Leong Lau & the Importance of the Immigrant Spirit

I came across Leong Lau through Australian music aficionado and obscure music expert Mark Egan and his Australian funk channel on YouTube. As an avid music connoisseur and first generation Chinese-Australian woman, born in Sydney and raised in Adelaide, I was excited to find a musician with a similar ethnic background, a Malaysian-born Chinese immigrant to Australia. After hunting around for Lau’s records to purchase, I wasn’t surprised to find that Lau’s recordings are shrouded in obscurity and difficult to obtain. His two releases, Dragon Man (1976) and That Rongeng Sound (1977), were limited pressings on Sunscape and are currently priced at $2,074.44 for Dragon Man and $1,700.00 for That Rongeng Sound on Discogs.

Lau has six decades of experience as a multi-faceted artist specializing in fine arts. A transcendentalist improviser and composer, he holds a Ph.D in engineering, and his art juxtaposes both Asian and Western cultures. From his Chinese ancestry he studied Tai Chi from an early age, as well as Chinese Opera and flute with the Chinese Community Orchestra in Malaysia. Lau migrated to Sydney, Australia in 1969 and finished his Bachelors in Engineering. After his Ph.D, which included stem cell research in Switzerland, he pursued a calling in fine arts. He joined the Sydney Dance Company specializing in ballet and modern improvised dance, and he was inspired to blend Tai Chi movements into his compositions. He went to England in 1982-1986 and joined the Elizabethan Theatre Trust in Shakespearean training. Lau returned to Australia to choreograph and compose a theatre performance to celebrate the Sydney Chinatown Mall opening where he conducted the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. Lau has performed, travelled and studied arts globally and credits himself as a self taught painter, philosopher, Chinese Medicine Man, “Malaysian Elvis” and “Dragon Man.” He calls his creative process a “spontaneous response of cultural aspirations (Lau, 2017).” His views of the world include ethics to support international integration of East and West funk music from the 1970’s, 1980’s and 2000’s, layered in ethereal psychedelic echos and hypnotic syncopations. The sounds on his records Dragon Man and That Rongeng Sound mirror the kraut syncopations and artistry of early CAN or La Dusseldorf, but manifested by one composer.  

Lost Footage:

Music is a concept where culture and ethnicity differentiates sound through interpretations of one’s understanding of their own experience. Thus Lau’s can be construed as portraying a more culturally anthropological understanding of indigenous rhythms unrelated to dominant colonialist standards. Lau’s existence is rooted in truth, love and freedom. Lau’s stewardship from his personal interests within the natural world and his global travels depict life in universal communities through positive abstract cosmic consciousness, an empathy manifested and transmitted through his music.

Dragon Man Trailer:

Director Ben Carr recently released a documentary entitled Dragon Man: The Travels of Leong Lau, which highlights Lau’s obscurity as a pioneer of Sydney’s psychedelic/funk music scene of  the 1970’s. The documentary finds Lau in his splendor, telling tales of trumpets received from the British garrison to his grandfather who was the commander of the Red Army rear guard in Shanghai during the civil war as the British withdrew from China to avoid involvement. Expanding on this, Leong reported to me, “My grandfather’s picture was put up by the Nationalist Army as a wanted man either dead or alive. My grandfather escaped in a bum-boat to Vietnam and to Singapore where worked incognito as a stevedore on Boat Quay unloading sacks of rice for the boats. He saved some money and walked 250 km (155.343 miles) to the Muar River where he bought some land for fruit and vegetables cultivation. When the Japanese invaded Malaya on 8th Dec 1941 before the attack on Pearl Harbor, my grandfather commanded the Chinese resistance in the jungles (Lau 2017).” From Lau’s account, I imagined this story birthing his song “Deep in the Jungle” from Dragon Man, with lyrics describing shadows and movements “deep in the jungle”, interplaying with driving tempos of drum and bass over psychedelic guitar noodling, with fuzztastic embellishments weaved into funk beats. Lau recently performed this song for the Deputy Premier of Queensland at the West End Community House Christmas Party, informing me that he still plays “psychedelic funk.” Lau was wisely advised to own all the rights to his music by Frank Zappa when they met in Kings Cross during Zappa’s Australian concert tour.

Check out Leong Lau in Dragon Man: The Travels of Leong Lau on Streetwise Films available online January 2nd 2018. His records have also been reissued by Light in the Attic (U.S), Strawberry Rain (Canada) and Rock-In-Beat (Germany) and Left Ear Records (Australia).

Many thanks to Leong Lau for conversing with me and being so open about his unique life experiences.

Lau, Leong. Music Icon. Leong Lau Official Website 

Written by Karen Lee (Weekend Family Music Hour) & Jim Bunnelle (Center For Cassette Studies)
Weekend Family Music Hour
Weekend Family Music Hour has been with Freeform since the station was established. Opal (11), Ayler (9) and Karen (mom). We are so privileged to have an affordable family activity that brings us together with your family's lives and letting us share. We love reciting poems by Terry Riley, playing our Moog (Halloween!), selecting songs based on politics or societal challenges and Holidays! Check out our seasonal shows! Mostly ethnic, folk, rock, country, synth, disco, soul, experimental and jazz/tongue jazz.