Musicians take a hit as Hong Kong protests rock gigs

Jan Yumul, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 06 2019 10:08 PM | Updated as of Oct 07 2019 03:01 PM

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The show must go on for these Filipino musicians at a hotel in Causeway Bay on the eve of the face mask ban. Jan Yumul, ABS-CBN News

HONG KONG - The social unrest in Hong Kong is now affecting the territory's freelance musicians, as performances are canceled in short notice and workdays reduced in half.

In an interview with ABS-CBN News, The Hong Kong Musicians' Union (HKMU) said, some of its members who are working at hotels have gotten their working times slashed from six days to three days.

Thankfully, no one has yet lost their jobs over the demonstrations that have been rocking the city.

Hotels in some locations had seen occupancy rates drop to about half, while room rates plunged by 40-70 percent, according to a Reuters report.
"There's a lot of gigs that got canceled, mostly private events. Even the Wine and Dine Festival. Most of our members are Hong Kong residents who are freelancers," said Manuela Lo, chairperson HKMU. 

Lo said there was supposed to be a concert by a Korean band, organized by a local Chinese company, but the artists backed out because they were worried about the situation in Hong Kong.

"Frankly speaking, it's very scary and very unstable," said Lo.

In comparing the situation with the Occupy Central movement in 2014, Lo said only a few musicians were affected then as the demonstrations were not as widespread and spontaneous as they are now. 

"If there is no business coming in, sooner or later wala nang entertainment, wala nang mag hi-hire. People will not have the mood or chance to celebrate anything," said Lo told ABS-CBN News.

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Philippine-born, Hong Kong-raised freelance drummer Micheal Salcedo during a gig in 2015.

It's business as usual for full-time freelance drummer Michael Salcedo who plays at corporate functions and bars around Hong Kong. Salcedo was born in the Philippines, but moved to Hong Kong with his parents in the 1980s. 

"I'm still working just like any other days. I only had a few canceled gigs, but I understand the situation," said Salcedo. 

"Transportation is an essential part of Hong Kong's way of living. At this moment, that's the only thing that affects my job and everyone else," he added.

The protests have at times led to disruptions in the transportation system as well as road closures. 

Salcedo said freelancers just need to find a way and adjust.

"I hope the Hong Kong government and people meet halfway," said Salcedo. 

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The show goes on for Filipino musicians at Ocean Park, a day after National Day celebrations on Oct. 1. Jan Yumul, ABS-CBN News

Hong Kong-born keyboardist and singer JC said the audience at a hotel in Causeway Bay where she has been working for almost 10 years has noticeably shrunk during weekends when most people are available to go out. 

Shopping district Causeway Bay, where Victoria Park is located, is a hotspot for protest-march assemblies.

"It's just been really dangerous during Sunday nights. I've noticed that in the past couple of weeks, it was starting to get violent. It just doesn't feel that safe in Causeway Bay whereas knowing that Causeway Bay, Wanchai, Admiralty or Central is the city center and it's hard for a lot of people to try to have a good weekend," said JC.

JC, who is a piano teacher by day, said she commutes to her students' houses, going all over Hong Kong and tries to make it back to the hotel by 7 p.m. 

The sometimes challenging task of getting from one place to another doubles her transportation fees. When the commute back home gets difficult after her hotel gig, the hotel offers them a room to stay at. 

"They've (the hotel) informed us that the occupancy of the hotel has really, really dropped. I think it's about 35 percent so that's quite a lot," said JC.

Despite the situation, JC said she has not received any notice about getting laid off or her salary rates reduced.

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Popular nightlife venue for live bands "The Wanch" announces it is closed due to the protests, as it prioritizes the safety of its staff. Jan Yumul, ABS-CBN News

The situation is slightly different for DJ, a singer who works at a hotel near Fortress Hill by night, and is an English teacher by day. 

"For me, it's quite hard because I do work two jobs, I have a full-time job all the way in the New Territories as a teacher and I have to rush all the way here to make it by 8 p.m. And sometimes it clashes with just my commute because you see crowds of people, it just causes quite a big inconvenience for people trying just to get to work," said DJ.

Even when there's a typhoon, she said, they have to show up for work. Even when the protests turn violent, they still have to try and make it.

DJ is also worried for her friends that work in the food and beverage industry, especially in bars. Many who transferred to startup restaurants said times are hard.

"I've had a few friends that signed up for a few jobs and right after, one after the other, they just kept getting fired," said DJ. 

"I just have a feeling, may you know, this is just the start of it and a few others will follow," she added.

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Popular drinking and live music venue "Dusk Til Dawn" in Wanchai operating with only a few guests. Jan Yumul, ABS-CBN News

For RD, who works in the food and beverage industry in the distribution sector, says their main client are top hotels, restaurants and bars, and with tourism being 'very down' at the moment with hotel occupancy 'at an all-time low', it is a 'hard pill to swallow'.

"Majority of people I speak to within my industry...yes, it's been hard. We've been losing a lot of money from it, sales haven't been doing right, but not everybody has been bothered about it because everybody knows what's at stake. It's more like yes, it's an inconvenience for us, we're not making a lot of money, but freedom is worth more than all of that," said RD.

For "Rudy" a musician who has been working at hotels for more than 10 years and also works as a guitar teacher by day, the only inconvenience he has experienced from the protests was having to carry his heavy guitar to work.

"Mahirap pag walang masakyan, lalo na pag galing ako sa estudyante ko Mid-Levels," said Rudy. "Napagdaanan na ito ng Hong Kong, lalo noong SARS, pati noong 2014. Malalampasan niya rin ito." he added.

(It's difficult when I can't get a ride and I have to travel from my students' places in Mid-levels. But Hong Kong has gone through a lot of crises, especially during the SARS outbreak and the 2014 Occupy Central Protests. Hong Kong will also get through this.)

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World-famous nightlight strip D'Aguilar Street in Lan Kwai Fong, Hong Kong is usually packed, but now sees fewer patrons since the protests. Jan Yumul, ABS-CBN News