Any discussion of the Canadian musical landscape inevitably ends up talking about a rock band that's existed for over 30 years and became so important, the Prime Minister has held press conferences about them. It was something about them, something in their lyrics, or maybe their melodies, or maybe even just themselves, that caught the collective spirits of Canadians for decades, culminating in a show that was watched by millions of people in the country and around the world. That band is The Tragically Hip and tragedy has certainly struck the band and the nation. Late May 2016 saw the band announcing the cancer diagnosis of frontman Gord Downie, later that day, doctors at Toronto's Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre confirmed the cancer was incurable. The band went on a final tour of the country, the Man Machine Poem tour in support of their latest album of the same name. The final show, in their hometown of Kingston, Ontario, was broadcast live on national network CBC to an estimated 12 million people. The August 20th show played host to a number of VIP guests, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. It was the final live show the band would do together before Gord Downie's death on October 17, 2017. News of his passing stunned Canadians worldwide despite their foreknowledge of its inevitability.
A group of Canadians in Hong Kong decided to pay tribute to the man and the band in the best way they knew how. In a tradition decades old, these guys decided to come together and start learning how to play the songs of their youth, the songs of The Tragically Hip. From across the spread of the Canadian nation, these five guys have come together to bring a little taste of the Canadian music scene to locals and expats alike. In a city of over 300,000 Canadians and the third largest concentration of Canadians after Canada and the United States, there's a dedicated and growing fan base for their music. They've only played 2 live gigs so far, but they've got big ambitions. Their name is Phantom Power and Billboard Radio China's DJ Doomkitty sat down with three of the members to talk about their roots, their music, and their latest project.
Between Gord Downie's cancer diagnosis and his death, the singer started a charitable organization designed to bring attention towards one of the more tragic governmental decisions in Canada over the last century and more. Beginning in the late 1800s, the Canadian government developed a residential school system that took in a countless number of First Nations students and worked to remove them from their culture in an effort to assimilate them into the predominant Anglo-Christian world. Countless students sought to escape the system and return home; in 1966, Chanie Wenjack was one of those students. At the age of 12, after 3 years in a school 600 kilometers from his home, he and nine other students escaped their school in an effort to return to their families. While the other eight were caught and returned to the school, Chanie’s body was discovered only a week later.
Gord Downie heard of Chanie’s story and decided to use what time he had left to raise awareness of Chanie’s story and the countless others who had suffered in the same way. He wrote ten poems imagining what it would have been like to be Chanie, which he later turned into the award-winning album, The Secret Path. He and artist Jeff Lemire created a comic book to accompany the album and share Chanie’s story with Canadians and people around the world. Together with the Wenjack family, the Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack fund was created to continue the story of Chanie’s life and to work towards helping Canadians on their journey towards reconciliation.
Phantom Power decided to use their place as Hong Kong’s best (and only) Tragically Hip tribute band to help raise money for and awareness of The Downie Wenjack Fund. The fact that they could do so while throwing a great party seemed only textbook for the Hong Kong-based Canadians who are no strangers to a good time. The show will be held on Saturday, June 9th at Grappa’s Cellar in Central from 7-11pm. Entry is free but donations are requested. There’s an opportunity for a lot of fun and some great raffle prizes available as well, so be sure to clear your calendar.
To find out more about The Tragically Hip, you can check out the Alan Cross retrospective referenced in the interview here.
Find out more about Phantom Power on their Facebook page.
Find out more about the event from the Facebook page here.