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Hong Kong and its continued lack of a music driven brand personality.

It’s corny to say it, but since we’re living in an often cornball and dim sum world that is Hong Kong in 2024, it might as well be repeated: Music is the soundtrack to our lives and it should be the heartbeat to this city we call home.

Where the problem keeps occurring over and over again is when this soundtrack disappears from a lack of interest and inspiration and whatever else is holding it back.

Very often, one wonders if whether much of the negativity and boredom affecting Hong Kong, especially these days, has to do with the lack of music in the city- people coming together to create a vibrant and happy music scene where music is an integral part of everything we do and something that happens seamlessly.

It’s what used to be called good vibes.

The government isn’t going to try and make this happen as the importance of music seems to have passed them by.

Expect nothing from those who give us childish distractions like Chubby Hearts, Coloured Eggs and those other little efforts at creating Selfie Satisfaction.

Forget about how we got to this point- a pointless point of being satisfied with childish and childlike cuteness that lead nowhere.

When Japan creates things like Hello Kitty cuteness and anime and fashion, it works because all of this is part and parcel of Japanese culture.

The world borrows or is influenced by this culture and subculture and motivated enough to compete for popularity.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this. 


In many ways, these exchanges of art and ideas help bring the world together. 


After all this time, what is the culture and subculture of Hong Kong?

When creating the term Canto Pop, this wasn’t something that I tortured myself over and maybe cut my ear off in the process of angst and creative upheaval.

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.[3]

I was the Hong Kong correspondent for Billboard, the world’s leading music trade publication, and I was writing about some new Cantonese music that my friend and actor-songwriter and singer Sam Hui had recorded.

It was just another label to be put on music and something that I was never going to own, but something fluffy and puffy for an international music news story. 

Canto Pop wasn’t reggae or folk music or Rock, Heavy Metal or Punk.

It was a collection of catchy songs for that time built around chord progressions borrowed from Western songs about life in Hong Kong written by Sam Hui and his co-writer at the time- Peter Lai.

Decades later, despite borrowing heavily from everyone like Lino, the Eagles and J-Pop, and more recently, K-Pop, it all remains Canto Pop.

It shows the lack of importance placed on producing music- creating original music from Hong Kong for the world as opposed to Shaukeiwan or Kowloon Tong.

Though there might have been attempts to break away from this formulaic pop music through the music of Beyond, Ramband, the Tat Ming Pair, Faye Wong and LMF, the music was always derivative. 

Faye, for example- and I love most of her music - was heavily influenced by Bjork, the Cranberries, the Cocteau Twins. The music she performed onstage and recorded was Cantonese and later Mandarin versions of this Western music. 

The balladeers with good hairstylists and fabulous costume designers recorded Cantonese and Mandarin versions of songs not unlike “Desperado” and heaved this onto the Nineties in Hong Kong by a Chinese media with self-serving agendas including basically owning the ‘live’ concert scene.

These concerts had very little to do with music. They were very often built around the concept of a mainstream television variety show with corny gags and guests.

No one thought twice about improving or changing things because perhaps we weren’t that involved nor invested in creating something Made In Hong Kong.

Filipino covers bands played the current hits to audiences in clubs like Dusk Till Dawn and Spicy Fingers- audiences who just wanted to have some harmless fun and dance the night away for a budget price. 

Meanwhile, Canto Pop- the type of Adult Contemporary pop music, where it was almost always about style over substance, became big business and this still continues with a few tweaks here and there with hair colouring and nothing and no one else offering anything close to originality or choice.

Music was and is always pushed into the background and might have “evolved” for a few years under the guise of friends getting together for some karaoke.

As we should know, Karaoke wasn’t exactly the evolution of music.  It was and is musical entertainment and camaraderie for the masses and which became a vital part of the music business.

Today, karaoke trying to make a comeback.

Those few international visitors who drop into Hong Kong these days for one-off events before leaving for about another year mention how Hong Kong is lacking the nightlife it once had.

During this Hong Kong Rugby Sevens weekend, for example, they’ve been to Lan Kwai Fong, Wanchai and other once familiar venues like the Champagne Bar and dragon-i and have come away suffering from terminal boredom and a night out that ends by 11.30pm.

Well, all that really good and fun stuff happened when Hong Kong was a throbbing international world city where everyone was welcomed.

This feeling doesn’t exist anymore because Hong Kong isn’t an international city and there’s an overriding sense of paranoia.

It’s very much a Chinese city, but this doesn’t mean that music should become an endangered species and schlocky afterthought.

Music is music in any language.

Music has a heart and soul and a language all its own that doesn’t need to be understood.

It’s something that needs to be felt.

It’s something heard in the music of Bob Marley, Queen, Bowie, Prince and every Motown and Stax/Volt record.

As a dyed in the wool “music guy” whose social life grew when in his first school band and running the regional offices of Universal Music and EMI Music and creating the Happy Wednesday brand for the HKJC, I find it both funny and appalling that Hong Kong can show horse racing from around the world on a Saturday night, but how there’s nothing that introduces this city to international music- creating a nightlife that doesn’t end by 10pm.

Music in any city needs to have sustainability and having this made easily accessible to everyone.

This is for those who run and control the city to decide if whatever they’re doing is working.

Or are these people who have turned Hong Kong into a wok fried and warmed over dish of old school thinking, serving things to a home for retirees longing for days long gone?

There are some excellent, especially Latino musicians in Hong Kong with something new to say through their music- but who’s going to finance them and give them a platform to show what they can give Hong Kong?

Whoever is funding what Hong Kong needs other than “philanthropic” fluff appear clueless about what what the city REALLY needs.

This has always been what Hong Kong is about: Greed and feeding this greed for self serving purposes.

Perhaps we’ve been too busy to see this.

It’s still not too late to believe in the power and magic of music created for new audiences and with opportunities for young Hong Kong musicians creating good, happy music.

Work with international musicians some of us used to and avoid regurgitating what’s come before and ending up only in the hands of those who are long passed their Use By Date and singing covers of “Shallow”, “Happy”, “Flowers” and “Imagine” for hoteliers who think they know music marketing.

For this to happen, there’s a need for financing from the government.

Nothing is going to happen without this and I have been doing this on my dime for decades.

Once this happens, I am only too happy to help young talent with in music in their DNA to provide inspiration, motivation and an indie spirit that gives Hong Kong what has been missing for way too long- music in all its many forms and full of good vibes.

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