Hua Li: The WL Interview

Purveyor of: hazy R&B and cloud rap

File next to:  A. Billi Free, Akua Naru, Gavlyn

Playing: Wavelength Summer Music & Arts Festival w/ Milk & Bone, Afrotronix, Cadence Weapon, Yonatan Gat and more, August 17 & 18 at Stackt – 28 Bathurst St. Get tickets here!

Hua Li is the only half-Chinese, half-militant, half-rapper of your heart. This BC-born, Montreal-residing artist inspires her audience by proudly embracing her Eastern + Western self and making dope music! Wavelength’s Jennifer Xu is excited to shed some light on Hua Li’s creative process.

What was the biggest challenge in making your latest release “Mr. Greenlight”?

I am extremely proud of the music video for “Mr. Greenlight,” and have nothing but gratitude for director Paz Ramirez. Personally, I felt like there were almost no challenges when it came to the making of this video – Paz’s professionalism, resourcefulness and execution were flawless and made my role as an artist very low stress. She compiled a superstar team, including art director Brenna Holder and director of photography Henry Sansom. Dancer and performance artist, Winnie Ho’s performance was spectacular, and created a specific space for my performance of the lyrics. I came into the shoot on an extremely hot day in Toronto and felt that all of my needs as a performer were anticipated and the set up was perfect for me to deliver a heartfelt performance on camera. I imagine Paz could speak to the challenges in greater detail, but her extremely strong management on set made for an unbelievably smooth shoot – I still can’t wrap my head around how she did it! 

Have you ever found yourself feeling lost/ caught between eastern and western ideals growing up, and how did that influence your music?

Absolutely! My (white-Canadian) father wasn’t incredibly connected to his extended family, so family time to me was basically always completely Chinese. My mom and grandmother taught me about our culture through food, stories and dress. In school, I unconsciously code-switched all the time, navigating western society in the education system and then going to a Chinese home at the end of the day. It was confusing for me as a child because I didn’t understand difference, and I thought people excluded me because of who I was in essence because I didn’t realize that those actions might be motivated by racial bias or cultural xenophobia. Hua Li is my best attempt to marry growing up in North America as a Chinese girl — I took my Chinese name as my stage name in order to create a space to embody my Chineseness. At the same time, I perform as a hip hop artist — a genre created by black and brown youth in the South Bronx in order to articulate their identities and their liberation. It is as western a music as they come. 

How different is it for you to be singing in a recording studio and performing live on stage? How do you adjust your techniques and energy in these different environments?

I am really into performing and so stage shows are always a little more fun for me than studio sessions. I love catching a vibe from the audience and moving around the stage. Each performance is different and it’s very ephemeral in that way. The studio feels a lot more permanent – usually I am much more controlled in a recording environment and I am trying to execute takes with a high level of technical proficiency. It takes more stamina and focus. That said, my producer, Alex Thibault, is excellent at creating a chill studio vibe and I love recording with him. 

What are you looking forward to the most about Wavelength Summer Music & Arts Festival 2019?

I am looking forward to so many things in this festival! I’m excited to share a bill with fellow MTL babies Cadence Weapon and L.A. Foster. I’ve never been to Stackt, but I have heard great things about it, so I’m looking forward to playing there as well! I honestly just love to perform so much, so I’m looking forward to the whole show! Every time I get on stage feels like a big special party where I get to be the centre of attention!

And finally, what should our Wavelog readers look forward to from you?

My debut full length as Hua Li will be coming out on September 20th with new Outside Music imprint Next Door Records. I was fortunate to meet the folks at Next Door after my music video for “Mastery” came out. I think it went a long way to help me gain the attention I needed to attract a label. Evan Newman came to see me perform at the end of my fall 2018 tour with Cadence Weapon and Fat Tony, and then I met with him, and Meg Parker shortly after. The vibe was right, and I am happy to be working with them on this record!