Updated: May 3, 2021
1. What is your name and your profession(s)? My artist name is Cy Leo. My Chinese name spelled in English is Ho Cheuk Yin. I am a performer, recording artist, composer, song-writer, producer, teacher, artistic director and founder of a record label. My main instrument is harmonica.
2. What is your ethnic background and what is your citizenship (US native or naturalized etc.)? I am a Hong Kong citizen (living in the US).
3. Are either/both of your parents musicians or somehow involved in the music industry? My father is a surgeon, but also an amateur harmonicist. My mother is a occupational therapist but also an amateur French Horn Player.
4. Please tell us a little bit about your experience, either growing up as an AAPI in America, or as a person of Asian descent who immigrated to America, whichever applies. I moved to New York this year to pursue my master degree at New York University. The major reason for the move is to allow myself to step into the music circle in New York. I arrived here at one of New York's lowest moments, during the COVID-19 pandemic and a rise in anti-Asian hate crimes. However, I still appreciate the energy of the city and the quality of music everywhere that makes the city extremely attractive, regardless of the current social instability.
5. How connected do you feel to your heritage/culture(s)? Technically, I am Chinese. However, as I was born and raised in Hong Kong, so I feel connected to the Hong Kong culture in particular. The culture of Hong Kong is basically a mix of western and oriental as it was colonised by the British since 1842 till 1997.
6. 6a. How did you get into music? Did you major in music in college? Where did you attend college/university (and grad school(s), if applicable) and in what subjects did you get your degree(s)? 6b.) When and how did you decide you were going to pursue music professionally? What were your parents’ reactions to you deciding to pursue music? Do they support your music career now? My father is in a world class harmonica quintet called the King’s Harmonica Quintet. I was raised in a musical family surrounded by top harmonicists. Very naturally I picked up the harmonica as a toy when I was a baby, and I still play now. My first degree was occupational therapy in Hong Kong Polytechnic University. I knew I wanted to work as musician if possible since I was in high school, but no one ever made a career as a full time harmonicist in Hong Kong before me. So I wanted to get a degree in the medical field as my backup plan. I was fortunate enough to be able to start touring around the world at cruises, music festivals and concerts after my graduation. And of course, earn a living. So my parents have been very supportive, especially since I am essentially walking the path which my father would have wanted to pursue himself.
7. What are a few of your (music) projects of which you are the proudest? What were your roles on those projects? Beyond those projects, please feel free to name some of your other credits as well as any brands/companies you officially endorse. One of my proudest moments was winning first place in the World Harmonica Festival 2013 Test Piece Solo Category, which is regarded as the highest calibre of harmonica solo competition in the world at that time--some might say that’s the World Championship. I am also proud of the album that I created in 2020 called the Angel & Demon. I composed all of the music in the album that is highly related to the social movement we had in Hong Kong during 2020. Musically I believe I have taken harmonica music to an area that no one has ever discovered. I incorporated classical, jazz, progress rock and cinematic music in all the compositions.
I directed and performed at a classical fusion online concert for which I was invited by the Hong Kong government during the pandemic. I worked together with a visual designer to create a multimedia show.
I appeared at Ruel’s single ‘Face To Face’, Cory Wong’s single ‘Overcome’, Hollywood Movie Crood 2’s sound track, Joey Yung’s single ‘ Gone with the Flare’ and many more.
8. Describe your dream project. My dream music project is to perform a concert with all of my original work with a fusion orchestra and visual designer.
9. What are some obstacles you have encountered (if any) being an AAPI in the music world? What are some obstacles you have encountered (if any) as an AAPI in general (non-music)? Conversely, has being an AAPI ever helped you in the music industry? For instance, I seldom see Asians being nominated for or awarded a Grammy. While there is a lot of discussion about race in music (especially about conflicts between those who are black & and those who are white), Asians are often left out of the discussion.
10. 10a.) Who are some AAPI musicians/composers/producers who have previously inspired and currently inspire you (if any)? Why? Ryuichi Sakamoto and Hiromi because they are able to connect with audiences of different races through music. 10b.) What are your hopes for the AAPI music community and your hopes for AAPIs in general? I hope that the AAPI community can find their role and position clearer in society--having a role as insiders (no longer considered "outsiders") which also can contribute to the greatness of the society.
11. If you could give advice now to your younger teenage self, what would you tell her/him/they? Trust your instinct and work hard.
12. Do you have any upcoming projects for which you are excited and about which you are allowed to share? Is there anything non-music-related on the horizon about which you would like to share? I am planning to base in New York and Hong Kong in long term. While many are happening in Hong Kong as usual, I will actively be collaborating with numerous artists in New York from different musical genre. I am hoping after covid I can produce new original albums with few of my favourite musicians in New York and resume my life as a touring musician.
13. Name one or two non-music-related things/subjects about which you are also passionate. My 2nd biggest passion at the moment is snowboarding. I started snowboarding 3 years ago and got addicted to it. In fact, one of the major reason I am in the state is that there’s snow that I could never have in Hong Kong. Meanwhile, I have always been active in the sports field. I played for the field hockey Hong Kong U21 team when I was 17. I also love cycling, wakesurfing, basketball, badminton, hiking and skateboarding.
14. Any final thoughts? Alternatively, do you have any questions for me and/or the greater AAPI music community? Do you think AAPIs have a disadvantage in the US music business?
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Spotify: Cy Leo
Photo provided by Cy Leo