Jazz noodling: Hong Kong band streams inside cramped restaurant

HONG KONG (AFP) – In a densely populated city with notoriously high rents, Hong Kong’s musicians are used to playing cramped stages. But few venues are quite as pokey – or unorthodox – as Yuen Hing Lung noodles.

On a recent weekday night a jazz band was in full swing inside the 300-square-foot restaurant, perched on cola crates and using dining tables as music stands. The double bass player was squeezed into the space where the noodles are usually bubbling away.

There were no live spectators.

Hong Kong has placed strict social distancing limits to control the coronavirus pandemic and – like most forms of entertainment – live music has been decimated.

So instead the musicians inside the 47-year-old noodle restaurant streamed their gig online, asking for donations in return from the few hundred who logged in.

The get together was the brainchild of double bassist Justin Siu who invites various fellow jazz musicians for a gig at the restaurant once every two months. They have all seen their work evaporate over the last year.

Musician Justin Siu (C) playing double bass with his band in his local noodle shop in Hong Kong during a live streaming jazz performance between the tables. PHOTO: AFP

“We played party music, wedding music and now all of that is gone,” Siu told AFP. “They won’t have the budget to hire us for a while,” he added, speaking of his usual clients.

Owner Paul So said he knew musicians were struggling, even more than restaurants, which have had to weather reduced opening hours and multiple lockdowns. “I don’t know much about music at all, but I love listening to it,” said So.

“What I do is simply to offer him the venue and see if it gives him any sparks of creation,” the 61-year-old added, saying Siu is allowed to use the shop for free on the rare days off So takes.

Unlike high-end hotels and jazz cafe where he used to perform, Siu said Yuen Hing Lung has a distinctly traditional vibe. Most of its decor is exactly the same as it was in the 1970s.

Livestreaming donations bring in a fraction of real paid gigs. But Siu said he’ll take whatever he can get right now.

“We hope that at some point it will become mutually beneficial,” Siu said. “Ultimately I want to make livestreaming something that can support Hong Kong artistes.”