Meet The Promoter Fighting To Save Hong Kong’s Musicians From Homelessness
You might recognise her blue hair, booming laugh or bilingual MC’ing at gigs across the city: Chris Bowers, known only as “Chris B” to music-lovers in Asia, has been described as “the tattooed fairy godmother of the Hong Kong scene” by local media. Bold, charismatic and a self-described "do-er", she has become synonymous with Hong Kong's grassroots music scene, having founded the music organisation The Underground HK in 2004. Since then, she has run more than 400 events, mostly geared towards emerging independent acts. Her organisation has become a cornerstone of the city’s culture, built on a brand of inclusivity, positivity and ensuring every up-and-coming act gets a chance to be on stage.
When not fronting her own bands, Chris B mentors rising acts and organises showcases, competitions and festivals to champion the performing arts. This year, she took the government to task for its lack of support for the live music industry during the pandemic, organised a livestream concert, and secured funding for weekend outdoor concerts in West Kowloon.
Over the summer, Chris B spearheaded a survey of more than 600 musicians in Hong Kong—more than 60 per cent of whom music was their full-time career—and found 65 per cent of them were looking for jobs outside the music industry Meanwhile, nearly one quarter were in debt, 5 per cent faced eviction and a further 2.8 per cent had been made homeless as a result of pandemic-induced venue closures.
With live music still banned indoors, Chris B continues to fight for the interests of professional musicians so that Hong Kong can still enjoy going to gigs after social distancing rules have eased. She discusses her work and her key takeaways from Tatler's latest Front & Female event, featuring supermodel and author Maye Musk.
Can you introduce yourself and what you do?
I consider myself someone who serves the live music community in Hong Kong. I was born here, a product of the British colony with a Hong Kong Chinese mother and an English father. Over the past 20 years, I've organised hundreds of live music events in Hong Kong promoting original music. I launched FWD Mellow Yellow Music Festival last year (a family-orientated live music event) and because I know so many bands and musicians, I also work on other promoters' events and also supply entertainment for large-scale corporate events, such as the Rugby Sevens and the Volvo Ocean Race. I've also worked with charities such as Enlighten, an epilepsy awareness charity, using music entertainment to bring people to events and raise money.
Who are the women who have helped you get where you are now?
Definitely my mother, she was a strong, independent Hong Kong Chinese woman who taught herself English in her teens and aspired to be successful at business and also at being a mother and grandmother. She isn’t with us any more and I miss her a lot. I also have some great female friends who keep me grounded in reality and give advice, support and guidance when I ask for it.
How does your work elevate other women?
I hope that what I do can show other women and men that we can achieve what we put our minds to, and leave the naysayers and judgmental people behind. My work with The Underground has provided a platform and entry point into the music industry for countless women, both onstage and behind the scenes running shows. There are few promoters in Hong Kong, let alone female ones, so I am proud to be a woman championing live music.
What are the issues closest to your heart when it comes to women's rights and opportunities?
I have never been interested in solely women's rights. When it comes to getting a job done or getting things to change or happen, whoever is doing it; regardless of gender, race, age or whatever, as long as they are the right person for the job or the project on hand, then I will passionately support them. I guess this means I'm interested in people's rights: to work, to live, to choose the job they want to do.
What was your favourite memory you have from the Front & Female Roundtable with Maye Musk?
When Maye said, ‘If you don't ask, it's definitely no’. I've taken this to heart and am no longer scared to ask for things, and now I'm asking everywhere. If people want to help, they will say yes, and if they say no, it's okay; you just move on and find someone else who will say yes.