21 October 2016
João Marcos Mascarenhas, who comes from Brazil, is a musician, teacher, composer, arranger and music director. Photo: HKEJ
João Marcos Mascarenhas, who comes from Brazil, is a musician, teacher, composer, arranger and music director. Photo: HKEJ

Brazilian musician plays the rhythms of Hong Kong

His father, a lawyer and pastor, had high hopes for him. The old man said he should use his God-given talent to serve the Church.

João Marcos Mascarenhas did not want to disappoint his father. He attended piano classes at the age of nine. And rising up to his father’s expectations, he won a scholarship to pursue a music degree at the world-renowned Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts, where he majored in jazz composition.

After college, the Brazilian musician traveled around the world to establish his career. From the United States, he drifted to France, Vietnam and many other places.

In 2007 Mascarenhas decided to settle down after meeting a Brazilian-born Taiwanese during a performance in Macau.

The two got married, but instead of staying in the former Portuguese enclave, they decided to live in Hong Kong.

Asked about his choice of domicile, Mascarenhas said Hong Kong is a cosmopolitan city where people are more willing to speak English. He felt that he could be accepted and welcomed into the community.

He was right about it. After acquiring a doctorate in music at the University of Hong Kong, Mascarenhas got an opportunity to teach at the Hong Kong Design Institute.

Local students are very curious about different musical genres, and the city’s music ecology has a great potential to thrive, he said.

In his opinion, music education in Hong Kong has plenty of room for improvement.

“Most schools in Hong Kong, especially universities, teach only classical music. But it is not easy for students who only play classical music to find a job upon graduation. It is rare to find vacancies in local orchestras.”

Mascarenhas said musical trainings and cultural activities in Brazil are more varied, and people can communicate with one another through different forms of music.

“It is a music nation. Not only classical music is covered in the curriculum, but also pop music. Since jazz is the love of most Brazilians, there are often bossa nova and jazz festivals year round.”

Mascarenhas and friends have opened a bar in Lan Kwai Fong which offers live music performances.

Like many Hongkongers, he is troubled by the soaring rental costs.

“The rent is too high, and performers, staffers and maintenance all cost money. Every one of us has to keep working so as to secure the cash flow for running the pub. We find the business environment in Hong Kong quite unfavorable yet we haven’t seen the government doing something about it.”

Otherwise, he doesn’t have anything much to complain about the city. His favorite place is the food court inside the municipal market, where he has made friends with many locals.

“The environment is noisy and informal, with dishes cramped on the dining table. Everyone gulps down their pint of beer, speaking loudly and happily. I enjoy the atmosphere there very much. It is so much like in Brazil except I don’t understand a single word they say.”

Brazil is known to be a country of passionate people. How does Hong Kong fare in terms of openness?

Maybe it is the matter of weather, he said. Tropical climate keeps the weather hot and humid, and naturally people love to chat and dance.

Hong Kong people are comparatively more conservative but that’s due to social and historical factors.

Yet he thinks Hong Kong people are naturally curious, open-minded and welcoming of foreign cultures.

Today, Oct. 31, Mascarenhas and other musicians will be performing authentic Brazilian jazz in an outdoor concert entitled “Global Island” at Piazza C of the Hong Kong Cultural Centre. The show is open to all.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct. 30.

Translation by Darlie Yiu

[Chinese version中文版]

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Mascarenhas teaches at the Hong Kong Design Institute. Photo: HKEJ

Mascarenhas enjoys exchanging views and pleasantries with local music activist Kung Chi-shing. Photo: HKEJ

Mascarenhas is often invited to perform in various occasions. Photo: HKEJ

Mascarenhas, who has settled in Hong Kong with his wife, shares food, drinks and fun with friends. Photo: HKEJ

Writer of the Hong Kong Economic Journal

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