Musical missionary spreads blues in Taiwan
• Publication Date:05/20/2011
• Source: Taiwan Today
BoPoMoFo, a blues band, performs at Capone’s Italian Dinnerhouse May 6 in Taipei City.
(Staff photo/Elaine Hou)
On Friday nights, more than gourmet food is served at Capone’s Italian Dinnerhouse in downtown Taipei City. From 9 p.m. to 11 p.m., diners also have a chance to feast their ears on performances by BoPoMoFo—an amateur band with professional skills and execution.
The band, which has been performing gigs at the restaurant for the last three years, is on a mission to spread the gospel of the blues in Taiwan, where interest in the genre has been quite muted.
Founded by Chicago-native DC Rapier in 2005, the five-member group has a Canadian bass player, a German keyboardist, a Japanese guitar player and an American drummer. Rapier, the lead singer, also plays the harmonica, guitar and tenor saxophone.
“Playing the blues at the restaurant helps us introduce the music to many people who never ever go to a blues concert,” Rapier told Taiwan Today in an exclusive interview May 2.
But Rapier’s efforts to popularize the music go far beyond his weekly shows at the restaurant. He is also the president of The Blues Society on Taiwan, a nonprofit cultural organization that he founded in 2004 to promote an appreciation of the music.
“After I moved here, one thing I really missed from back home was the fact that there was no blues here,” said Rapier, who has lived in Taiwan for 21 years. In Taiwan, jazz has been far more popular than the blues, he added.
It is a situation that does not sit well with Rapier. “Unless you have an idea of what the blues are, it’s impossible to understand what jazz is,” he said. “These two kinds of music actually grew up together.”
Blues and jazz did not begin to go their separate ways until the late 1940s, mostly as a result of different instrumentation, Rapier said. For example, the former usually incorporates guitars, pianos and harmonicas, along with vocals, while the latter is mostly based on pianos, and is often performed without a singer. “But they always come back together,” Rapier added.
In addition to jazz, the blues gave birth to rhythm & blues, rock ‘n’ roll, country western, heavy metal, soul and pop. As legendary blues musician Willie Dixon once said, “The blues is the root. Everything else is the fruit.” The great fecundity of the blues is due to its emphasis on improvisation, according to musicologists.
The enormous historical influence of the blues is one reason why Rapier is introducing it to Taiwan. He also hopes musicians in other genres can gain a better understanding of the origin of their music.
As an affiliate of the Memphis-based international organization Blues Foundation, the BSOT has connections with many blues musicians, festivals and hundreds of organizations, Rapier said, adding that his group now has some 1,000 Taiwanese and international volunteers.
To cater to fellow blues lovers and expand their numbers, the BSOT has organized a number of events over the past few years. One of these has been Blues Bash, an annual festival held since 2005 that features performances by well-known blues musicians from around the world.
Turnouts at the festival have increased year after year, a sign that the society’s efforts are paying off. “In the past three or four years, there’ve been more Taiwanese people in the audience than foreigners,” Rapier said.
More information on the 2011 Blues Bash, scheduled to take place this November, will be given out in the coming months, Rapier added.
The BSOT also holds workshops at venues such as record shops, during which outstanding international guitar and harmonica players are invited to give instrumental lessons to Taiwanese youth, mostly in their early 20s.
“Because of the workshops we’ve had, more and more young Taiwanese are contacting us and have put together their bands,” Rapier said. “This is part of our goal.”
DC Rapier, founder of The Blues Society on Taiwan, explains his motivation for promoting an appreciation of the music May 2 in Taipei City.
(Staff photo/Chen Mei-ling)
Chicago blues is the most popular form of the blues in Taiwan, according to Rapier. Its popularity is due to the fact that it involves drums and electric guitars, a genre similar to rock ‘n’ roll, which many Taiwanese are already familiar with, he said.
Another reason for the music’s popularity is that listeners find it easier to dance to. “This also shows people that blues is meant to be danced to, meant to have fun with,” Rapier said, adding that one of the best ways to respond to music is to get up and shake it all about.
While the blues dates back to the late 1800s—it was developed by southern African-Americans, who combined African spirituals and work songs with European-American folk music from Appalachia—the music is “not some museum piece.”
“We’re not trying to just recreate what was done years ago,” Rapier said. “We’re doing it because we want to have fun too.”
Rapier also clarified a common misconception about the blues—that all its songs are extremely sad. While the blues arose from the shared experiences of African-Americans suffering poverty and socio-political repression, it has been fun music performed at parties and dances as well.
Indeed, one thing that has led to the widespread popularity of the blues the world over is its close ties to everyday life experiences—just as a person can at times be sad, funny or angry, so can the blues. “The music talks about a story that everybody can identify with,” Rapier said.
In its efforts to promote the blues in Taiwan, BoPoMoFo released its first album “Hell Froze Over” in December 2009. Recorded at the legendary Sun Studio in Memphis—where Elvis Presley recorded his first hit “That’s All Right”—it has nine original songs by Rapier, one by the band’s keyboardist Klaus Tseng, and a bluesy version of the Beatles’ song “I Saw Her Standing There.”
With their unflagging enthusiasm and exceptional talent, the band has also played with blues heavyweights such as pianist Mitch Woods, harmonica player Matt Kelly, guitarist Shun Kikuta and singer Joanna Connor.
Recently Kikuta has been playing every Friday at Capone’s with BoPoMoFo, an opportunity the band highly appreciates. After attending the 2005 Blues Bash, the Japanese musician decided to spend a few months in Taiwan every year to help expand the local blues scene.
“I always respect BoPoMoFo because of their love of the blues,” Kikuta said, adding that BSOT members are his brothers in Taiwan due to their mutual passion for the music.
“As Kikuta plays at different clubs around Taiwan, I know he’ll be influencing a lot of young guitar players,” Rapier said. (HZW)
The Blues Foundation MEDIA ALERT
BLUES FOUNDATION AWARDS GERMANY'S
GEORG SCHROETER & MARC BREITFELDER & COLORADO'S LIONEL YOUNG BAND WITH TOP HONORS AT 27TH INTERNATIONAL BLUES CHALLENGE
[Memphis, Tenn.] The Blues Foundation's 27th International Blues Challenge ended on Saturday February 5th, 2011 with two packed shows at the Orpheum Theatre. Out of 220 acts from 40 states and 13 countries that competed for top honors throughout the weekend only two can be called winner in the solo/duo and band competition.
For the second consecutive year a non-American act won the solo/duo category thus solidifying the global scope of the event. The solo/duo winner was Germany's Georg Schroeter & Marc Breitfelder, sponsored by the Baltic Blues Society in Eutin, Germany. The second place honors went to Canadian Harrison Kennedy from the Canal Bank Shuffle in Thorold, Ontario, Canada.
For the first time in event history, the top prize in the band competition goes to a former solo/duo category winner. 2008 IBC solo/duo winner Lionel Young returned with The Lionel Young Band to win on behalf of the Colorado Blues Society. Second place honors were earned by Mary Bridget Davies of the Kansas City Blues Society, and the third spot went to Rob Blaine's Big Otis Blues hailing from the Windy City Blues Society.
Another event first was the bestowing of IBC's Best Harmonica Player. Yet another international participant, Stephane Bertolino from the French band AWEK, won for Blues Sur Seine.
The Best Guitarist Award was given to Rob Blaine of Rob Blaine's Big Otis Blues. He walks away with beautiful blue custom Gibson guitar featuring The Blues Foundation's logo and a Category 5 amp.
In the Best Self-Produced CD contest, the judges crowned 'Get Inside This House'by Joe McMurrian of the Cascade Blues Association in Portland, OR.
The finalists in the solo/duo category were: Back Porch Stomp -(Washington Blues Society, WA), Izzy & Chris (West Virginia Blues Society), The Juke Joint Devils (Massachusetts Blues Society), The Mighty Orq (Houston Blues Society, TX), Big Jim Adam & John Stilwagen (Colorado Blues Society) and JT Blues (Billtown Blues Association, PA).
The finalists in the band competition were: Randy Oxford Band (South Sound Blues Association, WA), Stevie J & the Blues Eruption (Central Mississippi Blues Society, MS), Grand Marquis (Topeka Blues Society, KS), Alex Wilson (Grafton Blues Association, WI), The Sugar Prophets (Illinois Central Blues Club),
Blues societies all over the world will soon be starting all over again as they begin their own competitions to determine who they will send to the 28th International Blues Challenge, the finals of which will be staged January 31 - February 4, 2012.
For more info visit http://www.blues.org.
For interview requests or photos, please call
The Blues Society (BSoT), a non-profit cultural society registered in Taiwan, is dedicated to promoting an appreciation of the Blues. The BSoT is an official affiliate of the Blues Foundation and a member of the worldwide community of Blues organizations.
The BSoT's purpose is to foster a sense of Community for all those individuals who share a passion for the Blues and/or for the many genres of music based on the Blues - Jazz, R&B, Bluegrass and Rock & Roll. The BSoT wishes to represent and serve the Blues Community by:
If you are interested in becoming a member of the BSoT or more directly involving with our projects, please contact us by email at email@example.com
BoPoMoFo’s CD “Hell Froze Over” release parties (1/8-9)
The Blues Society presents the long awaited, nearly legendary 2007 Sun Studio recording sessions of BoPoMoFo, Taiwan's foremost proponent of hard rockin' Chicago Blues. The CD was released in Taipei on December 17th and will soon be available for download on iTunes, Amazon, Napster, Rhapsody. The CD will also be available in Taipei at Capone's and AlleyCat'sPizza and can be also be ordered by email (firstname.lastname@example.org). Two release parties will be organized: at Capone's on Friday, January 8, 2010 and at AlleyCat's (HuaShan Art District Branch) on Saturday January 9, 2010.
Blues Workshop at Capone’s (11/15)
The Blues Society organized a workshop for the children studying at the American School to meet with the performers of the Blues Bash N°6, including Miami’s guitar master Darrell Raines, in the restaurant/live music pub Capone’s, who is a long time supporter of the Blues community in Taiwan. The workshop was also supported by Taiwanese drums and saxophone maker Cadeson.
Blues Bash N°6 featuring Darrell Raines (11/13-14)
“Taiwan’s True Blues Festival” is organized since 2005 by the Blues Society of Taiwan. The N°6 edition, promoted by Infine Art, took place in Taipei on Friday Nov. 13 at Roxy Roots and in Xizi on Saturday Nov. 14 at the Dream Community. It featured will feature the cream of the crop of both international and local bands, starring for the first time in Taiwan Miami's guitar master, Darrell Raines. The two evenings resulted in approximately 1,000 audience, confirming the strong development potential of the Blues audiences in Taiwan. See the web page.