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Once a Canto-pop singer, Josie Ho has fronted the rock band Josie Ho & The Uni Boys for a decade.

Hong Kong rocker Josie Ho celebrates 10th anniversary with the Uni Boys with two concerts

After a shaky start in Canto-pop, Ho turned to rock music, and 10 years on her band Josie Ho & the Uni Boys are staging two concerts that she says are a psychedelic musical journey and celebration of life

Life can be a bittersweet symphony – and Josie Ho Chiu-yee knows this well.

The daughter of Macau casino mogul Stanley Ho Hung-sun and an award-winning actress, Ho has had her share of ups and downs, particularly in her career as an aspiring rock star.

This is the story she wants to share during the upcoming shows titled “We Go Berzerka Explode into Life”, two concerts being held early next month to celebrate the 10th anniversary of her band, Josie & The Uni Boys.

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Ho wants people to know she’s not just planning to stage a regular rock concert.

“It is a psychedelic musical journey that celebrates life and the search for blissful energy,” says Ho. We put together a set list made up of our songs charting the history of our group of friends.

“In a way, it is a reflection of Hong Kong and it is also my story. This is my way to vent my anger and frustration.”

Ho says it has taken her nearly 20 years to find her own voice.

Josie Ho & The Uni Boys.
The first hurdle to overcome was convincing her father to let her become a singer and an actress. She released her debut album, Rebellion, in Mandarin in 1994, followed by the 1996 Canto-pop title Ho Ka Suk Nui (“Whose Family’s Lady?/Lady from the Ho Family – the Chinese title has a double meaning), which won her the award for best new artist at the RTHK Top 10 Gold Songs Awards.

Everything seemed to be going well.

Ho in 1996. Photo: Edward Wong

“I was signed to Capital Artists at the time and they did not expect me to become a pop superstar. They let me be an edgy singer who was different from the mainstream,” she recalls.

“But then a new boss came and the team I was working with was fired. I didn’t know what to do. I was a newbie and very timid. I did not dare to speak my mind as I was trying to please the new boss.”

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Ho says she got on well with her new boss at first and was confident about her singing career. But then she sang out of tune during a public performance and things started going south.

My family even told me to leave Hong Kong so that I wouldn’t make them look bad. They didn’t know how to help me
Josie Ho

“I had so much bad press. I was grilled by the media for a week. Then the management told me that I could not sing live any more. ‘We cannot afford to lose our reputation’, they said.”

But Ho didn’t give up. Rising singers are often invited to perform at shopping malls and Ho made a counterproposal: “Can I sing live in the New Territories [instead of top-tier shopping malls]?” she asked her boss.

Josie Ho & The Uni Boys
The initial answer was no, but one of her producers secretly helped line up a performance at Sha Tin New Town Plaza. Ho thought this was her chance, but nerves kicked in and she lost confidence. “I had to hide myself behind these huge black sunglasses.”

In the wake of this second setback, Ho took a long hiatus from singing. “My family even told me to leave Hong Kong so that I wouldn’t make them look bad. They didn’t know how to help me,” Ho says.

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It was her friends from the world of rock music who showed her there was hope. She met members of bands such as LMF and actor-producer Conroy Chan, who later became her husband, and they took her under their wing.

Ho started attending band rehearsals and started learning about rock music. She even started singing backing vocals. She worked with a voice coach, who told her: “That’s your voice. You’d have no luck with Canto-pop.”

Josie Ho & The Uni Boys
She formed Josie & The Uni Boys and began singing songs that felt like a true reflection of herself. The five-piece band have released albums including Third Eye (2011), The Electrifying Supernatural Lady Land (2014), and a single, Ho Piu Yi (2017), featuring lyrics by two of Hong Kong’s most prominent lyricists, Wyman Wong and Andrew Lam Man-chung.

“Looking back, I should thank the record label boss for telling me the truth. If it wasn’t for him, I’d never have found my own universe.”

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Ho’s upcoming shows will feature lighting and projection directed by theatre veteran Jimmy Lee and multimedia designer John Wong.

Josie Ho, tycoon’s daughter and award-winning actress.
Wong says his role was initially to inject emotion into the show, but the production has evolved into a performance with a message of self-empowerment.

Lee says it isn’t just an artistic and musical narration of Ho’s story. “The audience has to do their part also to get the most out of the show,” Lee says.

Ho adds: “Hongkongers have trouble expressing their emotions and people coming to our shows can find a way to overcome this.”

We Go Berzerka Explode Into Life, April 5-6, 8.30pm, Shouson Theatre, Hong Kong Arts Centre, 2 Harbour Rd, Wan Chai, HK$280-HK$680, Timable

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Singer’s long learning curve in the school of hard rock