Meet the diverse ensemble bringing South Asian music to Hong Kong

The Zero Point
The Zero Point. Courtesy of the artists.
From Hindustani classical to beatboxing, The Zero Point defies genres and nationalities.

Last December, 30 performers staged one of Hong Kong’s largest exhibitions of South Asian music in recent years — a three-hour festival of classical ragas and ghazals, Bollywood dance hits and fusion pieces.

Practicing almost nightly for two months, they performed a setlist of two dozen pieces, sung in English, Hindi, Urdu and Farsi, before a sold-out, dancing crowd at Central’s Grappa’s Cellar.

Meet The Zero Point. Unique in the Hong Kong music scene, this group is not a band, but an ever-rotating ensemble that features different combinations of performers at every show. Its members consist not only of Hong Kong-born and immigrant South Asians, but also ethnic Chinese.

“The Zero Point is the name of a train station on the border between India and Pakistan,” says Aparna Kanthan, a singer and part of the ensemble’s organising team.

“It’s supposed to represent the coming together of different spaces… that could mean the diversity of genre, ethnicity of people… or a lot of different things.”

Initially the brainchild of Hong Kong-raised Cornell graduate Supriya Mundhra, 25, the ensemble’s members met mostly by chance out of the pockets of South Asian culture in Hong Kong, often fragmented among various nationalities and socio-economic backgrounds.

The Zero Point. Courtesy of the artists.

Kanthan met Mundhra in the Hong Kong audition for the Star Voice of India reality television competition. Teacher and singer Radhika Ahuja collaborated with Mundhra as part of Teacup Productions, a more grassroots organisation which hosts a music show on RTHK.

“Our tastes were a little more niche,” says Ahuja regarding her first encounters with Mundhra. “Quite specific in terms of mixing up genres.”

“That element hasn’t existed on a large scale in Hong Kong, and if it has, it’s been different people getting together and doing their own thing, not knowing who else exists out there.”

As The Zero Point came to discover, there existed musicians such as Kaustubh Paranjape, trained by classical gurus before moving to Hong Kong as a teenager. Zamira Monteiro grew up in Bahrain singing blues and jazz, while university student Yash Shukla learnt beatboxing on YouTube.

“I come from a hardcore traditional Hindustani classical background and was wondering how I would fit in here,” recalls Paranjape.

“[Was] I expected to do those cliched fusions? No [I] was not — and that’s where the learning began.”

While composed entirely of amateurs with day jobs, The Zero Point took itself seriously enough to secure sponsorships and session musicians, flying in an arranger, a tabla player and a flautist from India in time for its December production.

Half a year on, the 30-odd musicians have also played at The Gig Week, a fundraiser for Syria, and several casual, semi-sober mini-concerts in bars. They hope to stage one annual exhibition at the end of every year, but have yet to decide how to structure their upcoming production and what sound to aim for.

“The vision is to bring South Asian music to Hong Kong,” says Kanthan, “but also to provide a platform for the ensemble members themselves.”

“[This involves] putting people in situations where they wouldn’t normally be comfortable, challenging them,” says Ahuja. “Working with people who you wouldn’t have imagined working with because your idea of music is different, your tastes are different.”

“We’re all friends,” adds Kanthan. “So it makes everything so much easier.”

Follow The Zero Point on Facebook. The group will be hosting an open mic night on September 30 at Morrison Cafe & Bar.