Hong Kong DJ 'Uncle' Ray Cordeiro still plays and breaks records at 90

Ray Cordeiro is recognised as the 'world's most durable DJ' and has seen it all in his decades-long career - but don't ask him to sing karaoke

PUBLISHED : Monday, 29 December, 2014, 5:20am
UPDATED : Monday, 29 December, 2014, 8:19am

For a measure of Hong Kong music guru Ray Cordeiro's longevity, consider this: as a young DJ of 29, he hosted a radio talent show called Talent Time, in which a young British serviceman by the name of Terry Parsons took part and won week after week. The year was 1953, and the young serviceman would later change his name to Matt Monro and earn the nickname the "Man with the Golden Voice" as he recorded smash hits of the 1960s, including film theme songs Born Free and From Russia With Love.

Six decades on and "Uncle" Ray is still spinning records every night on RTHK's All The Way With Ray as well as making them; since 2000 he has been recognised as the "world's most durable radio DJ".

"Every night I go to the studio to do my show, I don't feel 90 but just an ordinary human being," says Cordeiro, who celebrated his 90th birthday earlier this month. "I don't think about my age as I am still very fit, and thank God I still have my voice to do the show that keeps me going until 90."

Born in Wan Chai to a large Portuguese family, Cordeiro has seen local and international stars come and go, like Canto-pop diva Anita Mui Yim-fong, who wasn't even born until a decade after that 1953 talent show.

"Her low, deep and soulful voice impressed me, and she really knew how to sing," Cordeiro said of the iconic singer, who died in 2003.

Mui is not the only star Cordeiro saw rise to fame as Canto-pop grew to international prominence.

Singers including the late Roman Tam Pak-sin and Leslie Cheung Kwok-wing, plus a host of local bands, were hitting their peak. But with that generation passing, Canto-pop's golden age has become history.

"You know, taxi drivers are now my biggest fans as they grew up with my music. It's interesting that some asked me to teach people to sing because they don't have a clue what the singers nowadays sing about," he said.

And Cordeiro is in no doubt where the blame lies for today's musical malaise: karaoke.

"When people sing with their eyes following that little dot on the screen, how could they sing with feeling? But that's how the new generation was brought up singing. The result was dry and lifeless."

But music isn't Cordeiro's only passion. He also feels strongly for his lifelong home, the city he loves. He recalls with horror the Japanese invasion of Christmas 1941, when the "droppings" of Japanese planes turned out to be bombs and the family fled for Macau, then a colony of neutral Portugal.

"The Japanese soldiers were rough and rude," he recalls. "My mother and sisters left for Macau first, and I joined them later. When the Japs were closing in on my dad, who was then working for Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank, for information, he had no choice but to join us in Macau."

By the time of the pro-communist riots in 1967, Cordeiro was an established radio personality, having joined Radio Hong Kong, forerunner of RTHK, in 1960. And when his boss asked him to present his Hot 100 show from the roof, he played his part in this piece of local history.

"At that time Radio Hong Kong was in Beaconsfield House, near Garden Road, opposite the Bank of China. What I found at the roof was four large horn speakers mounted there. When I blasted my Hot 100 with the super heavy bass, the music could be heard from the Star Ferry. The propaganda music on the roof of the Bank of China was no match and they shut it down," he says with a laugh.

Cordeiro also saw from his office in Central how the police, with a well-calculated strategy, suppressed the leftist student protesters who grew aggressive after their Macau counterparts succeeded in overcoming the colonial government.

"The British police kept everything very quiet until the moment came and they all came out and broke the protesters in one stroke," he said.

But he sees little resemblance between the riots and this year's student-led Occupy Central protests, on which he has strong views.

"The students are not crazy kids. They are talented college students fighting for a cause for everybody," he said. "But then we need to remember China is a country and Hong Kong is just a city and we can't think ourselves to be so big that China would listen to our appeals. If China would let Hong Kong go with this thing, it would influence the rule in China, and all hell would break loose there."

People in Hong Kong, he said, should believe Beijing was trying to follow the Basic Law.

"In time, we will get our universal suffrage. But don't press it or press your hopes too high. You can't say I want it now and you get it. You just have to wait."

And to him, a protest against Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying was in fact against "the whole of China".

"China has already voiced its opinion on this and I believe China will not do anything bad to Hong Kong. They know Hong Kong is a lively city. What is good for Hong Kong is also good for China," he added.

But for the person who breaks a world record every weeknight, there are just two priorities as he looks forward to the new year.

"My life goes on, music goes on. That makes me very happy."


Ray Cordeiro

1924: Born in Wan Chai

1949: Begins radio career at Radio Rediffusion

1960: Joins Radio Hong Kong, now RTHK

1970: Cultural ambassador at Osaka World Expo; launches All the Way with Ray

1987: Awarded an MBE

1997: Lifetime achievement award from RTHK

2000: Recognised by Guinness World Records

2008: Awarded the Bronze Bauhinia Star

2012: Named an honorary fellow of the Academy for Performing Arts