It was at this time that the term Cantopop was first coined. The Billboard correspondent Hans Ebert, who had earlier coined the term Cantorock in 1974, noted a change in its style to something similar to British-American soft rock, therefore started to use the term Cantopop instead in 1978.
Being the person who came up with the term “Canto Rock”, which eventually became the more mainstream “Canto Pop” when writing for the American music trade publication Billboard, and being privy to hear what Sam Hui was producing in the PolyGram studios at Garley Building, it’s good to hear a different generation of Hong Kong musicians go out on a limb and create new branches.
Tying a ribbon around that old oak tree and labelling it as “new” wasn’t taking anything anywhere other than going around in circles on the Lai Chi Kok merry-go-round.
It’s kinda ironic and inspiring and very much needed that pockets of new Chinese music that cannot be labelled should be happening at a time when so many I know in Hong Kong are suffering from shrinkage.
There’s a numbing fear snaking its way through a city that once had it all- except for the power and magic of music.
After the British Pop and American folk influenced music of Sam Hui, big money walked in and put the brakes on everything.
What happened next was cookie cutter Canto Pop, where often the most important people were hairdresser and stylist. They created the archetypal “Canto Pop idol”.
There’s nothing wrong with this except when it stops everything else being allowed in because back in those days, it was a huge dim sum pie with plenty of slices to go around to the music companies, Radio, HK-TVB, Artist Management and the big concert promoters.
I should know. I was heading up International at Universal and EMI Music and knew the games being played then- and still played now.
Canto Pop was extremely big business, but it was also a very short term business model in that it had no legs.
Apart from Anita Mui knowing what she wanted, Sandy Lam and Faye Wong when she discovered Bjork and the Cranberries, was anyone really doing anything original?
Every bloated Canto Pop ballad owed much to “Desperado”.
Sa DingDing was doing some interesting things, but she wasn’t from Hong Kong and, for whatever reason, disappeared.
It was more of the same from the Yum Yum sausage factory because there were plenty who paid big money to attend a Canto Pop concert and which was one extremely long TVB Awards show with many costume changes.
In turn, these regular television awards shows were simply an excuse to promote the next crop of new talent.
Of course, those in charge and who orchestrated everything and owned management rights knew who was going to win.
It was a time in Hong Kong when some got very very rich by playing the game and being cutesy Hello Kitty people.
The music? It plodded along with more manufactured Canto Pop that’s always been big on style and short on substance and comes with a Use By date.
The music from Hong Kong could never compete with the Chinese music being created in Beijing, and especially Taiwan.
Today, I watch someone like Julia Wu from Taiwan and wonder why Hong Kong never found and got behind an artist like her. Well, I know why.
Radio in this city didn’t exactly embrace all genres of music. RnB was pretty much left out in the cold. Not so in Taiwan or Shanghai or Singapore...
This meant feeding an appetite for the same old thing. There were too many with vested interests in certain local artists and only music they were familiar with- and which meant returning to the same old Yum Yum sausage factory.
As history has proven, however, out of chaos comes opportunities, and right now, in a very different Hong Kong with seemingly no other priorities in life other than falling in line and following social distancing measures, the city is seeing those without blinkers on creating and finding their own ways forward.
It’s starting with new music from part-time Hong Kong musicians like personal favourites- the band Andy is Typing and Kevin Kaho Tsui- and a timely introduction to Homegrown music- eight hours of music put together by Paul Maclean of the band The Young Bucks.
Available on Spotify, it’s ample proof that here is something needed to feed our heads with music happening here and why and how it should be supported.
Could some of these artists make it onto television shows presented by people like Jimmy Fallon or Jimmy Kimmel? Sure they can. But is there anyone in Hong Kong with a good roller deck with clout?
Yesterday, there was an interesting article in the SCMP by Salome Grouare on a new generation of independent and freewheeling young Chinese artists breaking with old school Canto Pop tradition and creating what means something to them.
It’s music from that place called the heart- quirky, happy, dance driven and very much appreciated and welcomed. The music is real and singer-songwriter Moon Tang and musician boyfriend Gareth T are absolutely BRILLIANT.
Despite the online numbers games being played today, these might help share music, and maybe build up fan bases, but there’s still no business model that brings in money- real money. There’s no such thing as a free pork chop.
This might be around the corner, so it’s about trying and trying and trying while keeping one eye on the clock.
For me, there’s the personal hope that we see a new generation of multi media artists from Hong Kong come along.
Maybe there already is a community of artists like this? But who’s to know?
When Sam Hui won over Hong Kong, the long tail of technology didn’t wag the dog.
It all came down to the music- the belief in the music and making each track as best as it could be.
The music fans did the rest and helped repay what they were receiving in whatever ways they could.
Of course, those were very different days, but here’s someone who still believes that though everything else might change, music is music.
It’s only business that’s confused many and complicated a very pure art form by adding extraneous layers to it that has absolutely nothing to do with music.
It’s time to cut the fat and get to the heart and soul of the matter.