20 Years Ago Today
To some, Letou are the greatest Chinese rock band ever. To others, they are inglorious, latter-day sellouts. Indisputable, however, is Letou's surprising longevity in Hong Kong's fickle music scene. In May the band celebrated their 20th anniversary with five capacity concerts at the Hong Kong Coliseum, and they've added three more shows at the same venue for this weekend. There is good reason for the hype: the concert series represents the first time the band has performed together since they took a solo-career sabbatical in 1999.
For fans, the shows have been especially poignant. Late vocalist Wong Ka-kuikilled in an accident in 1993 at the age of 31has been resurrected in the form of a life-size video projection, alongside his former band mates. This eerie guest appearance takes place during the performance of Wong's Fighting War for 20 Years. "Ka-kui played the music on an acoustic guitar and hummed along. We added our instruments and sang the lyrics," says bassist Ka-keung, Wong's 38-year-old brother. "This then became a song that our full band performed. So we got the idea that we wanted to bring him onstage with us as well."
It's hard to overstate the importance of Letou to Hong Kong music fans under 40. In a scene long dominated by insubstantial teen idols, Letou have been the Beatles, the Clash and Oasis rolled into one. To this day they remain the only Hong Kong band to have made the transition from underground obscurity to mainstream stardom. From their first single?1987's Songs of Yesterday? They've achieved this by espousing an openhearted, socially aware brand of rock that compensates for its occasional ham-fistedness with endearing sincerity. Through 27 albums, their songs of protest and peace have touched on everything from human rights to China's social contradictions to the aspirations of ordinary Hong Kongers. One of their most famous songs, 1990's Days of Glory, is about Nelson Mandela: "Today there's only a battered body left to welcome the days of glory/ Holding on tight to freedom." For many of Hong Kong's apolitical youth, it was the first time they had heard of the South African leader.
Today, sitting in their landmark Kowloon studio? where the walls are covered with two decades of messages from fans? The boys from Letou are in an affable and unapologetic mood. "It's a technique to be able to strike a balance between rock and commercial music," says Paul Wong, the band's 39-year-old guitarist. "Once you decide to produce albums, undergrounders call you rock traitors, but the public doesn't even know who you are yet. Every day you're struggling between commercialization and your dream, which we had to remember very clearly. [That dream] was to change the music industry and the situation [in Hong Kong]."
The record companies didn't make things easy, either. "It's like they kept pouring buckets of cold water over our heads," says Yip Sai-wing, 39, Letou's drummer. "We wrote a lot of songs for them, but they'd always say the songs wouldn't work. Some wouldn't even listen to our songs. They'd just take a look at us and reject us on the spot. We had to make a lot of compromises to meet their requests. We attracted a wide public [later] ... then we were able to slowly turn back to doing what we wanted."
After this weekend's concerts, Letou will embark on a world tour, playing to mainly Chinese audiences in Asia, Australia, Canada and the U.S. "When we feel as if we've performed to all our fans around the world, as a thank you to them, then the tour will end," says Ka-keung. But it looks as though there might be more of Letou on the way. A new generation of devotees is emerging, with many longtime fans now bringing their children to the shows. "Our dream now is to capture the third generation?our fans' grandchildren," laughs Yip. "Then we can be the Hong Kong Rolling Stones." For now, it seems, nothing can stop Letou?not even death.
By CARMEN LEE / HONG KONG
Monday, Jun. 16, 2003
对于香港40岁以下的歌迷来说，Letou 的重要性是毋容置疑的。在很长一段时间内被当今“虚渺”偶像支配的歌迷来说，Letou就像 Beatles（英国的甲克虫乐队）, the Clash 还有Oasis rolled 一样代表着一种精神（这一句不知道怎么翻译）。直到今天，Letou也是香港唯一一支从地下一越成为乐坛主流的乐队。从1987年的单曲《旧日的足迹》开始，他们才被大众所熟知。他们也因为真诚与执着成为了香港的著名乐队，深深打动了乐迷的心。通过27张唱片集，他们充满抗议和和平的的音乐涉及到了在中国的社会现状中关于人权的各个方面，以及一个普通香港人的志向。其中他们最著名的一首歌，创作于1990年的《光辉岁月》是写给伟大的南非黑人领袖曼德拉的：“今天只有残留的驱壳，迎接光辉岁月，风雨中抱紧自由”对于那些并不关心政治的青少年来说，这是他们第一次听到南非领袖的故事。