Chris Polanco is a musician in Hong Kong. Despite coming to Hong Kong without speaking any English nor Cantonese, he rose above the odds to become one of the most successful musicians in Hong Kong. He plays with Eason Chan, Andy Lau, Maria Cordero, Jackie Chan, Andy Lau, Miriam Yeung, and Joey Yung, among others.
In this article, Chris shares his musical journey, the challenges he faced, & his advice to aspiring musicians.
Did you always want to be a musician?
When I was very young and going to church with my family, I saw music and always got very excited about it. I knew it was my call. However, I never expected to make a career and a living out of it. I never thought about that.
I went to university and got a degree in Computer Science/IT. When I finished my studies, I started learning about music and performing. I also worked as a music teacher in a few schools in the Dominican Republic.
What brings you to Hong Kong?
In 1998, I got the chance to perform at the Sheraton Hotel, Santo Domingo, in the Dominican Republic. Amongst the audience, there was this French lady, called Beatrice Zessac. After the performance, she approached me and said: "I'm in charge of bringing musicians to Ocean Park, in Hong Kong. Are you interested in performing out of the Dominican Republic?” I thought to myself, “Why not?” So, I agreed, and two years later, in 2000, I moved to Hong Kong. So, I am forever grateful to Beatrice.
Tell us about your music career.
After I completed my contract at Ocean Park, luckily, I got a job through a good family friend at the Dominican Consulate, where I worked for two years.
Six months later, as I was working at the Consulate, I created my own band, Azucar Latina. I also started learning the local languages because I only spoke Spanish when I first came to Hong Kong. I did a lot of networking as well because I want to pursue my music in parallel with my full-time job.
After about two years of working at the Dominican Consulate, I quit. I then started working as a manager at Cayote, where I worked for two and a half years. During that period, Azucar Latina started playing at Coyote every Saturday, and in some other places in parallel.
One day, when I was playing in Macau, one gentleman, John Kung, a fellow musician, came and saw my performance. He liked my music and invited me to play at one of his shows. I also met a friend, Maria Cordero, who was a very versatile and powerful singer. She introduced me to that world by giving me some gigs as well. From then on, more and more people knew us. However, the first big project I partook in was with Eason Chan, in 2010. Since then, everybody has been calling me for gigs, and I travelled the world for many World Tours.
What are the challenges of being a musician in Hong Kong?
Even though one can face several obstacles as a new musician in Hong Kong, honestly, I don't see many challenges in my case, as I can handle and play a variety of music.
Apart from working as a full-time musician, I was also a full-time agent, since my company was an event organizer and planner. I also wrote and produced music for Universal Music, in Hong Kong, and invested in a couple of projects in the country.
For the last ten years, most of my jobs were related to Cantonese music in Hong Kong. Basically, I play, produce, and write music for Cantonese people. I also work alongside top singers and some top music producers in Hong Kong.
What do you think is the key to your success?
Besides loving music and being passionate about it, I think my open-mindedness and friendliness are keys to my success. However, I also have a business mind. For instance, I choose to play Latin music, and I use my name as my brand name. Now, everyone in Hong Kong knows Polanco.
I also make plans for the future, and save and invest in different projects.
Besides, I make time to learn the local languages well. Like I said earlier, when I first came to Hong Kong, I could only speak Spanish. But soon, I learned English, Cantonese, and Mandarin. I can now speak fluently and write a few words, like my name. I can even play Mahjong. I think this speeds up the process of building connections and trust with the people here. It also makes things easier when I work or write music with Cantonese artists.
What big lessons did you learn when you first moved to Hong Kong?
When I moved to Hong Kong, the first barrier I encountered was the language. I, however, identified with the culture when I arrived here. It was like a natural thing to me.
But, a few things were a little shocking for me. For example, I come from the Dominican Republic, a warm place where people always party, smile, are happy, and think about the present rather than the future. They are relaxed. It is the opposite in Hong Kong. Everything here is fast-paced. It was a little shocking when I first heard people speaking, like the taxi driver who spoke to me. I thought he was angry at me. I was so scared in the beginning.
I came to understand that it's a cultural thing and now, I am used to it. People in Hong Kong later proved to be very kind and honest.
What do you think you have achieved as a musician?
I can proudly say that I launched my first album in 2003. It was Latin music, and it hit. I released my second album in 2011, in which I collaborated with some Hong Kong pop stars. My purpose was to show that a crossover between Latin music and Cantonese or English music was good.
One of our biggest achievements was producing a song called ‘Tequila’ for Eason Chan. Another achievement was signing with Universal Music, in 2019. Other projects we’ve done include creating, producing, and writing a lot of music. We have also held a lot of online shows and concerts during the pandemic.
We also did a lot of world tours with different artists. However, due to the pandemic, some of our world tours had to be postponed.
Who have you collaborated with, and where did you go on your world tours?
I did a six-year concerts tour with Eason Chan. We went to so many places and towns in China that we've never heard of before. In Asia, we also gave our concerts to Malaysia and Singapore. In Europe, we went to London, France, and Germany. On the other side, we performed in Australia and New Zealand. And on the American side, we put on many shows in the Eastern and Western parts and toured a few places in Canada. We gave concerts in every part of the world.
I worked with many big names, including Sandy Lam, Maria Cordero, Jackie Cheung, Andy Lau, Miriam Yeung, Yang Jin, Wa, and Joey Yung, among others.
I've also worked with some of the biggest names in Hong Kong and Taiwan, like Arlene, A-Mei, Na-Ying from China, Tanya from Singapore, and Gin Lee from Malaysia, among many others.
What is your current plan?
I have to hold my current plan. We were supposed to go on three world tours, but we could not proceed due to the pandemic. So, for now, we are focusing on creating, producing, and writing a lot of music.
What is your advice to aspiring musicians?
My message for them is to keep loving music and never give up. Take your time, and do something else on the side that can also be related to music. And as soon as you can, invest, save, and don't waste all of your money.
Never stop creating, don’t wait, and be at the top of your game.
Everything comes back to the same point; this is what people call hard times. We have to learn, from these hard times, that life is very fragile and music is one of the channels to bring happiness to people.
So, we have a big responsibility, as musicians, to keep people’s spirits up and keep ourselves up. Things will be okay, let's hang in there. If you have to change your job and go to work in construction, do it. Don't feel embarrassed about doing your thing to survive. And later, you can go back to doing whatever you do with music.
If you have a talent, express it to people and don't give up.
More video on Chris Polanco and Azucar Latina. To connect with Chris Polanco, please visit here.