Hong Kong-born musician and producer Siu Ki Chris Ho is doing things that might have seemed impossible just a few years ago.
Ho, a resident of Richmond, is trying to put Vancouver on the map as a centre for Chinese-language popular music production.
He’s no slouch in the music biz. Ho is the founder of his own label, 3721 Productions. The company not only produces and distributes Chinese-language music, but also puts on shows and manages nearly a dozen artists.
“I can make a profit from that business model,” Ho tells Pancouver over Zoom.
He’s also a bass player in the band Yellow! and even organized a pop-up market in Richmond last July. This was to promote other talented musicians from Hong Kong living in Metro Vancouver.
Ho’s entrepreneurial energy is emblematic of the city he emigrated from in 2020. He still returns to Hong Kong in his roles as a producer and musician. But the Douglas College grad also has his feet firmly planted in B.C.
“Actually, we have a group of professional musicians living in Vancouver now,” Ho says. “We always go back and forth to do shows in Asia.”
They call themselves the Hong Kong Professional Musicians in Canada, or HKPMC. Ho and others are also part of the Vantopop Collective, with the term “Vantopop” being a combination of Vancouver and Cantopop.
Two of the collective’s members, Duck Lau and Athena Wong, will perform at this year’s Jade Music Festival, which is focused on making B.C. a hub for Chinese-language music production. The Society of We Are Canadians Too organized the six-day event. It begins on November 28.
Jade Music Fest is for musicians on both sides of Pacific
Whereas Ho left his home in Hong Kong to come to Vancouver, there are also musicians who’ve had to leave Canada to achieve their dreams in Asia, according to SWACT general manager Charlie Wu.
Like Ho, the Jade Music Festival aims to build up the capacity of the Chinese-language music sector in Vancouver.
“Even though several Chinese dialects are prominent in Canada, there has traditionally been no marketplace at home for Canadians who sing in Chinese,” Wu said. “We see an opportunity for Vancouver to do something unique—establish a beachhead for Chinese-language music production in North America.”
One of the Canadian singer-songwriters who will perform at the Jade Music Festival is Silian Wong, who’s based in Toronto. She worked in Asia for a decade as a singer. About six years ago, she started writing original music, creating the EP Insomnia before she returned to Canada in 2020 during the pandemic.
Wong says that her songwriting is in a similar vein to that of Japanese folksinger-songwriter Ichiko Aobi.
“We tend to be very soft, very intimate, and expressive,” Wong says.
TD is presenting sponsor the Jade Music Festival, which will include workshops, networking events, concerts, and an exhibition. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, given TD’s long history of supporting musical events across the country, including the TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival.
“At TD, we believe when people are connected through music, good things can happen. That’s why we’re proud to support the Jade Music Festival to help bring people together and amplify the voices of diverse artists and musicians,” says Christina Sunwoo, Manager, Community Engagement, Pacific Region. “We believe that music festivals can reach an array of audiences which can help connect and strengthen communities through the universal language of music.”
Also at the Jade Music Festival, international TikTok sensation Tyler Shaw will share what it was like growing up as a mixed-race kid and how he came to embrace his Chinese identity.
In addition, Grammy Award winner Jeff Bova will discuss how his Italian-Chinese identity shaped him as a musician as he worked alongside major stars like Celine Dion, Herbie Hancock, Katy Perry, Tina Turner, and Cyndi Lauper.
Amplify BC backs festival
The festival’s conference activities are supported by Creative BC. According to its president and CEO, Prem Gill, this came as a result of Amplify BC.
In 2021, the B.C. government announced that it would dedicate $22.5 million to this program over three years.
“We’re very privileged as an organization to deliver programs through different funding streams,” Gill told Pancouver by phone.
On top of funding for music industry initiatives such as the Jade Music Festival, Amplify BC also offers funds to support career development for emerging and established artists.
According to Gill, this can help cover the costs of recordings, music videos, and marketing initiatives.
Amplify BC has another component funding large live music events. The fourth funding stream goes toward increasing the capacity of music companies based in B.C.
“It’s not operational funding,” Gill emphasizes. “It’s giving them the opportunity to really focus on new initiatives or other programs.”
One of the stated goals of Amplify BC is to support the development and diversity of B.C.’s creative workforce. That dovetails with the objectives of the Jade Music Festival organizers.
Synthesizer captivated Ho in his youth
Ho’s musical journey began as a kid. His father loved playing vinyl records on the family’s hi-fi, especially Cantopop and ’70s dance music by the German-Caribbean band Boney M. and other artists.
He enrolled in piano lessons, but over time, found that it was too boring. So, he quit.
However, one day, Ho saw a music video showing someone playing a synthesizer. “I thought it was so cool,” he recalls.
He decided to investigate further, visiting a music store and asking the salesman all sorts of questions. Not long afterward Ho became hooked on this instrument.
He’s always had eclectic musical tastes, listening to rock music, including Metallica, as a teenager, along with the dance music that he loved. When he was around 17 years old, a friend asked Ho to join a band.
“I knew nothing about the music, actually,” Ho confesses with a laugh.
He joined anyway, playing keyboards in the band and learning more as time went on.
When the bass player suddenly left, Ho then tried to help provide rhythm with sounds from his synthesizer. But his friends told him that this was simply too weird, so he started playing bass.
For his part, Ho believes Vancouver has potential to emerge as a centre for Chinese-language music production, given the growing number of residents from Hong Kong, as well as other parts of China and Taiwan.
“We have that kind of audience,” Ho declared. “But our goal is not just our Chinese-language speakers. Our goal is to use our language [in music] to let the mainstream people understand us.”