by Juliana Baron, Vocal Blog Asia, August 2016
Impressions of Asia’s biggest A Cappella Festival
It is not possible to give you the full impression on my experience I made during the Vocal Asia Festival 2016 in just one vocal blog post. But let me try to give you at least a glimpse of this years’ biggest A Cappella event in Asia with a record participant number of almost 500 including international and domestic events.
Taitung – a city with long aboriginal a cappella history
The beautiful city of Taitung with a third of the population having aboriginal roots and aboriginal music being mainly vocal music it was the perfect place to be to organize an a cappella festival, combining the contemporary A Cappella music with the local aboriginal vocal music. It’s the birthplace of the Austronesian culture and indigenous tribes preserved the sounds from both the mountains and the seas through their memories from generation to generation.
Together with the variety of Asian music styles and latin american rhythms and sounds from the 2016 master group Vocal Sampling from Cuba, it was the richest and most diverse Vocal Asia Festival (VAF) ever.
Rich diversity of music styles
This special atmosphere and bridging of traditional with contemporary sounds was best reflected in the Sound of Taitung concert on the second evening. Local aboriginal vocal and dancing groups performed together with contemporary a cappella groups who combined traditional with modern sounds and vocal techniques. Singsong, Mamama Tribe, Chu-Yin Cultural and Arts Troupe, Vusam and Eastern Bunun Youth Music Group electrified the audience the same way like Acapellago from the Philippines, Voco Novo and Gili from Taiwan and Set Tone Men from Hongkong. Once local star singer Sangpuy Katatepan Mavaliyw got on stage, the audience couldn’t hold in and the whole Concert Hall had a blast singing along and wouldn’t stop the repetitive call-response-parts.
The filipino group Acapellago created new sounds out of a Taiwanese ethnic song entitled „Song of Happiness“ dedicated to the Rukai Tribe. Voco Novo surprised with cooperation songs together with Hongkong’s Set Tone Men, with Gili, this year’s winner of the Asian Cup A Cappella competition, as well as with Sangpuy Katatepan Mavaliyw. The evening was filled with a new sound experience, a combination of aboriginal music, traditional poems, modern a cappella music and instrument simulations.
Asian Cup A Cappella Competition – the largest A Cappella Competition in Asia
15 groups from 8 different Asian countries were competing at the 3rd Asian Cup A Cappella Competition on the first day of the VAF 2016 August 17th. It was by far the highest level of competing groups in Asia and the Jury had a very hard time to decide on the winners. The Jury consisted of Ray Yi Chu and Jia-Ching Lai from Taiwan, Kaichiro Kitamura from Japan, Michele Weir from California and Rene Baños Pascual from Vocal Sampling, Cuba.
Compared to last year’s competition with more homogenous sounds and very similar music styles this time it was much more diverse. The participants represented their cultural background, sometimes with traditional elements of their country and several own compositions. You could experience the evolution of Asian A Cappella music and more self-confidence of the teams relying on their own music style and cultural background.
Although they didn’t win a price, my personal highlight was my former a cappella group Acaism from Shanghai joining the Asia Cup Competition. And although we didn’t part that long ago, we miss each other a lot. On stage, they dedicated one of their songs to me and I couldn’t stop crying as their voices reached directly to my heart.
Special prices were awarded to the Water Singers from Macau and The Apex Project from Singapore. The Third Price was given to two groups: The Groovies from Japan and Doo-Wop Sounds from Korea. Acapellago from the Philippines were awarded with the Second Price. Their performance was amazing and they blew away the audience not only at the competition, they contributed to every single concert during the 4-day festival.
Special act was 尋人啟事人聲樂團 The Wanted Vocal Band who are the winners of 2015 Asian Cup Competition and 2016 VoiceJAM champions. An amazingly refreshing group. I am always fond of meeting and listening to them.
An extract of the Asian Cup Competition – Which group would you have voted for?
Sound of Asia Concert and ACA Day
The participating groups of the Vocal Asia Festival get many chances to connect to the local people and spread the catching sounds of a cappella. The ACA Day is like a big open air party at different locations in the hosting city Taitung. The whole afternoon about 20 groups from 8 different countries sang on open air stages in Tiehua Village and MATA Taiwan Indigenous Cultural Resort. It was incredibly hot that day, but the singers and the audience were having a great time, moving their hips, singing and clapping along – an overwhelming atmosphere.
Another personal highlight was during the Sound of Asia concert. Not only did I join the Single Singers (see previous vocal blog posts) but also I got the chance to collaborate with the Singaporean group Acappuccino. We met last year and became friends at the Vocal Asia Festival in Shanghai. Spontaneously, we decided to sing a song together during the Sound of Asia concert. It was such an honor to be asked guest singer by Acappuccino, I couldn’t reject that offer. And the song they invited me to join had another special meaning to me. Australian Spring by Basix , the group I met at my first Vocal Asia Camp in Shanghai in 2014. It was not about the performance, for us it was all about our friendship, about the basic message of the Vocal Asia Festival, about bridging nations, cultures, distances by doing music together. For me there was no better place than this festival to sing a song together.
Cuban sounds at the VAF 2016
This years headliner group came from Cuba: Vocal Sampling. It was an interesting combination and I was very curious whether their rhythm and sounds would catch and match the Asian a cappella friends.
During their workshops, they taught the different Cuban and Latin Jazz instrumental sounds and animated the participants to dance and sing along. No doubt they infected everyone with a Cuban summer feeling. At the Gala Concert they made the whole audience in the Arts and Culture Center become a member of Vocal Sampling, nobody remaining on their seats, everyone dancing to Cuban and salsa rhythms, clapping, singing – even in Spanish.
For the Chinese speaking audience they prepared another highlight: 甜蜜蜜 Tian Mi Mi
Get an impression of the six enthusiastic artists from Cuba and watch my interview during the festival:
The best feeling you get by sneaking into the workshops. Stand up while you are watching and move your hips and sing along!
Workshop schedule at the Vocal Asia Festival 2016
Not only Vocal Sampling was offering workshops and coaching individual vocal groups, instructors from Taiwan, Japan, Hongkong and US gave arranging lessons, coaching sessions, taught about harmony, vocal percussion, stage performance, solo singing and fearless improvisation.
In latter two workshops led by Michele Weir, Jazz educator, arranger, producer and pianist, the participants could practice scat singing, learn about what makes a great jazz performance great and try out their latest learnings in front of the workshop participants.
Jazz Vocal Percussionist Kaichiro Kitamura from Japan shared his knowledge on different percussion grooves and what it takes to be able to work with so many great musicians around the world.
Kwok-Tung Fung from Hongkong shared how his group The Gay Singers, the longest running a cappella group in the Chinese speaking region, has developed and the secret of managing a group in the long run.
From Taiwan, the a cappella legends Ray Yi Chu, Christine Liu, Jia-Ching Lai and professor Shawn Chen shared their experiences. Christine leading the Single Singers (see article…), professor Shawn Chen teaching about local sound of Taiwan and Ray and Jia-Ching teaching about what makes a good harmony and how to make a good a cappella arrangement..
The tremendous organizational efforts can be hardly estimated if you consider that in parallel to the international Vocal Asia Festival there was a domestic event with the Taitung Cup A Cappella Competition, the same number of workshops and similar number of local participants to boost the a cappella education in the region.
Education Seminar „The next step of Asia A Cappella Education“
Besides the many workshops and seminars, the a cappella education representatives from different Asian countries exchanged success stories and talked about the future of Asian A Cappella Education.
Moderated by Wuming Chen, Angelina Choo from Singapore, Howard Cheung and Ray Yi Chu from Taiwan, Jo Jo Pang from Hongkong, Kaichiro Kitamura from Japan, Sung-Mo Han from Korea and the audience from all over Asia discussed how to develop local teachers for a cappella to effectively increase the interest, spread and improve the skills even in smaller cities and towns. Not all methods work well in all countries, but there is a lot to learn from each other and best practices are exchanged.
The educational consultant of Vocal Asia and the President of the Korea A Cappella Education Association Sung Mo Han spontaneously demonstrating teaching without scores.
The a cappella educational activities in the different countries are promising and already show a huge success. There is more to come, more to align and exchange and it will be interesting to follow and track the future initiatives.
Next year the Vocal Asia Festival will take place in Hongkong. I’m already excited and can’t wait to join. Hope to see many of you in Hongkong!