Shared September 19, 2008
Many may not be familiar with his name, but millions across the globe will recognise this Taiwanese traditional singer's voice. A sample of his plaintive Elder's Drinking Song chant was used by Michael Cretu as the backbone for Enigma's Return to Innocence which went on to become one of Enigma's biggest selling singles. However Cretu had not obtained Difang's permission prior to using the chant which prompted a court-case in 1996 that saw the two settle out of court three years later with Difang being compensated. The controversy around the case propelled Difang into the international spotlight, and Dan Lacksman (whose most famous project had been the first Deep Forest album) approached him to produce an album together. Released by Rock Records Japan in 1998 Circle of Life is a mesmerising combination of Lacksman's usual electronic drumloops, ambient synths and sounds carefully constructed so as not to interfere with Difang's heart-felt singing based on traditional Taiwanese songs of love, work and celebration. Slower, more laid-back beats support songs like Visiting Song and the contemplative Fully Laden with Riches with its tinkling piano instrumentation and Difang's characteristic yodelling calls. However the more upbeat tracks like Love Song (with Deep Forest style lead synth-flute) and Working Song (with its dark string theme) are the real highlights of the album. As an obvious reference to the court-case with Enigma, Lacksman made his own, gentler modernisation of Elder's Drinking Song as well as including the original version of the chant unaccompanied on the CD. With the layered and more reverential sound of Circle of Life we see Lacksman mature as a world music producer, in comparison to his previous outings such as Pangea. Difang was a prominent producer and supporter of Taiwanese aboriginal artists. His last work was to be the solo-outing Across the Yellow Earth in 2001, sadly just as Difang was gaining much-deserved international acclaim, he passed away (blood poisoning due to a centipede bite) in March 2002 at the age of 82. His wife who, whose vocals accompanied Difang's chants, passed away a month later.
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