Legendary Spirits of Dance: Indigenous Taiwanese Trip Hop Ear Candy

Legendary Spirits of Dance
Dali Qiu's Recommendation for Legendary Spirits of Dance
Music designers: Xiao He, Suana Emuy Cilangasay, Alex Lee, Waven


As the music journey begins, the elders offer blessings and send us on our way.
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There’s a Taoist phrase that’s often used in Taiwan to describe someone who is lost in thought: 神遊太虛 (shén yóu tài xū), or “they’re on a spiritual journey to the heavens”. That’s the inspiration for the Mandarin name for Legendary Spirits of Dance, the latest release from Wild Fire Music.

The album is, indeed, a spiritual journey packed with surprises that will delight global music lovers. It combines traditional vocals from six indigenous groups in Taiwan with trip hop and trance. These wildly different musical genres meld in an imaginative fantasyland that pulls the listener into a downtempo embrace.

Wild Fire Music’s Elaine Hsiung, who has dedicated herself to producing pop and world music for more than 30 years, came up with the concept for the album. After bringing countless performers to music festivals around the world, it became clear that the music of Taiwan’s indigenous peoples resonates deeply with international audiences. And yet, until now, indigenous music in Taiwan has largely been confined to the genres of folk, pop and rock.

The impetus to experiment with other genres like trip hop and trance came in an unlikely place: the words of legendary American producer Quincy Jones. Hsiung was inspired by his discussion of how musical producers “…make a desperate escape to get down into the subconscious,” which he says is the source of some of the best musical inspiration. That led to the birth of Legendary Spirits of Dance, an album that seeks to connect with the subconscious by merging the indigenous melodies of Taiwan with trip hop.

Hsiung and her team recruited four cross-disciplinary musicians to produce the tracks on the album: Alex Lee, Suana Emuy Cilangasay, Xiao He and Waven. Each brought a wealth of musical experience to the table, informing their creative decisions, and the result is a bold experimental album. The final product reflects the immense challenges of combining the free vocal stylings of Taiwan’s indigenous people with the regulated beats of trip hop. Together, the collaborators have created a one-of-a-kind Austronesian trance-scape, a thoroughly unique listening experience that resonates to the core.

The producers incorporated a wealth of original sounds in this album – everything from the voices of elders, ancient melodies, and the dancing songs of the annual harvest festivals, to the ambient sounds of Taiwan’s indigenous villages. All of these are laid over a bed of downtempo beats infused with the energy of trip hop.

Legendary Spirits of Dance was mixed and mastered by one of Taiwan’s foremost sound engineers, David Wong, who opted to revert to the purity of analogue mixing for this album. The result is a rich soundscape where music lovers can lose themselves in the beat.

The real magic of this album is that it offers an auditory experience that stretches the imagination. This is a world where music can simultaneously inspire a physical and emotional response. Upon hearing the final mixed version of the album, Producer Elaine Hsiung was moved to tears. “I may not understand the lyrics word-for-word,” she said. “But this is music that transcends the barriers of language.”

As long as you are willing to give yourself over to the music, to lose yourself in the spiritual journey, the psychedelic beats of Legendary Spirits of Dance will transport you to uncharted territory. That’s why there’s a paper talisman affixed to the spine of the album, warning listeners: “Beware of the side effects of listening to this music!” And that’s the paradox of this album: those very side effects are the exact auditory experience that the world has been craving.

article posted by:De Yun Li, Wild Fire Music of Taiwan