Bringing can-do to Canto

Bringing can-do to Canto

J.Arie once curbed her passion for music. Now her debut album is part of a plan to change Hong Kong pop

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J.Arie is more than meets the eye.
J.Arie is more than meets the eye.
Photo: Paul Yeung

Rachel Lui is talented beyond her singing and songwriting, which she does under the name of J.Arie. The name implies "just do my best every day", which already radiates a certain positivity.

The star, also known as J.Arie, who will be 24 on Monday, has reason to be positive, as she is also a woman of achievement. She completed grade eight on the piano exam of the Royal Schools of Music when she was in Form Three. Last year, she earned her law degree from the University of Hong Kong after years of hard work.

Now she has a vision, and one of her goals is to revolutionise Hong Kong pop music in a positive way, because she says the sound needs something new and fresh.

"After Youth Anthem by Alfred Hui, I feel like Hongkongers are ready to embrace some moderate-paced, groovy tracks, different from the usual break-up stuff," J.Arie says in an interview with Young Post.

When J.Arie released her debut album, Soliloquy, last month, it was a reflection of both her keen interest in English literature and awareness of what kind of stamp a first album leaves on the music industry.

"Soliloquy can be associated with Shakespeare, and it's like a monologue and also an aside," she says. "I want my debut record to be my name card, and tell people where I'll be heading in the future."

Her plan has been a long time in the making and is something she kept secret because of her parents' traditional expectations. They made it clear they wanted their daughter to become a professional - which is why she went to law school in the first place - and get married and have a family.

That's why she attended annual inter-class singing contests under cover. She entered a public singing contest in Form Six, and started to let her real passion show.

Although she didn't win, J.Arie got a call from one of the judges asking her to record "demos" - draft versions of songs. Soon, she met Kelvin Ngai, who's now her producer. They worked together on demos for two years, and Paco Wong, Sun Entertainment Culture's managing director, offered her a contract after listening to just three of her demos.

J.Arie says she's gained confidence through her creative chemistry with Ngai. She wrote two of the seven original tracks in Soliloquy and learned pop piano.

She calls the album acoustic, but to her, it's more than just crisp guitar sounds. "To me, it's about the uniqueness of the singer's voice getting heard because of minimised instruments," she says.

When she talks of the changes to Hong Kong pop that she wants to bring, J.Arie says her taste is a mixture of different styles "such as classic ballads. I love to listen to classics in English from the '60s to the '80s, as well as Canto-pop. I'm also a big fan of Motown, which boasts strong rhythms that sound groovy."

If J.Arie is able to let her style and can-do spirit shine through, Hong Kong pop may never be the same.

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