Contemporary Hakka music

Hakka Nursery Rhymes

A Hakka nursery rhyme is not a song and there is no music sheet. It is a group of rhymed words (the rhyme can be changed) with rhythmic beauty, tonal changes and an interesting storyline. Originally the language served as material for recitation and the storyline therefore did not have to be true or reasonable. Hakka forebears often made up nursery rhymes with common things and events to teach children to sing and train them to become used to rhyming unconsciously, setting the foundation for poetry writing. 

A line in a nursery rhyme is usually no more than three to five characters, making it easier to pass around and remember. Every two lines are often connected by rhyme or meaning. The number of words in each line is not necessarily the same but the rich content and high literariness make nursery rhymes excellent materials in beginning education of children. Hakka nursery rhymes used to spread widely among the Hakka but they have been gradually ignored and forgotten due to social changes. Some of the older ones are quite different in content today.

Popular Music
- Original Music 

Hakka creative music can be divided into four types, namely popular songs, children’s songs, artistic songs and instrumentals.

Modern Hakka music in Taiwan has been influenced by Japanese and Western music. The massive invasion of TV programs and videos in every household have also posed a serious challenge to traditional music and children’s songs; nonetheless, nursery rhymes and modern Hakka popular music have remained popular.

Compared to Mandarin or Taiwanese songs, Hakka modern music is considered ethnic minority music popular only among Hakka towns in Taoyuan, Hsinchu, Miaoli and Meinong. Famous singers include Wu Sheng-chi, Lin Chan-yi, Deng Bai-cheng, and Wei Hai-shan. The better known Mei-dai, Chiou Chen, Chi Chiou-mei, Chen Ying-chieh, Luo Shi-fong and Peng Jia-hei are Hakka but they rose to fame singing Mandarin or Taiwanese songs.

Hakka musicians who were backup vocalists for other singers have now turned to singing in their mother tongue, such as the mixed album of the “New Formosa Music Band” by Chen Sheng and Huang Lien-yu and creations by Chen Yong-tao from Guan-hsi in Hsinchu and Hsieh Yu-wei from Hsin Wu in Taoyuan. Yen Chi-wen, an old-school producer of popular music, released “Who’s There Singing the Mountain Song (係麼人佇唱山歌)” in 1997, marking the first release of Hakka music on the mainstream market. Currently there are also underground and alternative music such as “Hard Neck” and “Jiao-gong Band”.

Wu Chien-hong has written a number of children’s songs, including “Happy Spring Holiday,” “In the Moonlight,” “The Learned Man under the Moonlight,” “The Goat Turned 18,” “The Sick-looking Cowherd,” “Big Moon on New Year's Eve," and “Morning Glories.”

- Popular Music 

The most famous Hakka popular songs have to be “The Hakka” and “Pretty Girl”. Due to the spread and influence of music, many Taiwanese and aborigines can also sing a few lines of these songs.

Regardless of time and place, most popular songs depict emotions between men and women and modern Hakka popular songs are no exceptions. Besides love songs, Hakka singers also express the feelings between parents and children. Above all, the songs in early days reflect the reality of workers being away from home and feelings of homesickness and nostalgia.

In terms of style, Japanese popular music had a strong impact in the 70s and 80s. Everybody was dubbing Japanese popular tunes into Taiwanese, Mandarin and Hakka. Later, college campuses in Taiwan led a folksong movement and heavily influenced the music scene, setting lyrics free from tales limited to love and hate. The famous songs “Jie Wen” by Yan Chi-wen’s “Shan-gou-tai Band” and “I’m Hakka Too” by Lu Jin-shou gave voice to worries that the Hakka language was quickly fading away in Taiwan.

The commonality and ease of popular music can exert deep influence on the preservation of the Hakka language and traditions. This should not be ignored.

Children's Songs

The neglect of native tongue education in the last forty years in Taiwan has created gaps in traditional Taiwanese, Hakka and aborigine music. It was not until recent years that Hakka teachers engaged in children’s education and children’s poetry begin to write songs for children. Some sing about mom and dad; some personify plants and animals. All these subjects are appropriate for child experience and psychology.

These works not only help Hakka children learn through rhyme recitation, they also play a significant role in passing down Hakka language and culture to future generations.

Artistic Songs

Starting in the Japanese Occupation, Hakka music workers began to be influenced by Western music. They began to create operas, solo and choir songs under the framework of Western music. Over the last ten odd years, the resurgence of local ideology turned Western-educated Hakka music workers, such as Hsu Song-ren, Hsu Song-rong, Ceng Hsing-kwei and Shen Jin-tang, to experiment with traditional Hakka music. They combine Hakka mountain songs with Western music elements like solo piano, woodwind quintet and orchestrated music to recompile them, or even create new music, to give new life to Hakka mountain songs and other traditional music.

Instrumental Music

During the Japanese Occupation, at the beginning of the 20th century, Western music started to exert tremendous influence on Taiwan music. For over a hundred years, musicians in Taiwan have learned Western music composition skills, created Western style masterpieces and even infused them with Chinese music traditions for originality. Excellent works can be found in choir songs, chamber music, orchestra music or opera, showcasing the efforts and ability of musicians in Taiwan. Hakka musicians have not been absent in the movement. Among the musicians in the Japanese Era,Kuo Chug-yuan, having mastered in composition, is the best example. He created a great variety of works such as orchestrated, chamber and piano music. Teng Yu-hsien and Chang Fu-hsing are two other famous Hakka musicians from the same period. In modern days, more Hakka musicians have devoted themselves to writing instrumental music and added to the variety of styles.