Hakka creative music can be divided into four types, namely popular songs, child songs, artistic songs and instrumentals.
Modern Hakka music in Taiwan has been influenced by Japanese and Western music. Plus the massive invasions of TV programs and videotapes in every household have seriously challenged traditional music and only child songs, nursery rhymes and modern Hakka popular music have remained popular.
Compared to Mandarin or Taiwanese songs, Hakka modern music counts as minority music popular only in Hakka towns in Taoyuan, Hsinchu, Miaoli and Meinong down south. Famous singers include Wu Sheng-chi, Lin Chan-yi, Deng Bai-cheng, Wei Hai-shan … etc. The better known Mei-dai, Chiou Chen, Chi Chiou-mei, Chen Ying-chieh, Luo Shi-fong and Peng Jia-hei are Hakka but they made their names by singing Mandarin or Taiwanese songs.
Hakka musicians who used to back up other people have now turned to sing 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. Yan Chi-wen, an old-time producer of popular music, released the first Hakka music on the mainstream market – “Who’s There Singing the Mountain Song” 係麼人佇十唱山歌 in 1997. Currently there are also underground and alternative music such as “Hard Neck” and “Jiao-gong Band”, etc.
In child songs, Mr. Wu Chien-hong has written “Happy Spring Holiday”, “In the Moonlight”, “The Learned Man under the Moonlight”, “The Goat Turned 18”, “The Sick-looking Cowherd”, “三十暗晡個大月光” and “Morning Glories”, etc.
The most famous Hakka popular songs have to be “The Hakka” and “Pretty Girl”. Many Taiwanese and aborigines can also sing a few lines. The great influence of music is obvious.
Old and new and everywhere on earth, most popular songs depict emotions between men and women and modern Hakka popular songs are no exceptions. Besides love songs, Hakka pops also sing about the feelings between parents and children. Above all, the songs in early days about being away from and missing homes often reflected the reality back then.
In styles, Japanese popular music had a strong impact in the 70s and 80s. Everybody, in Taiwanese, Mandarin and Hakka, was dubbing Japanese popular tunes. Later the college campus folksong movement in Taiwan had an influence on the music scene and the lyrics were no longer limited to love and hate. The famous songs such as “Jie Wen” by Yan Chiwen’s “Shan-gou-tai Band” and “I’m Hakka Too” by Lu Jin-shou sang out worries about the Hakka language quickly fading away in Taiwan.
The commonness and easiness of popular music can exert deep influence on the preservation of the Hakka language and traditions. This should not be ignored.
The neglect of native tongue education in the last forty years in Taiwan had created gaps in traditional Taiwanese, Hakka and aborigine music. It was not until recent years did Hakka teachers engaged in child education and child poetry writing 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 meet the demand of learning for Hakka children’s rhyme recitation. They also carry the significance of passing down the Hakka language and culture.
Starting in the Japanese Occupation, Hakka music workers also received influence from Western music. They began to create operas, solo and choir songs under the framework of Western music. Over the last ten odd years, the surfacing of local ideology turned Western-educated Hakka music workers, such as Hsu Song-ren, Hsu Song-rong, Ceng Hsing-kwei and Shen Jin-tang, etc. to make new experiments 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.
During the Japanese Occupation, at the beginning of the 20th century, Western music started to have comprehensive influence on Taiwan music. For over a hundred years, the music circle in Taiwan has learned the grasps of Western music composition skills, created Western style masterpieces and even infused them with Chinese music traditions for originality. In music forms, excellent works can be found in choir songs, chamber music, orchestra music or opera. This shows the efforts and ability of musicians in Taiwan. Hakka musicians have not been absent in the movement. Among the musicians in the Japanese Era, Mr. Kuo Chi-yuen, having mastered in composition, is the best example. He created a great variety of works, except instrumentals such as orchestrated, chamber and piano music. Deng 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 more styles.