In “Tuning In”, we delve into the lives and loves of the people behind the tracks you love — and the ones they love, as well. In this edition, we talk to independent singer Clara Li.
When Clara Li puts her mind to something, nothing can stop her.
Many of us dreamed of becoming a pop-star when we sang our hearts out to our childhood idols. Then life happened and the memories of those CD boxsets and rugged posters that meant the world to us faded away like it was from another lifetime. But not for Clara Li. Ever since she was growing up in Canada, Li was already mesmerised by her father’s HiFi set and developed a strong passion for pop music.
Li was determined to create the sound she wants — pop songs on High Fidelity (HiFi) music systems. Thus, she began her journey to “HiFi Pop”. Like every other entrepreneur, artist, or anyone who sets out on their own paths, Li heard the word “no” — many times. The road to success is never easy and Li knew this, but she wasn’t ready to give up. After a decade of perfecting her voice and finding the right support, both technically and emotionally, her debut album, If You Could Believe, finally came together.
As I sat down at Li’s album-sharing party, the first track they played was a recording of a cover from a cassette tape that Li did when she was a teenager. The sound quality and her techniques have, of course, improved a long way since, but from that raw performance, it was the same passion and energy that was shining through from the singer in front of our eyes. The event was not a typical press announcement; but a celebration for that little girl jamming in her bedroom and how she fought hard to make her dream come true.
Tuning In: Clara Li
How do you describe yourself as a musician?
I call myself a HiFi Pop artist. Since childhood, I envisioned producing my own album a decade ago and, throughout my musical journey, I found my niche. To combine the essence of both audiophile and pop music with enhanced dynamic range, clarity, and authentic vocals with fuller arrangements — this is what I call “HiFi Pop”.
What’s the first track someone should listen to get introduced to your sound?
“If You Could Believe” — this is my original song with a deep personal resonance. It is the inner voice that has helped me gather the strength and courage to realise my lifelong dream of making and producing music. This song is a love letter to anyone who dares to dream — follow your passion and always believe in yourself!
What was your first training with music? Did you grow up around music? Does it run in your family?
Growing up, I loved listening to pop songs on the radio and my father’s HiFi system. He had a diverse vinyl collection, from country, to pop, to classical. I would spend hours studying the vinyl artwork and production credits. I played the piano, flute and clarinet. But deep down, I knew that singing was my true calling and ultimate passion.
When did you realise you were musical? Can you pinpoint a formative moment when you realised you were good?
When I was 9 years old, my music teacher handpicked me to sing in various solo competitions, perform in shopping malls and star in school productions. These kind of opportunities continued throughout high school. When I was 18, I was scouted to enter a beauty pageant because the organisers believed that it would be a good platform to showcase my vocal talent. It was then that I realised I could develop my passion for singing.
How have different cultural influences in your life shaped you as a musician?
I was born in Hong Kong and raised in Canada. While I was growing up, I loved watching Cantonese soap operas and listening to the iconic idols of the 80s, such as Anita Mui, Leslie Cheung and Alan Tam. I was also very much influenced by North American music and culture. This broadened my musical horizons and laid the foundations for my musical taste and style.
What’s a song (or album; or performance) that had a really important, lasting impact on you?
“The Greatest Love of All” by Whitney Houston. It’s such a powerful song that gave me the strength to follow my heart and not to follow in anyone’s shadow. In 2019, I took a great leap and performed this song with the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra.
Who’s your favorite musician / artist? Name up to three and how they inspired you.
The Carpenters, Madonna and Anita Mui. They touched me with their distinctive voices, artistic expression, and extraordinary talent. Throughout the years, they inspired me to find my own voice and style.
Are there any other artists in Hong Kong that inspire you?
I like AGA’s soft, soulful R&B singing and songwriting style. Her ballads are so romantic, perfect for some alone and dream time. I also like Gareth T’s smooth R&B songs about candid daily life issues. The juxtaposition of the melodies and the lyrics gives the songs a fresh presentation.
What’s your creative process?
I like to work at night and under pressure. It’s kind of weird, but the stress puts me in balance to focus on my work instead of the anxiety. This is when I am most creative.
What’s your favourite lyric, ever?
From Whitney Houston’s “The Greatest Love of All”: “I decided long ago / Never to walk in anyone’s shadows / If I fail, if I succeed / At least I’ll live as I believe / No matter what they take from / They can’t take away my dignity“
These lyrics inspired me to never give up on my dream of producing my own album. We are in charge of our own fate, and whether our decisions lead to failure or success, at least we have chosen the path ourselves. So in the end, we are responsible for our own actions, and there’s no regret and nothing to blame.
Do you have any pre- or post-show rituals?
For my pre-show ritual, I go to my therapist for a lymphatic massage and infrared sauna to drain out the toxins in my body and to boost my immune system. The anticipation of performing gives me stress, so I need to sweat it out and relax. Post-show, I treat myself to some ketchup chips and fine chocolate!
Where can we catch you performing?
I will be a guest performer at the Central Market on October 29 for a youth talent show organised by the Home Affairs Department.
What’s next, what are you working on?
I launched my debut album If You Could Believe this August and it was number one for three consecutive weeks on the International chart at CD Warehouse. Due to popular demand, I’ve modified the printing and packaging for the 2nd print release, with an additional graphic of a magic wand and bird that symbolises that dreams do come true if you follow your passion and never give up.
My next goal is to produce a vinyl record for the album which will take some time because of the massive demand over supply. In the meantime, I will explore producing new songs and hope to perform at more live shows and a mini concert. Please stay tuned!