The Hakka are a minority group in Taiwan with a culture distinct from the Hoklo majority. When Sheng Xiang was growing up in Meinong in southern Taiwan, he was influenced by traditional Hakka mountain songs that he heard from his grandmother, and as a student he listened to Western folk and rock ‘n’ roll. When he was a college student at Tamkang University in northern Taiwan, he formed his first band, Kuan-tsu [Guanzi] Music Pit, in which he was the lead vocalist and guitarist. The group became involved the fight against a government plan to build a dam in Meinong, writing several anti-dam protest songs and performing these and traditional Hakka songs around Taiwan.
In 1999, following some personnel changes, Kuan-tsu Music Pit changed its name to the Labor Exchange Band and began incorporating traditional instruments into their sound, including suona (a trumpet-like instrument) and Sheng Xiang’s yueqin (sometimes called a “moon guitar”) and sanxian (a three-string guitar-like instrument). Sheng Xiang also began writing songs with activist and poet Zhong Yongfeng, the two of them collaborating on songs for the Labor Exchange Band’s first album, Let’s Sing Mountain Songs, for which Sheng Xiang won the Best Composer award and shared the Best Producer award in the traditional music category at the Golden Melody Awards. With the dam project finally suspended by the government, the group’s second album, The Night March of the Chrysanthemums, focused more generally on the difficulties faced by Taiwan’s farmers in the face of globalization. The album, released in 2001 to an enthusiastic critical response, won the group the Best Band award in the pop music category at the Golden Melody Awards, and was ranked 53 in a list of the top Taiwanese 100 albums from 1993 to 2005, chosen by a team of top artists and critics in the music industry.
In 2003, the Labor Exchange Band announced that it was splitting up, to the great sorrow of Taiwanese music fans and critics. However, their sadness was relieved by the news that Sheng Xiang and Chung Yongfeng, the team responsible for most of the Labor Exchange Band’s songs, would continue writing songs together. In 2004, Sheng Xiang formed a new group, Water3, and released the album Getting Dark, which dealt with the experiences of Hakka migrants from the countryside in adjusting to life in the cities. In this album, he expended his musical palate to incorporate different kinds of traditional Taiwanese sounds such as gua-a-hi (Taiwanese opera). The album received numerous nominations at the Golden Melody Awards, with Chung Yongfeng winning Best Lyricist, Sheng Xiang and Water3 winning Best Band, and the album winning Best Hakka Album. Getting Dark also was ranked 43 in the above-mentioned list of the top 100 Taiwanese albums.
In 2005, Sheng Xiang toured Europe, playing at festivals such as TFF Rudolstadt in Germany, Riddu Riddu in Norway and Colours of Ostrava in the Czech Republic. He also performed at UC Berkeley in the US with Okinawan musician Hirayasu Takashi and Japanese guitarist Ken Ohtake, an experience which inspired the three of them to record music together. The following year, he released the album Planting Trees, on which his songwriting collaboration with Chung Yongfeng was amply supported by Hirayasu and Ohtake’s playing. The lyrics focused on the environment and rural life, and garnered more nominations at the Golden Melody Awards. Zhong Yongfeng won his second award for Best Lyricist, and Sheng Xiang won for Best Hakka Album and Best Hakka Singer, though he declined to
accept the awards because of he felt music shouldn’t be categorized according to language.
In spring 2009, Lin Sheng Xiang released his third solo album Growing Up Wild, a collaboration with Japanese guitarist Ken Ohtake. On the surface it seems simpler than his previous ones, with the music consisting of only his and Ken Ohtake’s guitars, plus harmonica on a couple of tracks. However, the lack of other accompaniment is more than compensated for by the virtuosic guitar playing, using a wide variety of rhythms influenced by sources as diverse as Okinawa, Cuba, and West Africa. On this album, Chung Yongfeng and Sheng Xiang decided to focus on the experience of women and girls in traditional, rural Hakka society in southern Taiwan. Some songs reflect nostalgia for childhood, the beauty and simplicity of southern Taiwan, the countryside, and simpler times in the past, while many of them also address the low status of women in the culture; the title track, for instance, refers to the fact that girls were not thought worth making much effort to raise, and other tracks deal with the helplessness of women in the face of family quarrels. Sheng Xiang and Yongfeng’s deep understanding of traditional agricultural society and Sheng Xiang’s distinctive music and voice combine to give the listener a deep appreciation for life in rural Taiwan.
In 2011, Sheng Xiang & Band played in Fuji Rock and received good responses. Sheng-xiang & Band released their 9th album [i-village] in 2013, this album also won from Golden Indie Music Award, and they went touring over China, Hong Kong and some cities in North America.
Sheng-xiang & Band released their latest 2CD album: Village Besieged in May, 2016. This album contains 18 new songs about their concerns for air-pollution, how industrial development influence agriculture rural life and environmental issues. The music has a base of elements from Taiwanese traditional music, coordinates with western music elements and develops into a unique genre of new folk in Taiwan.
Ken Ohtake is a very talented and versatile guitarist from Japan. He is capable of playing a wide variety of musical styles ranging from jazz to pop to all types of folk. He produces an impressive range of sounds with his guitar, and is quick to pick up new styles. For many years he played with legendary Okinawan musician Hirayasu Takashi and gained a thorough mastery of Okinawan folk music. He first met Taiwanese Hakka singer-songwriter Lin Sheng Xiang at the Migration Music Festival in Taipei, and the two formed a fruitful musical partnership that remains active to this day, Ken playing a vital role on Sheng Xiang & Band’s albums.
Toru Hayakawa is part of a new generation of electric bass players in Japanese jazz music. His playing style covers traditional jazz, funk, blues, reggae, as well as free jazz, avant-garde and noise music. In 2000, Toru started performing with the legendary Japanese jazz drummer Ryojirou Furusawa and his group “Ne”, which means “tone of a sound” or “roots” in Japanese. In 2009, he recorded an album with guitarist and long-time friend Ken Ohtake, which led to his collaboration with Lin Sheng Xiang on the Hakka singer-songwriter’s 2010 album “The Land Is My Study.” As of late, Toru has been working with an avant-garde/free jazz piano player Mikio Ishida and recorded on Ishida’s album.
Noriaki Fukushima was student of Ryoujirou Furusawa, his drum style influenced by different kinds of music, i.e. Jazz, free style, rock and roll. He started touring with Sheng-xiang & band in 2014 and recorded the latest album.
A graduate of the National Taiwan College of the Performing Arts, Alex is a master of the erhu, latin percussion, traditional Chinese percussion, hand drum, and drum set. In recent years he has brought his traditional skills and multiple instrumental talents to world music, jazz, latin and pop, performing with famous artists worldwide. Alex is currently a member of Sizhukong and the Montunos Latin ensemble, a lecturer at the National Taiwan College of Performing Arts, and the founder of the EJ Music Studio.