Sandwiched in among camps for the Occupy movement are shiny top-brand retail stores with storey-high “LV,” “Cartier,” “Dior” logos in sparkling LED. Peppered around those, you find government offices and major bank buildings. Farther along the road to the edge of the shopping, you find impressive clusters of luxury hotels complete with expensive cars parked by valets out front, and doormen in long coats ushering guests and residents to and fro. Am I describing New York? Toronto?
I’m in Hong Kong’s Central District, where thousands of students and working young people (and their mentors and other supporters) managed to occupy the main arteries affecting the daily run of some of the most important business that keeps the clock ticking here, for about three months. Four-and-a-half months since it’s start, the protest continues now, but with the major camps now cleared away, numbers and therefore impact has dwindled, allowing traffic and business to return almost to normal.
With tarpaulin remnants of occupy zones still erected and plastered with posters and slogans for hope and change, urging passersby to consider a representative democracy, a different world of glamour and hospitality is buzzing just a few hundred meters uphill, where the air is a bit thinner. The finest of luxury hotels compete for their spot on the horizon of Hong Kong Island, and among them the Island Shangri-La boasts the Lobster Bar — a well established and widely loved locale for mixology and live music.
It is here that I arrived in mid-November 2014, with a promise to perform six nights each week and carry tourists, locals and expats alike through the “Holiday Hits” of Christmas, New Year’s Eve, and Chinese New Year. That’s 19.5 weeks, 116 nights, 509 hours of performance on stage with a pick-up band of local musicians; a jazz trio hired by the venue to also accommodate most musical requests under the sun. And it is also here is where my extensive wardrobe (Thank You, Joseph DiFonzo) of elaborate gowns; bedazzled, shiny and smooth, gets its fair workout — in front of an expectant clientele accustomed to the finest elements that any world-class city has to offer. Then there is my voice, which is in full practice 6 nights per week for 4 to 5 hours and the high heeled shoes upon which I balance each performance.
Four of us: vocalist, pianist, bassist, and drummer select and provide the soundtrack for every tourist, businessperson, wanderer, dinner guest, member of staff, and regular patron in the room. Well, I suppose I mostly select the music, but the four of us (the visiting ‘foreign’ singer with a local pick-up band) paint the sonic picture. Perhaps it seems a fleeting, nightly musical backdrop in a small beloved establishment, but it is also a 20-week musical and cultural journey in a city surrounded by skyscrapers, ocean, and mountains half a world away from home.
Gillian Margot performed at Lobster Bar in the Island Shangri-La, Hong Kong as Artist-In-Residence from Nov 17, 2014 until March 31, 2015, and appeared courtesy of Hipnotic Records.