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Outspoken Canto-pop star Anthony Wong isn't ready to mellow out

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.A mellow middle age is not an option for singer Anthony Wong Yiu-ming. The Canto-pop star tells Rachel Mok why he plans to keep pushing forward creatively and politically.

 

Ever since he "came out" at the Tatming Pair concert series in 2012, singer Anthony Wong Yiu-ming, one half of the Canto-pop duo, has had more coverage in the news pages than in the show business sections.

After declaring that he was gay, the outspoken 51-year-old took part in a number of sociopolitical events, including an anti-national education campaign organised by protest group Scholarism in August 2012.

So it's inevitable that his upcoming concerts at the Hong Kong Coliseum in March will be more than just a music event. Titled Under the Tai Ping Shan (Victoria Peak on Hong Kong Island), the two concerts are is planned to be another politically conscious project.

According to Wong, Tai Ping Shan is a contrast to Lion Rock, a hill between Kowloon and the New Territories that symbolises the "Hong Kong spirit" and a society of hard-working civilians, building a city of prosperity in the 1970s and '80s when the economy took off and Hong Kong became an international city.

Despite this economic advancement, he questions why Hong Kong is not on par with other international cities such as London or New York in terms of culture and spirituality.

On top of that, Wong also says that most of the important things happening in the city are on the Hong Kong side.

"So we are shifting the location, and seeing [a shift in] what the people are asking for, and fighting for now," he says.

Tai Ping also means "peace" in Chinese. Although harmony is what the establishment wants for society, Wong disagrees with the idea that it means there must only be one voice in the city. Noise is good, according to the singer. "Argument means dialogue, and society needs more dialogue. We should all speak more, and listen more.

"Hong Kong people are so used to being silent, but when you are silent it means the power of speech falls to someone else."

The concert poster shows the singer shouldering protest banners with his song lyrics written all over them. Instead of just shouting empty slogans, he wants the audience to be inspired by the show.

The concept recalls his 1997 People Mountain People Sea, which was commissioned by the Hong Kong Arts Festival, and uses a theatrical approach to subtly reflect the social issues of the time.

Some artists are arrogant and don't listen to the work of others. But not me - I can never get enough of discovering new music

He says this time he's taking a more direct approach. "Whether you choose to be subtle or in-your-face, you can do it very well or very badly … I've chosen to be more direct this time, and I'm going to do my best to get my message across."

Wong feels Hong Kong is now in a similar state to that of 1997 - he thinks that a time of change is on the horizon. This change isn't limited to the political aspects, it's about lifestyles, too.

"The change is more obvious among teenagers and the twenty-somethings. It's only the middle aged that don't change," he says, only half joking.

Wong is a progressive artist, not unlike one of the musicians he most admires - British rocker David Bowie. Bowie released the drum 'n' bass inspired album, Earthling (1997), a critically received work, when he was in his 50s.

Wong, too, is moving with the times. He admires how the younger generation has mastered information and social media platforms.

"In my day, I needed to talk to the media to get my message across. But now, if I think of anything, I can just post a message online."

That change eventually leads to what he does - making music. It has long been said that the local scene is not as good as it used to be, but this industry veteran believes that opinion is ignorant.

"Those who say Hong Kong music is dead must be blind or deaf. They only want to hear a certain thing, and they just watch it on certain television channels. But no one listens to music on TV or radio anymore. We listen to music online, or create our own playlist," he says.

Wong is well adapted to this change. Concert and film festival-goers should not be surprised if they find themselves standing next to him.

The week before this interview he posted pictures of himself watching Paul McCartney and Franz Ferdinand in Japan, and then attending the Clockenflap festival back home. He is so energetic it's difficult to believe that Wong - or "Ming gor", as most people call him - has been active in the music industry for over three decades.

Curiosity is what pushes him forward. "I always believe there is so much that I don't know, and I'd like to find out more. I don't just play music, I am a huge music fan as well. I love listening to music."

Listening to what others play highlights his own inadequacies, he says. "Some artists are arrogant and don't listen to the work of others. But not me - I can never get enough of discovering new music."

Wong believes that, no matter how old they are, everyone has the right to express their own opinions, and create something new. "To invent and look for a breakthrough is not the exclusive right of youngsters. Some people say we should mellow out after a certain age. But that's not me," he says.

Wong's favourites, 66-year-old Bowie, and the late Lou Reed, are examples. "Bowie put out a beautifully made album [The Next Day], and Lou Reed was always graceful. He kept stimulating us with his work. He just wouldn't stop."

Wong's forthcoming EP, due to be released around concert time, will be a mixture of his signature electropop and a more mellow sound.

"Sometimes the tone I use is mellower, but the music is still on the edge," he says.

 

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as Vocal hero

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