By Hans Ebert
Many musicians in Hong Kong are singing the same song these days. The one that goes, “There’s something happening here/What it is ain’t exactly clear/It starts when you’re always afraid/ Step out of line and the man comes and takes you away. Paranoia strikes deep…”
Musicians and work visas have been a very grey area to do with sponsors, and where one can and cannot perform. And despite all the talk, no one is really sure about how it all works. It’s just another Facebook post. There’s a huge amount of second guessing, and another brick blocking the wall of Hong Kong’s non-Canto-pop music scene.
The closure recently in the latest episode of the Hidden Agenda saga hasn’t helped this paranoia. If anything, it’s created more “bad vibes” and where things will get worse before they become better. And if it hasn’t already, it will become a political issue.
Not interested in taking sides, but seeing the pettiness and jealousies of Hong Kong’s more “mature” performers who see themselves as playing “Jazz”- please, people- and the “Indie” scene, which has been a “fledgling” one for over two decades, with its critics dismissing this latter group as being naive and desperately needing “street cred”, a journalist explained the latest Hidden Agenda episode as follows: “There’s really no paranoia. It’s a media created one. The authorities had to play safe after a fire in a similar industrial building caused fatalities. These buildings do not have the required safety standards to house large crowds. The critics would be singing a different tune by criticizing the authorities for ignoring safety standards if a fire or other accident occurred there.
“Besides, the government told Hidden Agenda two days earlier that the bands needed work permits because it was a commercial event in that people were charged to get in. Hidden Agenda had applied for work permits on every occasion before, but not this time. When immigration officials went to the place, the owners beat up one of them. That’s why the police were called in- to protect immigration staff.”
Whether this journalist is right or wrong, who knows? But with even the city’s Chief Executive having entered the fray by saying laws are laws while the usual Pan Democrats suspects have now jumped on the bandwagon and are criticising the government for not being genuine about promoting the city’s culture and the revival of industrial buildings with one demanding “more freedom for musicians”. Dear god, since when have these ageing, irrelevant and hypocritical politicians cared about musicians? They’ve just been handed a new soapbox from which they can rail against whatever machine is in their way.
The song going through this head is that nobody’s right when everybody’s wrong, whereas this unknown British band named This Town Needs Guns caught up in the Hidden Agenda arrest talking about more “creative freedom” for Hong Kong is nice, but also sounds somewhat opportunistic and irrelevant. We have seen many in too many industries coming to Hong Kong and becoming instant experts about this city.
The Hong Kong music “scene” has been DOA for almost three decades, because of the rampant corruption of those who ran the local music industry- heads of music companies, heads of radio stations, those who controlled those truly cringeworthy television awards shows- and who all but shut down Western music for years in order to promote their investments in Cantonese and later Mandarin pop music and its artists. Their cash cows.
These businessmen made their millions, and are naively seen by many as being “legends”, when, in actuality, they were crooks who formed an unholy alliance. These “legends” and “lo bans” of the Hong Kong music industry should be named and shamed, but they never will be, because power corrupts, and sacred cows are untouchable, and play every side of the law.
It’s way too convoluted and “hysterically historical” in a sad way to get into here, but all this does is affect something that has become another issue- work visas for musicians.
If serious about bringing real closure on a subject that borders on pettiness, our government leaders could quickly sort this out. But because these work visas mainly affect Filipino musicians, and Hong Kong’s immigration policies have always reduced Filipinos to third class citizenship, this is allowed to go on as there’s no one questioning these laws, and taking a stand against them. Or trying to find a solution to a problem that’s really not a priority for a city with far more taxing issues that need immediate fixing.
These current work visa laws for musicians border on intimidation, and might even be considered illegal or even racist by a smart lawyer. There’s definitely something sinister about them, and with more than a whiff of not what you know, but who you know in order to cut through the red tape. And if the latter can happen- and it can- it shows favouritism at work.
Bottom line: The Hong Kong music industry must start with a blank canvas. It cannot plod along with drivel and the all-too transparent agendas of the usual sycophantic suspects. Their Use By Date ended almost two decades ago. They’re irrelevant and bring nothing new to the party. Same with the entertainment media who report, but fail to understand the root of the problem, and how, like a cancer, it needs to be cut out.