Red-I and the Riddim Outlawz

Red-I and the Riddim Outlawz are one of Taiwan’s most unique bands, and as of the time of this writing, are the only Taiwanese reggae band on the island. Red-I is a Taiwanese aboriginal from the Amis tribe, and is an ambassador of aboriginal culture.

Tan Cini Cini

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From the Taipei Times 1/26/07

By Ron Brownlow
Friday, Jan 26, 2007, Page 14

Red-I, left, along with The Riddim Outlawz bandleader Rintaro Masui, center, and double-bass player Kinya Ikeda, at what Red-I calls “Social Roots HQ,” also known as his yard, in Dulan, Taitung County.
Red-I is planting the good seeds, and it’s time for the righteous music to bloom.

For the last two years, the Paiwan reggae artist has been touring Taiwan with his bands — first the Bukkake Posse, now The Riddim Outlawz — laying down a rock steady beat of reggae, ska and jazz with local characteristics he hopes will expand Taiwan’s national consciousness through music. He gigs monthly in Taichung and Taitung and will play Kaohsiung and Lotung (羅東), in Ilan County, over the next few weeks.

Why reggae? “It’s the music of oppressed people everywhere, and there’s a lot of oppression in Taiwan — people just don’t realize it because they have money,” said Red-I, who speaks English with an Afro-Caribbean accent. “People have to break themselves from that and open up their world. Reggae is oppressed third-world music, and that’s what the people want to hear.”

Reggae in Taiwan? Not much right now. You can count the country’s reggae bands and sound systems on one or two hands, and they’re nearly all foreigners. But Red-I’s mix of music and cultures isn’t as strange as it would seem. From Hawaii to New Zealand, reggae has emerged over the past 20 years as a dominant form of popular music in the Pacific. It incorporates local instruments, has a modern sound that fits the rhythms of island life, and its messages appeal to populations dealing with the legacies of colonialism.

Red-I — “Red” means “feeling good” in Creole and “I” means “myself” — grew up Patrick Chen in Canada, son of a minister who moved his family out of Taiwan during the 1970s. The family also lived in Central America, and Red-I spent time in Belize as a young adult.

He’s a seasoned performer, having left home while still a teenager to tour Canada with hardcore bands. In the mid-1980s he learned reggae and rasta in Montreal at the feet of influential Jamaican expatriates Buntin Neil and Joe Higgs, the “Father of Reggae” and tutor of people like Bob Marley and Peter Tosh.

His wanderings later took him to Cancun, Mexico, where he performed at resorts and learned how to free-style and command a stage presence from Julius Green, a former member of The Platters who had ended up in Mexico after being kicked out of Europe and Japan for drug-related offenses. “I invited this guy every night to gig with me,” he said. “It was a crucial stage in my life. Now I can be with anybody on any stage and I can hold my own.”

Red-I, now 40, rolled into Taiwan four years ago, met A-Mei by accident (at a dance club, he didn’t know she was famous), and soon was gigging with her and anyone else who wanted a tropical or Latin sound. These included Van Fan (范逸臣) (“He can sing ok) and boy band Energy (“those guys can’t sing or rap!”).

He respects A-Mei but “isn’t feeling” Mando pop. “I think a lot of that has to do with me living as a foreigner in a foreign land all my life,” he said. “I’m still very Taiwanese, but everyone in Taiwan has turned Chinese.”

And he believes reggae’s call to respect oneself and stand up for one’s rights are well-suited to Taiwan’s current clash of cultures and identities. “There’s not an island here in the Pacific where you don’t have a vibrant reggae scene. That’s a strugglers’ music, a simple man, a poor man, a countryman. It’s heartbeat music,” Red-I said. “It just locks in perfectly with Aboriginal music anyway.”

“The only culture people brag about here is China’s ‘5,000-year history,’ and people buy it. It’s all bullshit. It’s got no place for Aboriginal people and it’s got no place for Taiwanese people,” he said. “Taiwan’s already holding itself, so why not be proud of that instead of just teaching the kids about 5,000 years of China’s history and give them all that Confucius shit? That stuff will just make you a slave.”

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