Local music creators are worried about the increasing risks of political music creation due to national security law.
By Mandy YIM
Contagious Fear over the Law
“I will avoid using terms like “Free Hong Kong, revolution now” or replace the phrase with other terms when I write songs,” says Sunny Lam, a local political singer who has been creating music videos about political issues since 2014. With more than seventy thousand subscribers on his YouTube channel, Lam expresses fear over the national security law which came into effect on June 30.
He is concerned about the ambiguity in the law. “The government interprets everything,” Lam says. “Once the government says you violate the law, then you are,” Lam adds.
Having published two songs about the Prince Edward 831 incident on his channel, Lam worries about being arrested. “I thought about giving up (producing political songs) in August,” he says. “With the introduction of the law, the government may say I am spreading rumours through my songs about the 831 incident,” he adds.
On August 31, 2019, police entered Prince Edward MTR station to arrest people after receiving reports that protesters assaulted members of the public and damaged station properties. Video footage showed police pepper-spraying protesters inside a train carriage and ordering them to kneel against a wall with their hands on their heads before making arrests. Commuters protected themselves with umbrellas, but some were still seen bleeding from head injuries. The event generates unsubstantiated claims of deaths that have been repeatedly denied and denounced by police and government officials.
Lam says some netizens he has worked with share his fear. “Some netizens wrote lyrics for some of my songs about Hong Kong. They told me they would stop doing it because of the law,” he says.
People around Lam, especially his parents, advise him to stop his production to avoid violation of the law. “I used the phrase “black cops” many times in most of my songs. I may soon be arrested,” Lam says.
Despite his fear of being arrested, Lam says he will keep producing new songs and post them on his YouTube channel. “I am scared, but I won’t stop doing it,” he says. “I am still passionate about music creation,” he adds.
Lam believes that creating songs about current issues can arouse public awareness. “Some people may not care about politics. Some may find news boring. Music can repackage news by adding different styles to it such as a sense of humour,” he says.
Law predicts a decline in audience as people may tend to discuss political issues less openly under the law. “I’ve never thought the situation would become like this. In the past, I thought this only happens in China. Now, Hong Kong is the same,” Lam says.
“In the past, I thought this only happens in China. Now, Hong Kong is the same.”
Survive under a Vague Law
Another music producer Fong King-lok also shares Lam’s feelings. “I do not expect the law to come so soon,” Fong says. “(Despite the law,) we will continue to create music and sing our minds,” he adds.
Fong, an executive committee member of the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union, has devoted to music production for more than 20 years. He wrote a Cantonese song with his friends about how ordinary citizens resist the government. The team published the music video on YouTube in May.
Fong describes his team as a group of people who care about Hong Kong. “We want to entertain ourselves and voice out our thoughts and resonate with people through music,” he says. “Music can help everyone express their thoughts. It is not just an idea. It can be watched, listened to and shared with others. As a creator, this is the greatest joy,” he adds.
Yet, he loses motivation to produce music after the law was introduced in June. “Frankly speaking, the law makes me feel discouraged. I lose the will to express my opinion,” he says. Fong thinks the lack of room for tolerance and respect for different opinions in the city is suffocating.
Similar to Lam, Fong points out the vagueness in the law creates fear. “What is sedition? What is subversion? Does singing a song mean sedition? Is national security that easy to be interfered with?” he says.
“Our team is not a group of young frontline protesters. We are relatively moderate. Even so, we have worries.” Fong says.
He also feels surprised about the current situation. “I have lived (in Hong Kong) for more than 40 years, and I have never seen a situation like this before,” Fong adds.
Fong says he will not stop making music. “We will not change the theme of our music. All the productions we do are related to society,” he says.
“Any change may cause a lot of ripples but may also bring a lot of hope,” he says. Fong believes the most beautiful music is created at the hardest time. “I don’t believe music creation will die,” he adds. He is planning to create a song about saying goodbye to Hong Kong.
Power of Linguistics
Heartgrey, a three-time Chinese Beatbox Champion who represented Hong Kong at the 2012 Beatbox Battle World Championship, has produced music about political affairs in Hong Kong. He says that it is important for music creators to survive in their own ways. “Music creators can use less explicit words in their lyrics,” he says.
Last year, Heartgrey produced a song titled “Under Mountain” with his friends to express their feelings towards the Anti-Extradition Law Amendment Bill (Anti-ELAB) movement. The song was first performed in the King Maker II Final Competition on ViuTV. It then became a hit.
Heartgrey thinks music can be a source of emotional support for Hong Kongers.
“Music creators are able to influence the public emotionally by playing guitar and composing songs.
“So, everyone can walk hand in hand with an optimistic vibe,” he says. “Given the tense atmosphere, music creators should make greater effort to send out our ray of sunshine,” he adds.
“Given the tense atmosphere, music
creators should make greater effort to send out our ray of sunshine.”
Heartgrey says there are still positive impacts of the law. He believes that the quality of language used in lyrics writing will be improved because producers will express their minds by using implicit words.
“We shouldn’t clash with the law directly,” he says. “And we have to stay alive. Don’t just bury ourselves into politics,” he adds.
Edited by Emilie Lui