Home > Culture > Music > Tuning In: How IKA turned heartbreak into Made-in-Hong-Kong R&B heat
Tuning In: How IKA turned heartbreak into Made-in-Hong-Kong R&B heat

Born and raised in the 852, IKA dishes on her conservative Chinese background, changing the ratio of female artists in hip-hop and R&B and her vision to inspire others.

IKA is a woman on a mission.

Born and raised in Hong Kong, a place where creative pursuits aren’t always encouraged, the singer, songwriter and dancer is turning a lifetime spent expressing herself into a musical career inspired by fierce female artists, like Janet Jackson, Mariah Carey and Beyoncé, who paved the way for the next generation — something she aims to do in her own way, as well.

“My vision is to inspire people by sharing my life experiences and stories in my art and music,” she says.

While she didn’t grow up in a family of musicians, per se, creativity runs in her DNA. She’s the latest in a line of creatively inclined women — her mom was drawn to fashion; her grandmother, to art — who weren’t afraid to embrace and feed their right-brained nature. However, it was through music and the global experience of living in Hong Kong that gave IKA a cultural education that went beyond just what she got at home.

“Coming from a conservative Chinese family, I doubted myself a lot with topics such as womanhood, femininity and intimacy as I grew up,” she says. “However, as I made friends with the locals and internationals, I learned a lot of different cultures by going to music parties.”

That music and culture got into her system. Self-taught, she has been singing (and dancing) to other people’s songs all her life. But ultimately, it was heartbreak that helped her find her own songs, and voice — one that feels tailor-made for R&B bops and ballads alike.

With three singles, “925“, “LAVA” and “Slow Down, Babe?” getting plenty of spins on Spotify, she’s a regular on Hong Kong playlists like “852 Rising“, and it’s clear this rising star is just getting warmed up.

Is IKA your name / nickname / stage name? How did you come up with it?

People call me IKA by nickname, and I wanna keep it the same on stage.

What’s the first track we should listen to that best defines your sound?

“Slow Down, Babe?” Hip-hop is the recent genre I’m developing, but R&B, soul and ballads are my solid foundation.

Did you grow up around music? Does it run in your family?

I grew up having creativity people in the family: My mom loves fashion, my grandma loves art, I love music.

What was your first instrument or training with music?

I can’t say I’m trained. I tried guitar and ukulele, but for now, I’d like to focus on vocals.

What’s the first song you’ve ever learned by heart?

Beyoncé – “If I Were A Boy”

When did you realise you were musical? Can you pinpoint a formative moment when you realised you were good?

I’ve been singing and dancing all my life; I’ve always expressed myself that way. But it was my first heartbreak that made me write songs.

How have different cultural influences in your life shaped you as a musician?

Coming from a conservative Chinese family, I doubted myself a lot with topics such as womanhood, femininity and intimacies as I grew up. However, as I make friends with people with the locals and internationals, I learn a lot of different cultures by going to music parties.

I think music is meant to be multi-cultural, having the openness to be experimental with the styles is the fun part of creating it.

What’s a song/album/performance that had a really important, lasting impact on you, both personally and as an artist?

Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814. I had it tattooed on my left wrist; it’s an album that addresses social issues. I wanna make music that makes people reflect on our city — which I tattooed on my right wrist.

What sorts of challenges have you faced working in the music industry?

I think it’s the ratio of female singers and rappers!

What does music, or being a musician, mean to you?

It’s living a lifestyle being passionate in what you do, it’s definitely required consistency and perseverance and patience. You need to push yourself to work very hard and late night at studios. But it’s also very rewarding and fulfilling.

Is there anyone — especially around Hong Kong — whose work you’re currently really excited about?

I like Novel Friday’s vibe, his style is very mellow and chill R&B.

What’s your creative process?

I just try to vibe with the beat first, see if something comes up and write it down.

Stay tuned in to IKA on YouTube and Spotify and follow her on Instagram here.

Photography: LC
Makeup: Jeff Lee
Hair Styling: King Lee

Tuning In: How IKA turned heartbreak into Made-in-Hong-Kong R&B heat

Nathan Erickson


Born in Seoul and based in Hong Kong, Nathan has been writing about culture, style and food for some of the world's biggest publications for over a decade. He likes Canon lenses and the films of Chow Yun Fat.

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