Three major Hakka song types – Laoshange, Shangezi and
Pingban – are rooted in emotional expression and field work accompaniment. These song types typically include particular melodic frames and pseudo-word ornamentation, and assume particular musical forms. During the Japanese colonial era, Hakka tunes were criticized heavily for their folk style, however, in recent decades, local communities have gradually promoted greater freedom and gracefulness in lyrical choice and content, leading to the creation of unique songs with aesthetics that differ from traditional Hakka mountain tunes. Since the 1960s, singing competitions featuring Hakka mountain songs have been held in northern Taiwan: the largest and most lasting of these occurs in Zhu-Dong. Drawing the attention of Hakka public media and musical students, the lyrical content of Hakka mountain songs have been reinvented in diverse ways, yet continue to exemplify Laoshange, Shangezi and Pingban musical aesthetics.
During a 2014-2015 field study, I examined the melodies, rhythms, and texts of 117 mountain songs during the Zhu-Dong song competitions. The Laoshange tunes have been transformed from free-styling songs of struggle, while the Shangezi take up a story-telling format with a stable tempo and clear articulation. Pingban songs speak to the common experience of ancestral reminiscence, employing such slang as “revisiting old roads,” in an attempt to articulate traditional tunes in forms more commonly associated with modern Hakka ethnomusicology.
In contemporary Hakka popular music, traditional tunes have been revitalized, and the creativity of a new generation, more familiar with urban life suddenly became a public concern. In an example of aesthetic continuum, participants old and young continue to shape their self-representational lyrics by publicly sharing theirs stories and memories. In the last decade, the three Hakka song types have offered compelling interactive frameworks for sharing experiences. To summarize, traditional Hakka songs, and more recent popular songs, have thoroughly appropriated and adapted the major song types so as to give voice to the modern movement of New Hakka peoples.