By Hans Ebert
What’s holding it back? The water? Lousy dim sum? Outta whack egos drowning in cobwebs of mediocrity? Hell, there are those who describe Rihanna as a “Jazz” singer, which is like saying James Blunt is a “soul singer”. Whatever it is, nothing much is happening here in the way of actual original music whereas whatever creative spark there might have been in Hong Kong- and it’s hard to remember when that was- has not only blown out, it’s really hard to think if there ever was one.
That creative spark. Musically, Hong Kong is a non-starter. At lunch a few days ago, the executives of a music channel just couldn’t think of even one good artist from this city. All they could talk about were the millions being paid to Canto-popsters even those past their Use By Date for warbling just one- ONE- song in Mainland China.
Of course, anyone who knows anything about laundromats knows how that works, and the difference between “the invoice” and “The Rate Card”, and what’s actually being paid out. But while certain artists and their management companies can get away this modus operandi before the extradition papers are served, more power to them.
Here’s the problem with the Hong Kong music scene: It’s old. It’s almost as if it was born old. It is now in the throes of senility. There’s that old group with ties to those involved in the casinos in Macau who have managed to escape from being jailed, and are still flying close to the sun. Doing business with them is not only fraught with danger, there’s something tacky about it- nothing to do with music or art, but only about the “money exchange”. And once it’s all about the money, money, money, it becomes a drug, and like any addiction, one craves for more. To those who wallow in this part of the music industry- and having known them for years as they were once tied up with the dark side of the local movie business- it’s how they’ve always been. Its part of their DNA. They wouldn’t know how to lie straight in bed.
As for those others making ends meet with one gig here, a function, here a lounge, there a lounge, everywhere a hotel lounge, it’s about survival and having a nest egg with which to retire. They’re old guns and the same old names for hire- a few better than the others, but no one really going anywhere. Time’s up. They have never wanted to go anywhere, and which probably has to do with them knowing their limitations and happy being big fish in this small cesspool of gossip, backstabbing, jealousy, hypocrisy and chicken hearted haters on social media refusing to look at their own dubious pasts. We all know who they are.
There are the younger journeymen musicians who end up in Hong Kong, but they’re just not good enough. They might think they are, but they simply don’t make the grade. Why? It’s just not there- “it” being talent.
Again, it’s also that lack of creativity in a city that’s not a creative hub- never has been. Making Hong Kong a creative hub has never been a priority to the government. What’s really galling is how the ironically named CreateHK has been allowed to plod along on taxpayers’ money for years and which has done absolutely zero to help raise the standard of local creativity. This was the reason for it having been launched with much trumpeting, but has limped and slithered for almost ten years with its lost leader about to retire with a huge golden parachute strapped to his back.
But this is the Hong Kong we should know to accept by now: Government subsidised organisations given a free pass to make hay while the sun shines by being just another empty brick in the wall. The government should be ashamed- and publicly shamed- for how little CreateHK has delivered. But when looking at what has been going on by those at the very top of the tree in Hong Kong, our various government leaders have no shame. They have raped, pillaged and conned Hong Kong, but they have no shame. They might be convicted, but there’s usually a back door for them to quietly leave to Canada.
The government aside, why can’t Hong Kong produce music as fresh and creative as that of Taiwan’s wonderful Julia Wu and Singapore’s The Sam Willows?
One guesses it’s the teams around them along with their own god-given talents and audiences who truly appreciate and demand good music. My old friend Terry Lee, below, who I signed up when he was in Singapore with Urban XChange and the hugely underrated Parking Lot Pimp works with Julia Wu, has matured, and is creating some incredible music and developing various “systems” in Taiwan for the distribution and payment of music.
Taiwan is beating the music coming out of Hong Kong into a pulp, whereas there’s also far more going on in Singapore with a band like The Sam Willows, and singer-songwriter Gentle Bones, both pictured below, the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia. Let’s not even talk about Korea and Japan.
In Hong Kong, there are still those who believe that being fans of Jazz elevates them to some new level of sophistication. Do they even know what Jazz is? Have these aficionados and self-proclaimed arbiters of good taste heard the music of Billie Holliday, Ella Fitzgerald, Lena Horne, the Dave Brubeck Quartet, below, Shelley Manne, Miles Davis, Thelonius Monk, Roland Kirk etc? Antonio Carlos Jobim might be “Bossa Nova”, but what he created was Jazz. Same with the groundbreaking “Take Five” produced in 1961 by the original Dave Brubeck Quartet.
To many in Hong Kong, Diana Krall, Norah Jones and, jeez, Khalil Fong along with Karen Mok are “Jazz”. Please. Want to hear real Jazz by a girl who has never wavered from her roots, listen to the wonderful Nikki Yanofsky?
As for those who get together at venues like Peel Fresco for self-indulgent jam sessions led by the usual suspects, some restraint, please. When telegraphing what every solo is going to be, well, that’s not Jazz. That’s jizz. And it’s jizz, because very few have done their homework to know what has come before from the pioneers of this form of music. They arrived late for the party along with their affectations and pretentiousness.
The result is shallow, hollow music performed on Remote and really should return to forever. As for audiences that applaud this Muzak like trained seals, all this does is promote mediocrity. Many of these acts would barely be accepted at an open mic session in Taipei, Melbourne or probably even Singapore. But in awfully polite Hong Kong, anything that sounds familiar is accepted along with joining the other seals in The Clapping Song. There’s an almost childish naïveté to it all.
As Jack Nicholson’s character in “For A Few Good Men” bellowed, “YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH!” Same with the creative community. and, especially, the so-called music scene in Hong Kong. Wake up: Get out more, don’t compare yourself with bad copyists and feel good about yourself. Look to someone like Taiwan’s Julia Wu, and use her as a benchmark to being original. Originality is in very short supply in Hong Kong. Why? Maybe it’s thinking that Okay is good enough. It never is.