Fine China

Dateline: July 21, 2000

American ethnomusicologist Josef Bomback has a special interest in the traditional and contemporary music of China. In addition to being an accomplished musician in his own right, as a jazz pianist he accompanied the likes of Peter Frampton and Al Jarreau, he is also the Executive Vice President of Hugo Production, a label specializing in the traditional instruments and sounds of China.
I spoke to Bomback about the intricacies of Chinese music -- what makes it unique, and about the Hugo recordings.

Paula: How did you get involved with HUGO?

Josef: In April of 1999, I was developing a project on Chinese contemporary music of composers from the "Bartok generation" and also some experimental hybrid music from China's avant-garde. My friend, the conductor of the South Bend Symphony Orchestra, Tsung Yeh, suggested that I contact HUGO in Hong Kong. Tsung Yeh is also the music director and conductor of the Hong Kong Sinfonietta and he was on his way to Hong Kong for extended recording. He said that there will be something there for me to sink my teeth to speak. I contacted HUGO's director, AIK Yew-goh who is also the principal producer and recording engineer. He sent a few CDs and upon hearing them I was immediately taken by the artistry, production and vision of the company. To make a long story short, we began correspondence and found that we both share the same philosophies about what music should be and should not be, how record labels should operate and conduct their business and how artists should be treated...and more importantly how music has molded our individual lives. I found Mr. AIK to be extremely gifted and a true renaissance man, indeed.

We found that the both of us are quite similar in many aspects. We are both musicians and businessmen. We are both reasonable men. We are both highly competetive and challenge ourselves on a daily basis. For us, being in second-place, or a runner-up, means absolutely nothing as homeruns are all that matter. So, even though we immediately agreed on principal, it took six months and hundreds of e-mails/faxes and dozens of phone calls to develop our market strategy for North America. In November of 1999 we became a corporation in the state of Ohio and I was appointed the Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of HUGO Media Group. I am now directing the entire North American operations in addition Central America and South America as well as a few select countries in Europe and the Netherlands.

Paula: What is the background of the HUGO production company?

Josef: HUGO Production was founded in 1987 by Mr. AIK Yew-goh. Born in Singapore, he is an accomplished musician, conductor, producer and recording engineer. Mr. AIK has produced and engineered the majority of HUGO CDs and many are considered by audiophiles to be among the best CDs in the world. He is also an educator and professional photographer. In fact, many of his photographs appear on HUGO CDs. As an instrumentalist, he held the erhu/gaohu chair of the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra and he has conducted more than three hundred performances throughout the world. He also served as Hong Kong's Music Officer and Arts Administrator while obtaining yet another diploma in cello. For a brief time, he served as Chairman of the Photo Society of Singapore.

The Chinese wording HU (yu) means "raining" and GO (guo) means "fruit" and the past thirteen years or so have seen our catalogue grow or "rain musical fruit" from our first few titles in 1987 to more than several hundred today. In addition to our corporate HQ in Hong Kong, we now have offices in Taipei, Singapore, Melbourne, Australia and Cleveland - which is the North American operational base. Our core philosophy has pretty much remained the same and our growth continues to be organic and instinctual. We strive to be ethical and reasonable. By word of mouth, our reputation has taken on a life of its own. Many artists are finding out about our company and want to be a part of HUGO and these are artists that had deals with much larger labels. It's quite amazing, actually.

Paula: Do you hope to raise a greater awareness in the West of these talented Chinese musicians and musical styles?

Josef: Definitely. That's why I am here. That is why HUGO appointed me to direct their North American operations.

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