Photos: Chris Carpio
If you meet Chris for the first time you would think: Sportsman! In particular if you check his instagram (@chiriscarpiomusic) where he posts lots of videos and pictures of his weightlifting achievements. But that’s so far from the full picture of him. Chris is a pianist and together with his brother Bernard they manage the life performance company Carpio Music founded by their father – a talented jazz musician Tony Carpio. The cherry on a pie of this family is a mum of Bernard and Chris – Rosalie Carpio, a beautiful singer.
My expected talk about the situation in arts of Hong Kong transformed into a talk about how it is to be a musician in modern Hong Kong, how to combine all your passions and be the best version of yourself and how to change the environment around you even it looks like impossible. Chris knows the answer.
M8H: You are a hereditary musician. Does it mean that music was a selected path to you from the beginning?
Chris: Yeah, my family members were all musicians. My grandfather was a banjo and guitar player. He spend a lot of time in Shanghai before the war. And after the war he got to Hong Kong. And basically from that part of family everybody was playing music.
See, for me I’ve been always torn apart between sport and active lifestyle, and music and it took me long long time to learn the balance. Because for me.. I had long love and hate relationships with music for a while. Everyone expects that music is passion but for me I grew up in that kind of environment. And as much as I enjoyed the music it was very intense for me even when I was a teenager.
M8H: What was the turning point of your decision in favor of music?
Chris: When I first started playing music I didn’t have any other passions but as a kid I was overweight and my brother suggest why I don’t try to play rugby. After I tried I began to be very into rugby. I got quite far in how I was going through it and then after one of the tournament I was invited to HK men’s national team, to play for HK national sport and I couldn’t go because of music! It really broke me. Imagine, I was not able to represent my country because of the music thing! After that I felt kind of down about the music. This experience made me think on what I was going to do, how should I approach music. Shoulder surgery made me stop playing for 6 months. So I started reading some books to understand my way in music (Gary Leboff “Take your life on and win”, – M8H)
M8H: It should have been very tough time in your life. It’s impressive that the books helped you. Now you even write jazz music yourself. Tell me more about this.
Chris: I wouldn’t call it jazz music. The problem is that jazz has got such a stigma behind it. Jazz is such a variety of genres, right? So what I’m trying to do is to create music where even you are not a jazz guy you gonna love or at least enjoy it. That’s what I find most important.
Every single song I’ve written is completely different to the last one. One is like floaty kind of song and another one is more like hip hop vibe or 80s kind of rock but still got jazz style behind.
M8H: That’s a fusion! By the way, before you arrived it was Despasito playing. I was almost ready to commit suicide. But this is our reality. How do find the situation in arts and music in Hong Kong now?
Chris: *Laughing* Right! Well, that’s a tricky question. Obviously Hong Kong is not about arts, but it’s changing.
Speaking of music, in 60s-80s HK used to be one of the top places for music in Asia. HK was like a hub, having loads of bands all over the world coming here. There used to be loads of night clubs and music bars as well. They used to have 2 bands in one night like alternating. Everybody was competing in turns of who’s going to be the best.
And then things started changing. And the night clubs started closing. HK scene changed. Everywhere around the region started developing their own thing. Other regions in Asia have other types of music.
M8H: What keeps Hong Kong behind the scene nowadays?
Chris: One of the reasons is that Hong Kong doesn’t have jazz music universities. For example, Indonesia has a strong jazz scene. It is because they have music and jazz universities there. Same in KL, in Bangkok, which has Yamaha Music School. So they have a lot of like higher education places around the region.
Another thing is that HK is running out of good venues. For example, have you heard about the scandal around Hidden Agenda? (Famous underground club in Hong Kong, – M8H) All life music places have to be located in commercial buildings, but the rental price there is 2-3 times higher than in the industrial ones. So they have no choice. Besides that Hidden Agenda do bring bands which don’t have work permit in Hong Kong and that’s got them into trouble. Well, I do believe the that creative projects require a lot of government’s attention and support.
M8H: Do you find the audience in Hong Kong sophisticated?
Chris: I believe that the taste to music can be adjusted. People need to be influenced to understand how to enjoy music. In Hong Kong the section of the audience differs from other South East Asian countries like Malaysia or Thailand. People are more open-minded there.
M8H: What keeps you passionate now?
Chris: Being free in what I’m doing. I can play with other artists music but with my interpretation. If I was told to go and play exactly what the music says, it’s not challenging at all, I’d rather not do it. No matter which money is paid. If I choose my projects very carefully I never lose my passion.
M8H: My last question is about HK. Traditional one. If you had your last day in Hong Kong, what would you do? Where would you go?
Chris: For me, I love the hustle of Hong Kong (even though sometimes it can be quite intense) I would definitely have a final stroll around my neighborhood of Mong Kok and grab some local snacks like Egg Waffle and maybe a bubble tea. Then probably head for lunch and have some char siu and rice. As you can see I love to eat!
As cheesy as it sounds maybe I’d go for a last star ferry ride from TST to Central and just admire the view from the water, I’ve always found something nice about that. From there continue the walk and take a tram ride.
If I have the energy and the time I would definitely grab my car and drive up to Fei Ngo Shan (the highest peak in Kowloon) the only ways you can get up there is by car or a 5 hour hike, but on a good day, the views are incredible.