Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, everything seems gloomy and lifeless. But in West Kowloon, groups of musicians managed to keep jazz alive and added some zest into the pandemic stricken world. The Freespace Jazz Fest held in West Kowloon Freespace and Art Park from November 6 to 8 had rejuvenated Hongkongers who were fatigued by the pandemic and reunited the musicians and their long-lost audience.
Bathing in the sunshine, breathing in the fresh air and listening to splendid live music seem impossible during the Covid-19 pandemic. But the Freespace Jazz Fest had made it possible. The three-day event had invited more than 30 groups of musicians to perform at the West Kowloon Cultural District in both indoor and outdoor venues, while strictly abiding by the social distancing rules.
Star-studded by an awesome lineup, the festival featured local jazz greats Ted Lo and Eugene Pao, who brought a performance with fusion, classics, and original compositions. Veteran jazz singer Angelita Li collaborated with Patrick Lui Jazz Orchestra to pay tributes to US jazz legend Billie Holiday.
The festival gave the audience something more than just music with innovative and experimental programmes like the Jazz Imaginarium, an immersive and multisensory performance created by musicians and visual artists who combined musical improvisation, digital imagery and avant-garde technology. The Experimental Jazz Lab went beyond geographic restrictions by assembling artists from Taiwan, Zurich and Hong Kong for virtual live performances.
Non-jazz enthusiasts were also able to get a taste of the other free live music at several locations at the park. Pleasing melodies filled the Freespace Terrace, spreading to different corners of the Art Park. Whether it was mellow or uplifting, the music had drawn crowds of visitors to the terrace.
One of the live sessions had definitely matched the aim of the festival – “celebrating the innovation and diversity of jazz”. Incorporating Guzheng, electric guitar, cello, and electronic music, The Bridge’s performance sure caught the eye and ears of passers-by.
We mixed something so traditional and modern so the audience can see Western music and Chinese classical music performed differently than before. – The Bridge
“I rearranged some classical Guzheng melodies and she added some electronic music elements, something more experimental into the mix… and he added some cello and guitar elements into the song.” Guzheng player Bou Kwan Ying pointing at her bandmates Annisa Cheung and Chan Yu Hin, “we’ll first think of an element before the performance. We’ll then improvise according to the element.”
The trio explained that their name “The Bridge” came from the bridges on the Guzheng. “We are thinking that we can act as the bridge where traditional music meets modern or experimental music,” Bao added, “we mixed something so traditional and modern so the audience can see Western music and Chinese classical music performed differently than before.”
Despite around 30 per cent of their gigs being cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the group saw a silver lining. “The last time we three performed together was last year’s November. There are really a lot fewer gigs this year,” said Bao, “but it also means that we have more time to practise and think about what we want to perform.”
The Bridge said that the Freespace Jazz Fest was important to them, describing their performance as a long-awaited comeback. Many other musicians have been suffering under the Covid-19 pandemic as well. A survey conducted by The Underground HK, a live music organisation, found that 64.7 per cent of the 646 musicians surveyed were looking for non-music jobs, while 23.5 per cent were in debt.
“We started to practise more because we had nothing to do,” said Sasha Frolov, a handpan player who performed with his band Cheesetata, “I found a way how to sell handpans. I found one guy who makes them and because I play it and people trust me, I sell them around the world.”
Swung on with their alternative ethnojazz songs, Cheesetata brought some delightful and invigorating atmosphere to the Competition Pavilion in the West Kowloon Nursery Park on Sunday evening. Tunes poured out from between the pavilion’s slender columns, capturing people’s attention. As the audience got into the groove, the band members skillfully switched to different instruments, including handpans, guitar, oboe, accordion, violin, cello, drums and flute.
It’s a great way to showcase our music, get people to become aware of who we are and what we play and the messages that we have. – Maggie Tan, Cheesetata
“It’s a great way to showcase our music, get people to become aware of who we are and what we play and the messages that we have,” added Maggie Tan, who plays handpan and drum in the band, “absolutely, there should be more similar festivals in Hong Kong. As long as they can still have it, even if it’s socially distanced, you know people don’t have to sit so close, but we can still do it, that’s the most important thing.”
“Music is something which can heal everyone. A good music festival can give some distractions to the situation,” said Aarya Kuldeep, whose friend also performed in the festival, “it’s good. It’s a good initiative… If you see here, they are performing free, that’s the good part that they are supporting the community but we should also support them.”
Sze, an avid music lover who watched Cheesetata at the festival praised their performance and joked, “people always say there are ‘revengeful shopping’ during the pandemic, I got ‘revengeful appreciation’ of music in this festival.”