Award-winning Musician Sangpuy:
‘Music is Life’
The accomplished indigenous musician expands on the inspiration behind his music, as well as how nature and culture have both helped him deal with the challenges in his life.
‘Music is Life’By Wei-cheng Chen
Sangpuy Katatepan showed up for our interview, guitar in hand, dressed in jeans and a T-shirt. If you passed him on the street, you would not likely recognize him as the winner of several 2017 Golden Melody awards, including Album of the Year.
Growing up in an indigenous culture in tune with nature helped make the three-time Golden Melody Award winner who he is today. The wisdom and humor of his people comes out in the way he speaks. His voice carries timeless feeling, like the rhythms of waterfalls and the changing of the seasons.
History Passed on through Music
Taiwan’s indigenous peoples do not have written languages. This made music and song a means for the transmission of the ancestors’ culture. Just as fish need water and birds need the sky, music is life to Sangpuy. “(History and culture) passed on through music is beautiful; the joys and sorrows of life - everything that makes us human - can be expressed through music.”
When he is feeling anxious, Sangpuy likes to listen to wordless music, or the spare, instrumental music of minority peoples around the world. This led him to seek out his tribal elders in Taitung, whose wordless vocals keep alive the tribal folk songs passed down from the ancestors. He enjoys relaxing to the music, releasing his mind and letting it wash away his cares.
Apart from music, Sangpuy loves to ride his bicycle everywhere, pedaling easily along the coast between the mountains and sea wherever his heart takes him. Along the way, each blade of grass and each tree he encounters is like an old friend, contributing to his wellspring of creative inspiration.
Self-improvement over Complaining
In the past, Sangpuy often complained whenever he encountered setbacks. But enduring a major family tragedy several years ago taught him to quiet down and seek solace from the sorrows and emotional roller coasters.
It was the death of his cousin that triggered this personal transformation. “He and my father were very close, and he would take me and my father everywhere. We kept his illness from my father the whole time, and he only inadvertently found out the day before the funeral when one of his friends came around asking to borrow funerary items.” Fighting disease himself, his father was overcome with sadness at the death of a close relative, succumbing to his own illness. Just a week after his father’s funeral, Sangpuy’s eldest nephew died in a car accident on his way home for the Lunar New Year holiday.
Most people would have a hard time accepting the grief of the death of three family members in the short space of one month. But Sangpuy knew that sadness cannot solve problems, and that he needed to get his act together to become a pillar for his family to rely on. Only after calmly attending to the successive funerals with his family did he break down and cry upon returning to his home in Taipei. “I cried for two or three days straight, totally incapacitated,” he relates. But as sadness can be contagious, he rarely sheds a tear in front of his family, and ever since then he has known that one must force oneself to adjust and confront many emotions and problems.
Rather than turn your back on sadness and grief, he says, it is better to face it and overcome it.
Being Needed is a Blessing
At the Golden Melody Awards, he received his award from rock pioneer and legend Lo TaYou. Validated and encouraged, Sangpuy nevertheless knows that a great deal more work remains in the future. After the bright lights of the awards ceremony had dimmed, he went right back to the simple life he lived before, spending more time thinking about music.
“But I don’t deliberately try to pander to any sort of tastes or produce a certain kind of music; I just do what I like.” Attending charity events, interviews, and serving in remote hillside areas keeps him busy every day, but as he says, “being needed is a blessing.” Having such an attitude makes difficult things seem easier, empowering one to get more done. “I try my best to be myself,” he says.
A typical indigenous attitude towards adapting to nature also helped him think about the various events encountered in life from different perspectives.
“The stories of our ancestors teach us to respect nature,” he offers. He recounted the story of a shrimp scourge where he used to live, and that when the shrimp descended upon the mountainous area where his people lived, the elders said, “Let’s go somewhere else. This is their home.” When Formosan sambar deer ate their crops, the elders said, “This is where they forage for food. Let’s grow our crops somewhere else.” They set an example of humans adapting to and accommodating the environment, not making the environment change for them. “Doing what you can is enough,” he adds.
Similarly, when you encounter difficulties at work, and your colleagues hate you, complaining won’t help. If you worry that your performance fails to match up with that of your colleagues, think about solutions and ways to do your own job better. Do you dislike a colleague or assume that they do not like you? Perhaps it would be better to discuss it directly face to face over coffee - you might even become good friends after talking things out.
“When you resort to complaining or blaming others for treating you poorly, that work is not going well even though you haven’t made any effort yourself, it only shows that you are lacking in effort and maturity. It’s better to be more down to earth and pragmatic.”
Having a firm grounding can help you get more out of life. Walking in bare feet can cause injuries and callouses, which can protect us and help us to go farther. Overcoming difficulty and obstacles is all about skills and wisdom - experience that prepares you to solve problems in the future.
Enduring more hardship leads to sweeter happiness - it depends on how you look at the problems you encounter.
If you try another way of thinking, all those obstacles and difficulties might be gates to future happiness.
Maybe happiness and tranquility are about living simply, not wanting much, and avoiding negative thinking. “Like a river, if you don’t try to redirect it or block it with a levee, you won’t invite disaster.” Sangpuy chooses not to deliberately pursue “good, and even better” like most people do, as that is asking for trouble. Rather, he tells himself not to have any regrets when it comes to his conscience, actions, and others, and to do his best. How others see you is inconsequential, so do not let the levee of criticism and material desires restrict the river in your heart.
“There is no absolute definition of what is ‘good,’ so don’t go along with what others say is good. It’s my life, and if I think it’s good, then that’s enough,” asserts Sangpuy with a smile.
Translated from the Chinese article by David Toman