Society

Limited sax appeal

Jazz star lampooned over Hong Kong antics

U.S. jazz musician and saxophonist Kenny G performs during a concert in Hong Kong

Sax, rather than foot, in mouth

Who needs tear gas when Kenny G will turn up and clear the streets for you?

That was one of the jokes in cyberspace last week after the ‘smooth jazz’ star was photographed flashing victory signs and talking to demonstrators at Hong Kong’s pro-democracy street protests (see WiC256), which are now into their fifth week. This struck a bum note for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing, which quickly slapped the artist down.

“Kenny G’s musical works are widely popular in China, but China’s position on the illegal Occupy Central activities in Hong Kong is very clear,” a spokeswoman told a news briefing, adding that foreign governments and individuals shouldn’t support the Occupy Central activities in any form.

The American quickly ditched the offending photos on Twitter and reassured the authorities of his innocence.

“I am not supporting the demonstrators as I don’t really know anything about the situation and my impromptu visit to the site was just part of an innocent walk around Hong Kong,” he explained.

“I only wanted to share my wish for peace for Hong Kong and for all of China as I feel close to and care about China very much.”

Kenny G is very big in China – even the foreign mnistry has heard of him, it seems – and he played four concerts there in September.

But the international media had most of its fun picking up on a story from the New York Times in May, which described how the musician’s 1989 hit Going Home is played to customers in shopping centres across China as a means to warn them that the malls are about to shut for the day.

“All I know is when they play this song, it’s quitting time,” a Beijing health club manager told the newspaper.

That prompted online joshing that the saxophonist was working as a double agent in Hong Kong in the hope that protesters would get the message and start to disperse.

The musician – whose real name is Kenneth Gorelick – seemed nonplussed by events, telling The Atlantic magazine that he has no interest in politics. “I spend way more time practicing the saxophone than I do thinking about this. I don’t take myself that seriously. I practice very hard, and I try to be the best saxophone player I can be,” he insisted.

That might be just as well as the Hong Kong newspapers were reporting last week that Chinese authorities could blacklist entertainers who show support for the Occupy movement. A number of Cantopop stars from the city have expressed their sympathy, as have well-known actors like Chow Yun-fat, Andy Lau and Tony Leung.

These acts of treachery deserved flaming rebuke, as far as a commentary from Xinhua was concerned. “You have violated the principles of ‘one country, two systems’, challenged the authority of the central Party, ignored the Basic Law, and earned fistfuls of cash only then to turn and scold your motherland,” it finger-wagged. “Don’t think that you can eat our food and smash our pots at the same time.”

Elsewhere, the Hong Kong media has been reporting rifts among its local stars over their responses to the unrest, with one film director pointedly turning his back on former friends who have supported the Occupy protests.

“We have worked well together in the past and I respect your right to hold political views. But I absolutely do not agree,” Wong Jing told a group of celebrity colleagues via his Sina Weibo account. “To avoid embarrassment, your contact details will be erased from my phone and my computer. Have a happy life.”

Back in mainland China, netizens have sounded off about the rebellious stars too.

“I’ve suddenly realised that Chow Yun-fat is a traitor! We must ban him!” a hot-tempered contributor implored.

“We shouldn’t allow any of the stars that support the demonstrations to do business in China,” a calmer voice suggested. “Let them know they are nothing without their Party ‘Mom’.”

But Kenny G also came in for some caustic treatment for appearing to bend so quickly to Beijing’s will.

“So the saxophone player changed his mind immediately after the Communist Party’s warning?” laughed one netizen from the mainland. “His character is as weak as his music.”

In Hong Kong the reception was also scathing. “We didn’t leave when the police used tear gas on us. Why would a single Kenny G tune shake our determination?” asked one widely retweeted comment.


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