Those seeing Soler for the first time are often amazed even before the Macau-born twins start to play. With their Italian-Myanmese features, you wouldn't necessarily assume they were proficient in Cantonese. The pop-rock duo actually have seven languages under their belts - including Putonghua.
The Acconci brothers, now based in Hong Kong, refuse to be considered foreigners. 'We speak Chinese,' is the first thing Julio says after we meet.
On their debut album, Stereo Sound, which was released last week, there are six Cantonese numbers, three Putonghua songs and two in English. The twins, who wrote all the music and the English lyrics, invited rocker Paul Wong Koon-chung to write the Chinese lyrics.
The duo have been doing a lot of live shows, and are due to perform in Tsim Sha Tsui's M1 Bar and Central's Red Rock next week, to promote the new disc.
The brothers say launching their career in Hong Kong has been a long, tough journey. 'We were naive about how the industry works,' says Julio, the older sibling. 'Over the years, we've made a lot of mistakes - but nothing we couldn't fix. So here we are today with a simple and straightforward album.'
Encouraged by their Myanmese mother, the self- taught musicians started to play the harmonica and organ when they were kids. But when their father died when they were 15, the twins moved from Macau to Italy. On top of having to learn another language, they also struggled to fit into an environment where they were seen as foreigners. However, Italy proved to be a valuable lesson in social etiquette.
'We weren't looking for people to understand us. But we learnt their ways and tried to adapt,' says guitarist and vocalist Dino.
The brothers continued to play music. They performed to a 20,000-strong crowd at the International Youth Festival Genfest, but didn't think about taking it up professionally until 1996. 'We had this vision of us in front of a huge audience, singing in different languages - which is what we do now,' Dino says.
They started making phone calls. 'We knew that if you wanted in, you had to start at the bottom,' Dino says. Eventually, they were signed to EMI Italy in 1996. Although they released a single, Tears in Your Hands, in Europe in 1998, an album was never released. 'It was a major blow,' says Julio. 'We prepared two years for the album and it didn't come out. We thought 'Oh my god, it's not that simple'.'
During a holiday in Macau the next year the twins thought about returning to Asia. Dino met musician Jun Kung who later introduced him to former Beyond guitarist Paul Wong.
Since then, Dino has worked with Kung, as well as written and produced for singers such as Eason Chan Yik-shun, Faye Wong and Edmond Leung Hon-man. He's also performed in Wong's band, Hann. Julio has worked as a graphic and web designer to let Dino focus on music.
It seems to be paying off. Earlier this year, Soler secured a contract with fledgling record company Humming Bird.
They say they hope to represent a new generation in China. 'If you're born in China, why can't you be Chinese?' asks Julio. 'We're pushing the boundaries of ethnicity.'
Soler, July 27, 10pm, M1 Bar, TST; July 28, 10pm, Red Rock, Lan Kwai Fong