微笑唸歌團 吟唱台版爵士

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2017 / 10月

文‧鄧慧純 圖‧林旻萱


2016年德國紅點設計的頒獎會場,獲獎的《唸啥咪歌》專輯MV播映完畢後,現場觀眾爆起一陣歡呼。準備上台領獎的「台灣微笑唸歌團」團長儲見智心裡納悶:「台下都是外國人,影片裡面講的都是台語,大家是都聽得懂呦?」肯定多數是聽不懂的,但這件作品結合了台灣傳統唸歌藝術,搭配新生代的創意點子,獲得全球設計界公認的頂級獎項「紅點設計‧傳達設計獎」,使台灣文化再次驚豔國際。


「唸歌」這門表演藝術在台灣已有三百多年歷史,昔日在樹蔭下、廟埕前及民俗典儀中常可見說唱藝人的身影,他們只需一把琴,拿來「椅頭仔」一坐,琴聲咿咿啞啞地,就是一場好戲開鑼,吸引民眾駐足觀賞。

所謂「唸歌」指的是以傳統曲調述說故事的一種說唱藝術,昔日為單人吟唱,現今多為兩人一組,一人拉大廣弦(低音的擦弦樂器),一人彈奏月琴。內容多是傳統忠孝節義故事,多以台語吟唱,形式以一句七字,四句成篇,七字調、江湖調、都馬調是常被使用的曲牌(曲調的名稱,昔日音樂多以固定之曲譜,以舊曲填寫新詞的方式創作)。在電視尚未普及之前,是市井小民生活的重要娛樂。

但多年來唸歌不敵電視娛樂的衝擊及語言斷層的危機,再加上許多說唱大師日漸凋零,使這門表演形式面臨瀕危失傳。

師承國寶楊秀卿

高齡八十三的楊秀卿是目前仍活躍的說唱藝術家,她自幼失明,13歲開始走唱街頭,並開創「口白歌仔」的形式。她在2009年受文建會(今文化部)指定為「重要傳統藝術說唱(唸歌仔)保存者」,其實早在1980年代,楊秀卿便致力唸歌文化的保存與傳承,要把一生習得的精華傳下去。台灣微笑唸歌團的儲見智和林恬安是她晚近的徒弟,這對中生代的藝生(傳習藝生),不只傳承,還嘗試為這門台灣傳統加入新點子,走出不同的路子。

負責大廣弦的儲見智,乍看像京劇裡的老生,一問才知四十剛過;抱著月琴的林恬安,則是七年級生,清新可人。兩人師從國寶楊秀卿才六、七年的光景,雖然入門較晚,但兩人均具深厚音樂背景,儲見智學傳統戲曲出身,林恬安主修國樂。儲見智長年跟著歌仔戲班在幕後伴奏,他總愛趁空檔去把玩別人的胡琴、大廣弦,師傅見狀就說,不如就跟林恬安搭檔,一個學大廣弦,一個學月琴,兩人組一隊去學唸歌。

儲見智和林恬安其實都沒聽過唸歌,當晚就到台北延平北路上的「第一唱片行」,買了楊秀卿早年的唸歌錄音帶,「那時候都還沒聽過楊秀卿老師的名號,沒想到一聽就覺得好猛,而且很活。」這是儲見智第一次聽到唸歌的感想。

兩人邊聽邊學,後來碰上本尊楊秀卿,正式拜入門下又是兩年後的事了。

跨界合作 台灣味

成為楊秀卿門下的藝生,儲見智與林恬安的重要任務除了傳承楊秀卿的唸歌技藝外,推廣是更重要的任務。早些年,他們申請文化部的經費,選擇各縣市代表的大廟,到廟前表演唸歌。一台廂型車,架上輕便舞台,兩人台上一坐,敲鑼打鼓地暖場,吆喝聽眾,開始表演。曾經表演到中途,台下聽眾只剩一位阿公,還是得繼續唱。「阿公,你不能走呦!全場剩你一個,如果我們兩個人釘孤支(單挑),我比較年輕,你打不贏我的。你若要去上廁所,要先跟我報告。」儲見智苦笑地描述當時的情景。

為了讓更多人接觸唸歌,台灣微笑唸歌團廣泛地跟其他樂團合作,希望藉由跨界交流,推廣這門傳統表演藝術,培養更多愛好者,延續唸歌的命脈。

2014年,來自德國的MI樂團來找儲見智,他們是一群集結德、美、義、斯洛伐克與台灣的爵士音樂家,專長涵蓋竹笛、薩克斯風、吉他、貝斯、鐵琴、爵士鼓等,他們想用爵士樂呈現台灣的音樂概念,儲見智跟他們交流了一個暑假,分享唸歌的精神,最後在大稻埕登台,用爵士樂演奏《勸世歌》,更是一次有趣的嘗試。

隨著跨界合作的演出越來越多,2017年,楊秀卿和台灣微笑唸歌團受邀到南台灣指標性的獨立音樂節「大港開唱」表演,傳統技藝加上搖滾,現場high上加high。演出後儲見智收到許多回應與合作的邀請,他說:「年輕世代接觸的音樂文化多是外來的,他們有志一同都想傳達台灣特色,卻苦無途徑。」而唸歌文化裡正港的台灣味正是他們苦尋且鍾情的。

即興風格 台灣爵士

除了正港台灣味,「即興」是唸歌另一項魅力。

唸歌的內容除了以「歌仔冊」為本,更加入時事、社會話題引起聽者興趣。同樣的韻文可以選擇不同的曲牌,依著現場民眾的反應,以慢板或快板呈現,厲害的說唱藝人常常順手捻來、出口成章,即興發揮創作。這讓儲見智說:「唸歌就是台灣的爵士樂。」

這樣的功夫底蘊其實是來自無數次臨場的實戰經驗。早年說唱藝人以故事吸引人潮駐足,緊跟著就是工商服務時間,其中賣藥是最常見的。儲見智說:「昔日說唱藝人表演時要跟中醫師一樣望聞問切,觀察民眾的樣貌氣色。當故事唱到一個段落,就會試著跟民眾互動:『嘿,這位先生最近睡眠比較不好,這樣血壓會高,推薦你……。』」以此達到銷售的目的。

楊秀卿早年也是依著傳統方式通篇以吟唱為主,後來她創新地將口白穿插在曲調中,成為「忽說忽唱」的長篇唸歌仔,不僅節奏緊湊,也透過口白解釋,讓民眾理解其中含意。林恬安說:「老師(楊秀卿)因為看不到,她在說唱賣藥時,怕客人跑掉,就以口白結合唱曲,讓故事劇情緊湊,使客人捨不得離開。」

唸歌的藝術形式吸引新生代的好奇。雲林科技大學視覺傳達設計系的學生黃宇謙、張芳榕、王柏仁,想以「台灣的……」作為畢業製作的主題,而找上了儲見智,經過半年多的熟悉見習,雙方決定合作。

台灣微笑唸歌團早有出版唸歌專輯及將之製成影片的念頭,雲科大團隊的加入更豐富《唸啥咪歌》的視覺設計。以「哪吒鬧東海」為本,融入大量時事題材,如把「東海」與台中東海夜市連結。哪吒在母親肚子裡待了3年6個月,還請了鼎鼎有名的柯P問診,顛覆傳統。而MV的每一個鏡頭,以縮時攝影拍攝,用手寫歌詞、剪紙、繪圖等拼貼效果,搞怪的手法帶來活潑感,使傳統的唸歌變得親民。

但儲見智道來,拍攝MV時,「即興」兩次讓雲科大團隊吃足了苦頭。唸歌中的即興是表演者可依現場狀況加油添醋,但影片的製作,每一個鏡頭是依唱詞的時間而設計動作,半點馬虎不得。儲見智雖先跟楊秀卿溝通了故事內容與劇本,但楊秀卿每次進錄音室錄音,演唱出來的版本都不一樣,連帶影響了視覺畫面的製作。

但這新舊世代激盪出來的創意作品,一舉獲得德國紅點設計獎的肯定,讓台灣的無形文化資產──說唱藝術在國際上大放異彩。

八月中旬、午後四點,陽光不似正午的炙艷。台中勤美術館的草坪上許多民眾或坐或臥,「造音自由日」的表演正上演,台上楊秀卿一開口:「來聽98歲老阿婆唱歌呦!」引起民眾一陣歡呼。儲見智與林恬安在兩側與師父楊秀卿一搭一唱,一把大廣弦、兩把月琴,只見楊秀卿左手在琴把上飛快地移動,右手拿著羊角撥片靈活地撥動琴弦,絲毫不見老態。林恬安不時插話為唸歌加入笑點,咿咿啞啞的間奏時,儲見智會提醒民眾這時該給些掌聲囉!民眾也因逗趣的內容開懷大笑。

空氣中迴盪著已傳唱百年的都馬調,說唱著梁山伯與祝英台的故事。而我們希望,「我來唸歌予恁聽……」這樣的開場,能在台灣繼續吟唱,長長久久。              

英文

Taiwan Smile Folksong Group Keeps “Taiwanese Jazz” Alive

Cathy Teng /photos courtesy of Lin Min-hsuan /tr. by Geof Aberhart

As the music video for the album What Are You Singing? finishes playing at the 2016 Red Dot Design Awards ceremony, the audience erupts. Preparing to take the stage and accept an award for the video, Chu ­Chien-chih, leader of Taiwan Smile Folksong Group, is puzzled: “No one in the audience is from Taiwan, and the whole video is in Taiwanese…. Did they somehow understand it?” To be sure, the vast majority of the audience understood none of the language, but the video’s combination of Taiwanese traditional chant-song and 21st-century creativity nonetheless earned one of the highest tokens of global recognition, a Best of the Best Red Dot Award in Communication Design. Taiwanese culture had once again surprised the world.


Chant-song (liam-kua in Taiwanese) is a traditional performing art with some three centuries of history. In the old days, it was common to see performers at temple or folk events, sitting on stools in the shade of trees holding their instruments and singing, heralding a good time to come.

Such songs are a traditional storytelling form. In the past the performers were soloists, but in the modern age it’s more common to see duos, one on the da­guang­xian (a bowed, bass stringed instrument) and the other on the yue­qin (a larger, lute-like instrument). The songs tend to tell tales of loyalty and honor, generally in Taiwanese, constructed in a traditional form comprising four lines per stanza, seven characters per line. In the days before television was popular, such songs were an important source of entertainment for the ordinary folk.

However, under the onslaught of television and the decline in the use of the Taiwanese language among the younger generations, the old masters began to fall away, leaving the art on the verge of extinction.

Learning from a national treasure

Despite her 83 years, chant-song artist Yang Xiu­qing is as energetic as ever. She started her singing journey at age 13 and went on to create her own “vernacular opera” style, eventually being named an “Important Preserver of Traditional Chant-song Art” by the Council for Cultural Affairs (now the Ministry of Culture) in 2009, in celebration of her efforts since the 1980s to preserve chant-song culture. Chu ­Chien-chih and Lim Tien-an, now both of Taiwan Smile Folksong Group, are two of her apprentices. Despite their relatively late-in-life start, the pair have been able not only to keep the art alive, but also to inject new ideas and blaze a new trail for this traditional form.

Chu, who plays the da­guang­xian, and Lim, the yue­qin player, have only been Yang’s apprentices for some six or seven years, but each brought with them a strong background in music, Chu coming from traditional theater and Lim being a student of traditional Chinese music. Partnering up and taking on their respective instruments, they set to work studying chant-song.

Neither of the two had heard chant-song before eventually buying one of Yang’s early recordings. “I’d never heard of Yang Xiu­qing before, but I was immediately struck by the power and vibrancy of the music,” says Chu.

After they began listening and learning more, they ended up getting to meet Yang and formally becoming her students.

Cooperation with a Taiwanese twist

As students of Yang, Chu and Lim’s main tasks have involved not only learning chant-song from her, but also, more importantly, promoting the art form. A few years ago, they applied for funding from the Ministry of Culture to perform at major temple events around Taiwan, but in the middle of their “tour,” they found themselves performing to an audience of one old man. Despite that, they continued.

To help expose more people to chant-song, Taiwan Smile has reached out to other bands and groups for cooperative efforts, hoping that through such crossover exchanges, they’ll be able to cultivate a new audience of chant-song lovers and keep the art alive.

In 2014, Miszform Project—made up of jazz musicians from Germany, America, Italy, Slovakia, and Taiwan—sought out Chu, hoping for his help in presenting Taiwanese musical concepts in a jazz style. After a summer’s cooperation, the group performed a jazz version of “Song of Exhortation,” putting a cap on an interesting experiment.

Over the following years, such crossover performances have grown in number. In 2017, Yang and Taiwan Smile were invited to perform at independent music festival Megaport, adding traditional art to the festival’s modern rock and driving the crowd wild. After the performance, Chu received a big response and a number of invitations for cooperative ventures, with many saying that the distinctively Taiwanese flavor of chant-song culture was exactly what they’d been looking for.

Improvising in a Taiwanese mood

In addition to its authentic Taiwanese flavor, another enticing aspect of chant-song is its improvisational nature.

Chant-songs draw not only from the classic Taiwanese-language songbook, but also from current events and social issues, using these to pique the audience’s interest. Truly great chant-song artists would often lose themselves in their improvised pieces, weaving entire songs on the fly. It is this aspect of the art that led to Chu calling chant-song “Taiwanese jazz.”

Such talent is the fruit of endless experience with performing. In the past, chant-singers would use their stories to draw crowds, taking the opportunity to then also pitch their wares, with medicine being the most common.

In her earlier days, Yang Xiu­qing would stick with traditional songs for the most part, but later she began weaving in spoken sections, creating long hybrid chant-songs in which she used the spoken parts to help the audience understand the deeper meaning of the sung sections. “Being blind, Yang couldn’t see the audience while trying to pitch her medicines, so she was afraid they’d start leaving, and she began using spoken-word parts to keep the storytelling tight and hold people’s interest so they wouldn’t wander off.”

This form of the art has also aroused the curiosity of the younger generation. For example, for their graduation project, National Yun­lin University of Science and Technology (­YunTech) students of visual communication design ­Huang Yu Qian, ­Chang Fang Rong, and Wang Bo Ren wanted to do something “Taiwanese,” and they sought out Chu.

Taiwan Smile had long been thinking of publishing an album of chant-song and producing a video to go with it. These ­YunTech students brought a powerful visual design to the resulting video. Building on the traditional tale “Prince Ne­zha’s Triumph Against the Dragon King,” the team added a heaping helping of modern matters; for example, during Ne­zha’s 42-month gestation, his mother gets a consultation with well-known doctor and current Tai­pei mayor Ko Wen-je. Each scene in the music video is shot in stop motion, with handwritten lyrics, paper cutouts, and collages all used to create a vibrant atmosphere and make traditional chant-song a little more appealing to modern audiences.

According to Chu, though, the biggest challenge for the ­YunTech students was the improvisational nature of chant-song. Each and every shot in the video was planned, designed, and timed to fit the lyrics with essentially no wiggle room. Ahead of time, Chu discussed the story and script with Yang, but nonetheless, every time Yang stepped into the booth, the song she performed would be slightly different, ultimately even having an impact on the visual design side of the production.

In the end, though, this inspired creative fusion of old and new went on to earn recognition at the Red Dot Awards and help another of Taiwan’s intangible cultural assets, chant-song, make a splash on the world stage.

It is 4 p.m. on a mid-August day, and the fierce heat of the midday sun has passed. On the grass outside Taichung’s CMP Block Museum of Arts a crowd of people has gathered, some standing, some sitting. On stage, Yang Xiu­qing starts up with her well-known catchphrase, “Wanna hear a 98-year-old lady sing?” which raises a cheer from the crowd. Taiwan Smile’s Chu ­Chien-chih and Lim Tien-an sit on either side of their teacher, with the former reminding the audience that it’s a good time to clap during the interludes. The entertaining performance draws peals of laughter from the audience, and the air reverberates with the sound of traditional music as the performers tell the tragic tale of the “Butterfly Lovers” ­Liang ­Shanbo and Zhu Ying­tai.

As another song launches off with the words “Let me sing you a tale,” we can only hope that such tales will continue to have a long and healthy life in Taiwan.     

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