Hua Li
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Hua Li

Montréal, Quebec, Canada | Established. Jan 01, 2012 | INDIE

Montréal, Quebec, Canada | INDIE
Established on Jan, 2012
Duo Hip Hop R&B

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Mar
16
Hua Li @ Bar Le Ritz PDB

Montréal, Quebec, Canada

Montréal, Quebec, Canada

Aug
30
Hua Li @ La Vitrola

Montréal, Quebec, Canada

Montréal, Quebec, Canada

Aug
15
Hua Li @ FELIX

Montréal, Quebec, Canada

Montréal, Quebec, Canada

Music

Press


Montreal's Hua Li, who've we posted about on this site before, released a new EP, called Za Zhong, at the end of June on fellow Montrealer's Charlie Twitch's (also known as ¡FLIST!) label, Art Not Love. Za Zhong, all with production by Gloze, abounds with charisma with "Double Trouble" starting things off in a chiming, rippling, swarming, and swarthy manner that flows into "Luxury"'s dithering and teasing nature and grind. Hua Li goes from singing to rapping with palpable panache. Singer Zyhkeira makes a very impressive appearance on "How Bad" with a quick, darting vocal turn amidst the song's wafting backdrop and "Faded in the Night" is snappy and jumpy. Four wonderfully lackadaisical tracks here, all with potent grooves. - No Fear of Pop


With rumbling future-facing sub-bass and laid-back boom bap-flavoured beats, this is the sound of Montreal-based artist Hua Li's new Za Zhong EP. It features cosmic, soul-inspired atmospheres – as in second track, the piano-laden, neo-noir morsel 'Luxury' – seething yet melancholic modern-day voidsomeness practised in 'How Bad' and the general snap of sleek, up-to-date spacey hip-hop spiced with soul and R&B, with the vocals of Hua Li themselves bouncing clear and rapid fire, seemingly from somewhere in the '90s with glorious throwback appeal, above the heady, hazy production of fellow Montrealer, Gloze. - The 405


Hua Li

Growing up in Victoria, Peggy Hogan studied classical piano; at Concordia, she learned jazz singing — both worlds, she says, were “old boys’ clubs.” After releasing a neo-soul album in 2012, she looked to express more “challenging lyrical content,” so she turned to rap. She used her Chinese name, Hua Li “to fully actualize my identity, even if that meant taking on this other character, so I could at least publicly be this person that I wanted to be.” In order to skirt the battle-heavy hip-hop scene — “It just ends up being mostly white men standing around in a circle insulting each other, which is also the entire world,” she laughs — she cut her teeth on Montreal’s indie and electronic bills. On June 23, she will drop her second release, the hip-hop/electro/R’n’B EP, Zazhong, whose title is “a derogatory term for mixed-race people in China; there’s a sense of being monstrous and against nature, and it’s funny because it was also a pet name for me when I was growing up.” Her lyrics celebrate plurality, and “taking back the racial slur.”

Q When you learned to rap, did you transcribe verses by your favourite female MCs just as you transcribed solos in jazz school?

A That’s exactly what I did. I was feeling, “How do I not be culturally appropriative?” We don’t even think about that with jazz anymore. We learn from the masters; we learn the language and put our own sonic signature on that, which is what I wanted to do with rap: integrate, understand the history and the idioms, and do my own thing.

Q Do you think in 2015 hip-hop is becoming more open to people with different points of view and stories?

A We have famous queer rappers now — it’s crazy! But I can’t believe it’s taken until now that we actually talk about misogyny and feminism on such a broad scale — not just in rap music.

Q To what extent can rappers accused of misogyny defend themselves by saying they’re rapping in character?

A The first thing we should ask is, what is the context? [Action Bronson’s hotly debated] “Brunch” starts with “You broke my heart,” so I would much rather that he write a song addressing [this emotion] than actually going and finding this woman and beating her. Is Action Bronson calling people to do this? I would hope not. If you’re media-literate, you don’t go out and do everything you see. For instance, I have a track called “Voodoo,” which is about both physically and magically torturing a rapist. I don’t really believe in voodoo, and this is not what I’m asking people to do; I’m just expressing my anger towards this figure in my life. A theme throughout rap’s ascension is, “Why are people saying these things, brainwashing our youth? They’re violent, celebrating drug use.” Rather than police the artists, why don’t we take the time to say to the youth, “Here’s how we can be media-literate [and] navigate these things.”

Tink plays June 17 and 18, and Hua Li June 17, at NXNE, which runs until June 20. NXNE will be hosting a panel discussion on misogyny in music, A Soundtrack of Violence, June 21. More info available at nxne.com. - National Post


Not quite a year ago, Montreal jazz musician Peggy Hogan had some downtime after releasing a solo album. Idle hands are the devil's tools and Hua Li was born.

Using her Chinese name, Hua Li became Hogan's alter ego, the ultimate bad bitch/femcee who runs the party and has the best makeup. "Hua Li was almost a project in micromanagement, I wanted to see how much i could get done by myself," says Hogan. More recently, she's branched out, including other producers like Tech-zilla on her latest, The Bound Feat Pt. 1. While the production is mainstream quality--- clean, 808 beats back up Hua Li's vocals---the lyrical content is a bit more subversive. A recent tweet had Hua Li claiming she was "making the hip-hop community uncomfortable one queer video at a time," referencing her recent video for "Pinkett," featuring male pole dancers, voguing, lots of glitter and a fascinating "I Like Dick ;)" tattoo.

"I never meant for this to be a platform for my activism or my political belief but it ended up being that way," says Hogan. "One of the first promoters, Rough Diamond, focuses on queer hip-hop, and they put on a show for me. I'm queer identified and the community was there for me, it helped me focus the project. They made me feel at home.

"As a biracial woman, queer-identified, I can't help but be opposed to mainstream hip-hop, especially in Montreal here it's hetero male-dominated. I was against the structure anyway. It's hugely important to me personally to reclaim sexuality and throw that in alternative sexuality in people's faces."

But Hogan says good politics aren't enough, especially if no one wants to shake their ass. "The music comes first regardless of what it's about or what I'm saying, it needs to be of high quality."

Hua Li's dual identity also comes from her biracial background. Hogan says embodying her dualities plays into the project, and it's becoming increasingly difficult to define where Peggy Hogan stops and Hua Li begins. "Hua Li is taking over a little bit," Hogan says, laughing. "I blame all my audacious behaviour on her." - The Coast


Rapper Hua Li (aka Peggy Hogan) – based out of Montréal – who just played with Cakes Da Killa during Pop Montreal, put out her very first video (directed by Eduardo Menz and David J. Romero) late last week for a song called "Pinkett," a production by Teck-Zilla. The song uses the sample from Drake's "Over" where he says, "Bought to set it off in this bitch / Jada Pinkett" (a reference to the late 90s movie "Set It Off" that Jada Pinkett Smith was in with Queen Latifah). The video has quite the cast of characters: two shirtless guys wearing unicorn heads, a male acrobat careening around a stripper pole, a white cat, and boys wearing hats that say "Cake" and "Bad Kid." Top it all off with Hua Li herself putting some of her stripper pole class knowledge to work. Go get her mixtape The Bound Feat. Pt. 1 that came out in June on her bandcamp, and if you're in Montréal tonight, go see her DJ at the Royal Phoenix. - No Fear of Pop


One-woman electro act and queer vocalist Hua Li (aka Peggy Hogan) juggles identities, desires, and musical styles to make complex songs that hover somewhere between bedroom-art and hip-hop. She’ll perform at the inaugural edition of TROUBLE – QUEER GENESIS, the new “it-benefit” with Mikiki at Espace ReUnion, this Sat. Nov 3.

Life and music are inseparable for Peggy Hogan (aka Hua Li), the British Columbian transplant who has graced the stages of many a bar and benefit party in Montréal over the past year. Trained in classical music and jazz, the purple-banged beauty has made a reputation for genre-bending music that is sexy but thoughtful: she uses the idioms of rap, hip-hop and R&B to trick her audience into thinking she’s not singing about anything serious. Although she goes by Peggy Hogan for her main musical project – with a back-up band and everything – she felt she needed a side project to “take back control” while her album To Lie With was being mastered. For the project she strategically uses her Chinese name, Hua Li, billed for the inaugural TROUBLE -GENESIS benefit party for ACCM this Saturday, Nov 3, at Montréal’s Espace ReUnion.


Hua Li (aka Peggy Hogan) Photo by David Romero

“Hua Li is my Chinese name. My whole family experience when I was growing up was Chinese,” she tells me over hot chocolate one rainy evening. “It’s about having this split personality, how much I did feel an identity-split as a child,” she says of her choice to use the name for her side project. Raised on the rainy West Coast by a white Canadian father and Chinese mother, Hogan learned early on that performing her race is something that would mean oscillating between her Mandarin-speaking maternal family, and her mostly white social circle. The notions of split personalities and bicultural origins are central themes for Hua Li, who would have been born in China had it not been for Tienanmen Square, the massive political uprising which caused her parents to come to Canada in 1989. “They were planning on raising me in China, but the Canadian Embassy was like get the fuck out! There might be a civil war, so I was born in Calgary as a result,” she explains with a laugh.

Added to the fluidity of Hua Li’s bicultural heritage is her ambient queerness, something that she says she started exploring more since playing FTM cross-dresser Yitzhak in Hedwig and the Angry Inch with Antonio Bavaro in Fringe Festivals across Canada last year. “My sexuality is still something that I’m actively trying to figure out,” she says, even though the queer community has really made her their own, especially the Rough Diamond Collective, who put her on a pedestal last summer by booking Hua Li to open for NYC queer hip-hop sensation Mykki Blanco.

“Most of my long-term relationships in my life have been with men, but I feel like that’s almost unconsciously because I haven’t come out to my parents yet,” oops! “It’s not so much that I have a preference for men over women – and I don’t feel comfortable referring to my preference in terms of gender,” she clarifies, suggesting that her leaning toward relationships with men isn’t so much innate as it is socialized.

Hua Li’s picture of men seems tainted, although she says not, when you listen to her hypnotic remake of the 1960s ballad “He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss),” written by Carole King for Black American girl-group the Crystals in 1962.

He hit me and it felt like a kiss / He hit me but it didn’t hurt me / He couldn’t stand to hear me say / That I’d been with someone new / So when I told him I had been untrue… / He hit me and it felt like a kiss.

Before you go thinking that Hua Li is making light of misogynist violence, have another listen. As with many of her songs, there’s another layer, a second meaning, and an alternate story. “Hua Li is kind of like me taking control back, and it’s been a huge learning process for me,” Hogan says, referring to her solo project’s eccentric bedroom-art-meets-political-rant vibe. “People are always trying to put me in some kind of box,” she says, a challenge she has met head-on in the unrecorded piece “Eurasian Eyes” which she’ll be singing at TROUBLE this Saturday. “I’m not a fucking Asian Lady Gaga/ I don’t look like Karen O,” the lyrics lash to beats lifted by local DJ Phil Sparkz from a Corey Hart tune. Listen closely, look again, Hua Li and Peggy Hogan have something to say. - 2B Mag


Peggy Hogan who is best known these days as Hua Li has a lot going on. Not only is she known by two names, but she teaches, performs, djs, runs Art Not Love record label with Charlie Twitch, and is doing a masters degree on musicology. Montreal’s fascinating trailblazer is forging her own path by embracing all parts of herself.

I ask Hogan if her current life path conflicted with or harmonized with the Chinese part of her identity, especially since Hua Li is her Chinese name. “It’s an interesting thing for me,” she says, “I really love being biracial and I think this is a great example of what happens in my life. My mother is an immigrant. She grew up during cultural revolution in China, which is an intense time to be Chinese in an already an intense country. She has certain values and economic values and expectations for her child that are stereotypical of immigrants in general, like for your child to have a stable career and a better life than you. So, my mother is profoundly disappointed, but also very proud.”

Hogan further explains that she was supposed to be born in China, but Tiananmen Square happened. “I was supposed to be born and raised in China, but my father, who was living in China at the time, was told by the Canadian embassy to get out. So I ended up growing up in Victoria BC in a liberal, nourishing creative place. My dad lives vicariously through me and he wanted to be a rockstar.”

The influence of both her parents may have led her into art. “I was put into piano lessons because my mother wanted to be a good Chinese mother.I did festivals and things growing up, which was a very chinese thing to do. What was not was how seriously took it. It backfired, because her white hippie husband was like ‘Fuck the man, do what you love.’ I’m going against the grain of what is expected of most first generation Chinese Canadians, but, I think I’ve been lucky to have this balance and cultural perspective.”

I want to know more why she made the switch from piano to voice. “At a certain point, I stopped enjoying classical world and was doing musical theatre and taking voice lessons,” Hogan explains. “I started playing jazz piano and was really bad at it. I was terrible, but my mentor at the time encouraged me to try singing as a means to break free of the chains of the classical music. I ended up going to Concordia for voice. I didn’t want to study classical music. I was listening to tons of rap secretly and already at that point, I drew a connection between jazz and rap music.”

Why was she listening to rap secretly? “In my early teens, I stopped listening to only classical music. Growing up, it was the only thing that played in my house. My mother loved it. One day, all of a sudden, I was listening to stuff she considered noise that would not be welcome in her home. I don’t mean the representations of poverty and violence. It was just the sound that sonically burned her.”

I want to know what rap singers were lighting her fire at that time. Hogan explains that she got into some “not cool” rap musicians, as well as Chicago rappers, Rhymefest in particular. “He’s a great lyricist and I got into him and he ghostwrote a lot for Kanye West and other famous people. I got into listening to other Chicago rappers. It was my introduction to the genre. I delved into artists that were jazz in their approach, like J Dilla, the Roots, and Guru. They are working around neo-soul and jazz, and are rap artists.”



Hua Li, the musical project, has been an opportunity for Hogan to unite different parts of herself. She first released an “adult-contemporary” album as Peggy Hogan, but found it limiting. “When I first started Hua Li as a musical project, I had just released an album as Peggy Hogan and it was important process for me to get out some serious ideas and feel a part of the story about what happens when you finish jazz school. I finished it and I think that as I soon as I released it, I felt already kind of confined by that identity. I’ll probably re-release it in middle age.” When she realized she was neglecting parts of herself, she started Hua Li as a side project.

“I realized doing whatever you want is much more compelling than not doing that. Hua Li immediately overtook other project, and it’s been my main focus for three years.”

Most recently Hogan was involved with Za Zhong, an album released in June which features Hua Li singing, though the album was produced by Gloze da Most (Alex Thibault). “I’ve known Alex a long time, as long as I’ve lived in the city,” she says. “I knew we were going to do something great together. I always say he’s one of the coolest people I know. He gets on stage with me with all of his coolness.”

I want to know how they went from friends to collaborators. “I would skirt around the issue of trying to play music with him or getting him to produce my stuff for years. About a year and a half ago he moved into my neighbourhood and we started working on this stuff. It was supposed to be just one song and then we started vibing off each other a little more. Around that time, Harry Fraud and Action Bronson came out with a five-song EP and we were listening to it a lot and thought this is what happens when a lyricist and a producer work together. We wanted to make something in the spirit of that. How can we fit our two visions together and make something cohesive.”

Za Zhong is a change for Hua Li because she atypically remained hands-off on the production. However, she trusted Thibault. “I never trusted anyone as I trusted Alex,” she affirms, and notes some of the many positives. “It got me to focus more,” she says, “I’m a better rapper now.”



Hua Li’s other music, of course, is a fascinating blend of jazzy, juicy interludes mixed with rap. I asked her about how she crafts her lyrics. “I was thinking about this the other day,” she says. “I don’t think that hard about lyrics. I rehearse my set all the time. Sometimes, I’ll have these moments of ‘Wow, that came out of my mouth so nicely.’ I can have these moments. But, it’s a funny thing when I’m generating this material. I’m not thinking about how I’ve got to make this punchline or do it how you hear when rappers discuss the perspective of constructing their rhymes.”

Instead, for her, it is more about the feeling generated. “It’s almost a creative lull,” she says. “I took a billion creative writing classes through high school and undergrad and I’m a published poet. I’ve read tons and tons of poetry and spent time thinking about how to use language. I’m concerned with sensuality in language and how you use language to make people feel emotional and bring them into the atmosphere of the song. I think a lot more about how it feels and how it sounds than having those bars or those analogies of things that are indicative of rap.”

Hua Li has a lot coming up in the near future. I’ll let her explain for you where you can hear her play next. “I’ll tell you a bit more about my upcoming plans. I’m playing two shows on the 18th for POP Montreal. The first, the 9 p.m., is the Art Not Love showcase which I help run with its founder Charlie Twitch. I’ll be doing something I’ve never done before which is a stripped down interpretation of my newest material. Sort of like ‘This Chaos’ but with no beats. So, me with a Wurlitzer and back-up vocalist. I don’t know how it will turn out. I’m excited because it will be different. My back up vocalist won’t even call it rap. He’s like, ‘Peggy is going to do her singer-songwriter thing,’ but I’m like, ‘It’s still Hua Li.’ I thought it’s funny running a label and being on the label’s showcase. I wanted to give the other artists space to headline. It’s my label, so I can do what I want to. That’s at 9 p.m. And at 1 a.m., on the 19th technically, we’ll be doing the actual Hua Li set that people know and love. My back up vocalist will also join me for that. It’s for the AV event at Maison Sociale. I’ll be paired with visual artist Ariana Molly. She’s going to be doing live video stuff. And that’s the theme for whole night. Every one is paired with artist. So, I think I’m doing cool stuff at POP. Next day, I’m heading to DJ for Nuit Blanche in Ottawa on the 19th at an installation of a Finish Techno Sauna. The idea is the space is clothing-optional. It’s a space where you can party naked and I’ll be djing in the nude with extreme pleasure.”

Hua Li is playing at POP Montreal on Sept 18 at La Vitrola (4602 ST Laurent) with Saxsyndrum, Dirtyorgans, AE Bridger, and The Marquis at 9 p.m. $10; on Sept 18th at Maison Sociale (5386 St Laurent) with Prism House and Ariana Molly at midnight. free; and with other DJs at the Techno Sauna Party at Galerie Saw Gallery (67 Nicholas Street; Ottawa) on Sept 19 from 7 p.m.-4 a.m. - Montreal Rampage


Hua Li 化力 — the alter-ego of Montreal-based multi-disciplinary artist Peggy Hogan — is a performer who commands attention. Taking to a makeshift stage in front of a modestly sized crowd at Maison Sociale late Friday night, Li straddled the line between hard-hitting rap bravado and Erykah Badu-esque neo-soul. It's a combination that might not sound great in theory, but works wonderfully in practice.

Adding an ethereal, colourful element to Li's set was local artist Ariana Molly, who used water, ink and an old-school projector to create impressive DIY visuals. The bar-turned-temporary venue could have benefitted from a more inclusive, less awkward setup, but Li nonetheless worked the space as best she could. Never losing her high-energy charm, despite a crowd that remained tired and almost entirely unresponsive, she delivered tracks off her latest release Za Zhang and established herself an artist you should definitely keep your eye on. - exclaim.ca


Discography

Still working on that hot first release.

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Bio

"a rap label’s dream… her approach to rapping, a kind of early ’90s Lil Kim bravado mixed with the more insightful, emotionally resonant lyrics of a Jean Grae, would be menacing if it weren’t so raw and beguiling."
   -Consequence of Sound

Hua Li’s hazy R&B and revolutionary rap cuts to the bone and shakes your frail ass to the ground. Following the underground success of her 2013 mixtape, The Bound Feat, Hua Li released her Za Zhong EP with producer Gloze in 2015. She is also an active DJ, having held residencies at Montreal’s Royal Phoenix Bar, Notre Dames des Quilles and Korova Thursdays. Subversive and sexy, Hua Li is Canada’s only half-Chinese, half-militant, half-rapper.

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