A singer-songwriter rediscovers her HK roots

December 16, 2016 17:33
Reonda Cheng, an indie artist, says Hong Kong audiences have shown huge interest in her music. Photo: HKEJ

At the Clockenflap music and arts festival in Hong Kong last month, a performer drew a lot of attention as she played the guitar and sang in a low and soft voice in English about matters of life.

That young woman was Reonda Cheng, a Hong Kong-born singer-songwriter who emigrated to New York with her family at the age of six.

On the trip to Hong Kong last month, the singer-songwriter said she instantly feels at home in the city of her birth even though she has been away for many years.

"Hong Kong is like a mother, but I left her for so long. There's an indescribable intimacy between us when I found her again. In the United States Asians are ethnic minorities, but when I am here in Hong Kong, I feel comfortable as everyone here is equal," Cheng said in an interview.

The conversation then veers to her singing career.

Asked why she would like to become an indie artist, Cheng said half-jokingly that she can be considered to be a "troublemaker".

She says that when she was in high school, she smuggled a guitar from school back home, and taught herself how to play the instrument and create music. During college, she went for music theory, but she quit the program soon as it was far from what she had imagined.

"It was full of boring equations. I filed for a withdrawal from the program without taking a single exam. I self-learnt design instead."

Staying in Hong Kong for two years as a toy designer, Cheng found the tropical hot and humid weather and the cramped living spaces of the city too hard to bear. She then returned to New York and focused her efforts on becoming an indie artist.

But that didn't put a full-stop to the relationship between Cheng and Hong Kong. Her first extended play, Moon, was published by Harbour Records in 2014 with the help of Nicole, a vocalist from My Little Airport -- a Hong Kong indie pop band.

Speaking of the music atmosphere of New York and Hong Kong, Cheng said the former accepts all kinds of music. However, competition is intense and the audiences can sometimes be "cold", which can be discouraging to musicians.

In comparison, Hong Kong audiences have shown passionate interest in her music, Cheng says, adding that she could make new friends here with the supporters.

Cheng believes the problem with New York is that the city has been bombarded with too much music, leading to a situation where no one stops to listen now.

Starting a music career in New York is very tough, she says, adding that the journey would be different than what some people might assume.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Dec. 13

Translation by Darlie Yiu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Writer of the Hong Kong Economic Journal