03 September 2007

Monday's mp3: Labor Exchange Day

It's Labor Day here in the USA. Perversely, that means nobody works. Except, of course, for people who work in stores, 'cause the sales must go on.

Okay, it's actually not so perverse. The day got its start as a union-sponsored day off for workers, and became an official national holiday in 1894.

Despite the name, Taiwan's Labor Exchange Band (交工樂隊) appears to have less to do with labor issues and more with environmentalism, in the form of support for anti-dam activists. But it's the music of victory, and their work is a significant victory for those who work for quality of life over development in the name of "progress."

Vocalist and composer, Lin Shenghsiang is from Meinung, a village in the mountainous county of Kaohsiung, southern Taiwan. While living in Taipei he heard about some older residents from the village who had come to the capital, Taipei, to protest the building of a dam that would have destroyed their livelihood in agriculture and their property. The old people sang traditional mountain songs in protest, and Lin, at first largely ignorant of the situation, formed a band to support the Meinung anti-dam movement. The Labor Exchange Band reworked those traditional songs, ("Here Below the Meinung Mountains"), wrote their own, ("Anti-Dam song"), and sung others which originated from the aboriginal people who inhabit the same area, ( "Half Mountain Song"). Another, "So Let's Sing Mountain Songs" includes a recording of a speech by the organizer of the protesters, Chung Hsiumei. And the story has a happy ending too; plans for the dam were abandoned when funds to build it were cut from the budget.

[mp3] Labor Exchange Band: Two Generations
from The Night March of the Chrysanthemums

The Labor Exchange Band split up only a year after winning a Golden Melody Award for Best Band; some members of the group have formed the Hohak Band. But you can get this 2001 CD from CDroots at the link above. Happy Labor Day. Don't work too hard.


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