By Jocelle Koh
Refreshingly eclectic but at the same time warmly welcoming, Taiwanese-Australian musician Matt Hsu’s project Matt Hsu’s Obscure Orchestra traverses space during the pandemic to put together this ’70s soul collaboration “Welcome To The Neighbourhood 就當家裡” that brings forth a colourful message of hope and connection even when it seems impossible.
With R&B singer Cait Lin 凱琳 laying down luscious R&B hooks and Taiwan rappers ILL MO老莫 and CHUNYAN春艷 spitting some truthful bars, Matt brings it all together with an arrangement jam-packed with texture. Using a variety of percussion, brass, wind and traditional instruments, the song is a fusion like no other; with each piece of the puzzle fitting together perfectly and vibrating off each others’ energy to create a feel-good vibe.
Watch/Listen to ‘Welcome To The Neighbourhood 就當家裡” here:
A Queensland Award-winning composer and performer whose 17-piece orchestra and free-flowing experimentations have hailed him as Australia’s Shugo Tokumaru, the project was Matt’s way of reconnecting with his ancestral roots in a way that made sense for him.
“I was born in Australia to Taiwanese parents, I grew up completely enmeshed in Australian culture, so I’ve always a bit disconnected from my Taiwan roots. I wanted to use what I love most, creative projects, as a way of reconnecting with my ancestral home, and this was the most incredible way of doing it.”
Linking up with mixed R&B artist Cait Lin 凱琳 over social media (yes, the internet can still be wonderful place at times), Hsu credits her for bringing the project to fruition.
“None of this would have happened without Cait Lin. We connected over social media, I think it sprang from a song I wrote in English and Taiwanese with LOOPY! 鹿皮, and with her hosting a show on Taiwan’s ICRT Radio. She’s a powerhouse performer who’s massively respected among musician circles in Taiwan, and drew Chunyan and ILL MO in more our project. I owe her a massive dinner feast.”
On being part of the project, Cait says:
“Being half Taiwanese-half Australian, my goal was to capture the spirit of Taiwan by including a multitude of voices to match Matt’s Obscure Orchestra sound. I wanted the world to hear what Taiwan really is about and hopefully make a mark in Taiwan music scene by introducing them to a new sound of R&B/Hip-Hop.”
Both Matt and Cait described Taiwanese rapper and academic ILL MO老莫 as bringing an ‘OG’ rap pioneer perspective to the song, and up-and-comer CHUNYAN as providing fresh insight into Taiwan youth culture, representing the eclectic nature of Taiwanese culture and society in all its beauty. Small surprises also appear in the song’s soundscape for those in the know; as Aboriginal Taiwanese singer Vita 張芮菲, Pipa musician Sylvie Chen 陳妍心 and young Taiyu speaker Weiching Lu lend their talents to this vibrant track.
A mainstay on Taiwan’s rap scene and now a judge on hip hop reality show “The Rappers”, ILL MO says through his part in this project, he hopes to spread the word about his hometown in different ways.
“Taiwan is not exactly the most visible country in the world, and I’m hoping to stress the great characteristics the people have and be able to show the world.”
As for Matt, for whom this project has a particularly special meaning, this song was not only his chance to capture the essence of Taiwan, but the concept of home.
“I originally wrote this piece of music to explore the issues, struggles, victories and nuances that comes with calling a place home — I was able to explore my place in Australia as a person of colour in the English version of this song, but a missing piece of that story was my Taiwanese roots. I hope to capture the feeling of being in amongst Taiwan, to be surrounded by the food, the people, old neighbourhoods, night markets and the wilderness — even if I’m not able to be there in person.”
As borders open and shut erratically in a time filled with uncertainty and travel bubbles, Hsu and his band of collaborators are creating a different kind of bubble. A bubble of warmth and comfort that proves to each one of us that this pandemic will not get in the way of us forging meaningful connections and creating beautiful moments that soothe the soul.
“Welcome To The Neighbourhood 就當家裡” releases officially tomorrow May 26th. Check the song out on all streaming platforms, and be sure to follow Matt, Cait, ILL MO and CHUNYAN to learn about each of their upcoming projects.