📚 The notes 📚
Hello from Hong Kong! …[Wait for it]… …[There it is]…
Yes, we’re all fine. I mean, we’re not really. But it’s cool. We’re safe, at least. For now.
A little flippancy, if you will. Please don’t take it the wrong way. Like many things that have become uncomfortable features of our lives here over the past six months (hello tear gas!), the admission that you are dialling in from Hong Kong is enough to send even the most staid conference call into an unexpected tizzy.
Thankfully, these lovely letters are a million miles away from that level of awkwardness. And we truly do appreciate the concern. Given everything we have lost — faith in our leaders, our institutions and our future — it’s one of the nicer things that we have left. And, lord knows, we need all the emotional support we can get. Trying to describe our Hong Kong state of mind during these long, perilous months is a fiendishly difficult task. I would direct you to this masterful piece of writing by Karen Cheung in the New York Times, which not only captures the helplessness and guilt that so many of us feel, but also the trauma, the futile search for normality and, yes, the lure of self medication.
Luckily, we still have music, a safer self-medicant than most. And, if nothing else, Hong Kong’s troubles have helped me reconnect with my first love; hip hop music. Not only does golden-era boom-bap remind me of my childhood growing up in HK, but these tunes now seem to carry special resonance amid our current predicament.
‘There’s a war going on outside’ intones Mobb Deep’s Prodigy on Only the Strong Survive, as the spectre of police brutality looms large. Goodie Mob’s Cell Therapy breaks down the evils of the surveillance state and Nas’ One Lovespeaks directly to a society where disproportionate numbers of our youth are now locked up. Public Enemy’s Welcome to the Terrordome and Ozomatli’s Embrace the Chaos serve as a kind of shorthand for the mayhem that has regularly engulfed these streets.
Of course, hip hop is neither the only protest music nor the only type of music that features on this list. Hole’s Doll Parts reminds me of the toll taken on a fragile community. Cannonball by The Breeders helps me make sense of how we got here. And Seu Jorge’s peerless cover of Life on Mars captures the essential absurdity of this everyday struggle.
So as this city teeters on the edge, I am drawn both to the music of my youth, and the music of the youth. At a time when ‘just hangin out’, as legendary producer Large Professor puts it, is enough to get you arrested. All of those lyrics and soundscapes that depict the realities of life outside the system have come to life in my beloved city, a reminder of hip hop’s potent appeal to the marginalised. But even the most mournful situations, embodied in The Wailers’ Burning and Looting, carry a thread of optimism. No matter how dark the circumstances, I’d like to think that Love Will Save The Day.