The Majestic G started with a lie CM told on the phone in May 2013, when he was getting a haircut. “I get these calls from event agencies looking for performers all the time. I pitched this soul and funk project I was ‘working on.’ I wasn’t expecting to hear back.”
This time the agency returned his call, asking for musicians to perform at a car launch. “I had a month to pull a band together to play a 20-minute original set,” he says. Five urgent calls later, CM assembled a crew of musicians, some of whom he had never played with before—and the Majestic G was born.
It worked out. The Majestic G—whose debut album EP Wild Runner drops tomorrow—is everything you’d want from a soul and funk band: the groove to kick your body into gear, fat bass lines, and sultry vocals—and a little more.
One of their special ingredients, the one people usually remember, is the suona 嗩吶.
For those not familiar with traditional Chinese music, a suona (also known as a dida) is often heard at Taoist funeral processions, blaring harsh yet melancholy tunes. The Majestic G pits the shrill suona against a warm trombone — kind of like mixing chili oil with New Orleans hot sauce.
But don’t think CM intended this to be an East-West Fusion band. “I just thought it’d be cool to have a suona,” he says.
The Majestic G’s Chinese name, 麟角樂團, comes from the idiom 鳳毛麟角—comparing something’s rarity and preciousness to that of a phoenix’s feather and a qilin’s horns. The band is a kind of mythical beast: “I wanted to bring together ordinary people to create something larger than the sum of us,” says CM.
Songwriter and vocalist Sonia recalls the band’s unique beginning. “In the beginning, CM and I put out the structure for the music. We were still figuring out our sound and how we could all contribute.”
“When our first gig was over, I was just hoping 老細 (referring to CM) wouldn’t call it quits,” says trombone player Tony, one of the three full-time musicians in the group. “It was an excuse to tell my wife I’ve got work on Monday nights, but really we’re just here drinking and jamming.”
Behind the unapologetically loud suona is the timid Him, who’s also the first chair of the suona section at the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra. Playing in the Majestic G helped develop his artistry outside of his nine-to-five routine of traditional repertoire. “Playing in keys I’m not familiar with or using different fingering spark new ideas. These are things I’m able to bring back to my professional practice.”
Much like its egalitarian operation style, the Majestic G’s creative process is about collective input, says drummer Vic. “One of the things I like about the band is we’re all open to new ideas. What we’re doing one moment can change the next second.”
After many Monday nights and countless bottles of whiskey, they seem to have it figured out. Today the band encompasses the diverse musical approaches of its five core members (the group performs as a septet). “We definitely communicate more,” says Sonia. “Tony and Him got a lot more vocal with their ideas. Our sound has changed and we’ve gotten a lot tighter.”
“There was some sociology study that said any group larger than five can’t communicate effectively,” theorizes CM, who wants to be referred to as an “administrator” instead of 老細 (but gives 15-minute speeches immediately after saying so).
“This isn’t my band anymore. When I tell people it’s my band, I mean ‘a band I participate in,'” he adds. “Everyone helps shape the band and it has become its own entity. If they decide to kick me out one day, the band could still continue.”
Since their inaugural performance, the band has played at a variety of venues, recently opening for legendary Taiwanese funk band Sticky Rice at Kitec.
Last January, the band collaborated with singer-songwriter and keyboardist Adrian Fu and writer Kit for a Freespace Happening performance, creating a set based on a short story Kit wrote. “We’ve never worked with a writer in this capacity before. It pushes us to our creative boundaries to convey the story through our sound,” says Sonia.
After they share dreams of showcasing their music at festivals outside of Hong Kong, I ask them where is the furthest they’ve been. They look at each other and crack up, “Guangzhou.”
But dreams come true. When I spoke to them in November, they were waiting for the StreetVoice Next Big Thing poll to close that weekend—they eventually came in first and as a result will be performing in Taiwan this month.
And after releasing their debut EP tomorrow, they plan to follow up with another later this year.
I remember when I first saw them play last November: the show was under a noisy footbridge outside the Hong Kong Arts Centre in Wan Chai, then under renovation. But as soon as the music began, I forgot about the swooshing traffic and unsightly scaffolding. The beast had taken me to a different world.
Still / Loud’s Holmes Chan and Wilfred Chan contributed editing.