The Music Industry in Hong Kong – The Development of Canto-pop Music from 1920-2010 (Part 1)

After discussing the music industry in Japan, it is time to introduce another important music industry in Asia, Hong Kong Music Industry. Although Hong Kong was located in China, she was a British colony in the 19th and 20th century until 1997. Therefore, it is a place with a fusion of east-west culture. Before the introduction of the open-door policy of China, Hong Kong served as a very important hub to connect China with the other part of the world. Because of her special historical background, Hong Kong absorbed the music from both China and the west to form its own Canto-pop songs. The Hong Kong music industry was extremely prosperous from the 1970s to 1990s and played an indispensible role in Asia. However, it starts to decline in recent years with the open of China and the rise of K-pop.

Since Canto-pop has a long history of development in Asia, I am going to explain it in two posts. Below is the brief introduction to the development of Canto-pop songs in Asia from 1920s to 1970s.

  1. 1920s-1940s: The Origin of Canto-pop
    It is not easy to trace the origin of Canto-pop. The word “Pop Music” was originally from the US in the 1920s. In the 1920s, China was facing the danger of imperiled by the western countries. At that time, wester culture spread to China unconsciously. It was believed that Shanghai was the melting point of east-west culture in the 1920s and also the origin of Canto-pop.In the 1940s, due the the Great Depression and the Second World War, a lot of Shanghai citizens migrate to Hong Kong along with the western culture, leading to the formation of Canto-pop. However, the status of Canto-pop was incredibly low. Its blueprint was mainly from Mainland China and old songs from the west such as Over the Rainbow etc. Therefore, Canto-pop music, in the1920s to 1940s, lacks its originality.
  2. 1950s: The Turning Point of Canto-pop
    Although Canto-pop has been developing for several years, it status remained low. However, it was highly influenced by western pop and Cantonese Opera. Most of the pop song singers sang like Cantonese opera. Yanfen Fang’s Belle of Penang (檳城艷) was a very good example. She used a very high pitch to sing the song.As you notice, in the 1950s, Canto-pop music still lacked its own characteristics and originality.
  3. 1960s: The Downturn of Canto-pop
    In the 1960s, Canto-pop music was severely hit by western-pop. At that time, people were extremely into The Beatles. In 1964, The Beatles visited Hong Kong and spread the “Beatlemania“, leading to the trend of playing band music, singing English songs. This undoubted undermined the status of Canto-pop in Hong Kong.At that time, people generally believed that western music were more high-class, better taste, the entertainment of the upper class while Canto-pop were more localized, usually for the general public. That was why the lyrics of Canto-pop was more “rude” and localized as to cater for the taste of the general public. Wan Kwong (尹光) was a Canto-pop singer in the 1960s. The lyrics of his songs include a lot of foul languages.
  4. 1970s: The Rise of Canto-pop

In the 1970s, Canto-pop started to gain more popularity and social status because of the emergence of television. Hong Kong people loved watching TV, as a result, every theme song of TV series was popular.

There were two important people in the 1970s, James Wong (lyricist) and Joseph Koo (songwriter). They cooperated and produced a lot of famous TV theme songs. One of the example was Sandra Lang‘s  “The Yuanfen of a Wedding that Cries and Laughs” (啼笑姻緣).

Joseph Koo used the pentatonic scale to compose pop-music. As you can hear, Canto-pop at that time was full of Chinese style but with played with western instruments.

With the complementary impact of TV dramas, Canto-pop music was super prosperous in the 1970s. Its influence even spread to Mainland China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore and so on. It definitely marked a milestone of Canto-pop music and paved the way to its indispensable status in Asian music industry.

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