When they started performing in Hong Kong more than eight years ago, R&B singer Wesley Jamison and rapper Christopher Onoja quickly became tired of being booked in places where they didn’t belong. “Before the 2019 protests, the hip hop scene was really small,” Jamison says. “When we started, the only people that would book us would put us between a set of reggae and drum ’n’ bass. There was no space for us to perform and exist.” Being black artists and part of the non-Cantonese-speaking community further limited their opportunities on the Hong Kong music scene. That is why, in 2017, the pair created Mama Told Me, an event organising company. Its goal is to uplift the Hong Kong hip-hop scene through live concerts, and to share knowledge of the rich culture behind the music genre on an English-language platform. Since its launch, the company has organised more than 30 shows, live and online. Their effort was fuelled by the sharp spike in interest in hip hop in 2019, following the anti-government protests. “Hip hop was born out of struggle and oppression, and that’s why it got so popular during the protests,” Jamison says. How hip hop music inspired Hong Kong restaurant founder to never give up From JB to Txmiyama, Hong Kong’s hip-hop scene resonated with the city’s angry youth during the year-long protests. Artists, such as Doughboy or Matt Force, who had been carrying the scene on their shoulders for years, enjoyed a new and larger audience, and inspired others to finally start their careers. The launch in 2022 of the What’s Good Music Award is the manifestation of this new enthusiasm for hip hop. Onoja explains that having English-language platforms is essential for a diverse and healthy music scene for the city. “On one hand, it’s the language that most ethnic minorities use. On the other hand, it’s the language international acts use when coming to Hong Kong.” The rapper understands that Hong Kong is very capitalistic, as is its music industry, but says: “Hip hop is not a product, it’s a culture, and we’re really trying to share it with people. “Everybody making money out of hip hop in Hong Kong has a responsibility to share that culture.” Jamison says that, as two black men, they get “validation” instantly on the local hip-hop scene, as most of the icons in the genre are black and people are making that connection. “But we also get this impostor syndrome as two foreigners in Hong Kong. That’s why we’re trying to connect with the local scene, and to collaborate with as many locals as possible,” he explains. The motto of Mama Told Me has always been to connect people. “Our goal is to organise an event with good music and a diverse crowd,” Jamison says. “If you had fun with people that do not look like you, then we succeeded.” And this includes pushing collaborations, even when they’re not expected. “We’re the ones coming to Hong Kong, it is normal that we’re the first to reach out,” Jamison says. We have a unique platform where we can fight segregation and create unity through celebrating hip hop. That’s magic Christopher Onoja The artists, who are teachers by day, observe the way music and art are being taught today – or not – and how that affects the scene. “As teachers here, we see that art isn’t encouraged in kids’ education. The people that make it today in the music scene deserve respect, because it goes against everything we taught them at school ,” Onoja says. Whether it’s through their events, solo career or their collective, Xabitat, collaborations with local artists – most of their performers are from ethnic minorities – are flowing. “We have a unique platform where we can fight segregation and create unity through celebrating hip hop. That’s magic,” Onoja says. And the magic should continue in 2023, with the collective bringing more international acts to the city.