing the reader to take a slightly different perspective on Amis singing and, by extension, music-making in other environments. Her approach means that the book will be of interest to many readers, not only those whose primary focus is the music of East Asian minorities.' Asian Ethnology 'As one of the most in-depth studies on Taiwanese aboriginal music in English to date, Shzr Ee Tan's book makes a valuable contribution to this literature.' Ethnomusicology Review 'The book comes with a CD containing the author’s aural recordings of 16 songs and four brief videos… This CD is a wonderful complement to an already excellent book… a complex and fascinating account of Amis life that should be required reading for anyone interested in Taiwan’s indigenous cultures or music.' China Quarterly

Table of Contents

Contents: Introduction; return to (whose?) innocence; The story so far; In search of an Amis song model; Mass festival, festival mass; Performers and audiences; Aboriginal pop; Conclusion: an ecosystem of Taiwan aboriginal song; Appendices; Bibliography; Discography; Index.

About the Author

Shzr Ee Tan is a lecturer at Royal Holloway, University of London and an active musician in the UK and Singapore. Alongside her research into folksong of the Amis, Shzr Ee is also interested in musical activities on new media platforms used by overseas Chinese communities.

About the Series

SOAS Studies in Music Series

SOAS Musicology Series is today one of the world’s leading series in the discipline of ethnomusicology. Our core mission is to produce high-quality, ethnographically rich studies of music-making in the world’s diverse musical cultures. We publish monographs and edited volumes that explore musical repertories and performance practice, critical issues in ethnomusicology, sound studies, historical and analytical approaches to music across the globe. We recognize the value of applied, interdisciplinary and collaborative research, and our authors draw on current approaches in musicology and anthropology, psychology, media and gender studies. We welcome monographs that investigate global contemporary, classical and popular musics, the effects of digital mediation and transnational flows.

Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
MUSIC / Ethnomusicology
MUSIC / Genres & Styles / Folk & Traditional