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Kid can flow

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Just back from tearing up The Kids Voice France, 12-yearold rapper Enzo Hilaire could well be Hong Kong’s next great export. Elizabeth Kerr reports

There’s a kid from Cheung Sha sitting on the patio of Starbucks in DB North Plaza one warm, sunny afternoon – warm, but cooler and drier than in the past few months. He’s got a bushy shock of tight curls that make him look like a rock star, but he’s wearing the functional duds of school football practice.

As it turns out he is a budding rock star, or to be more precise, rap star. And at 12 years old, Enzo Hilaire is just about the right age to start a career in these youthful, TikTok/Instagram hero days. He’s a step ahead of the game too: he’s just returned from a stint on The Voice Kids France, which hit French airwaves in the autumn.

Toast of The Voice
As clearly driven as the Year 7 Discovery College student is, it was The Voice Kids’ casting team that recruited him, after seeing some of his performances on – what else? – YouTube (see for yourself at www.youtube.com/enzothesinger/videos). A Skype audition got him an invitation to the blind auditions in Paris and a chance at glory. You can watch the show which includes short documentaries about Enzo shot in Hong Kong at www.tf1.fr replay.

Enzo made it all the way to The Voice Kids finals on October 10, and he describes his time on the show with infectious enthusiasm. “It was incredible,” he says. “I learnt so many new vocal capabilities, and so many new techniques. It was an amazing journey and experience.

“The best bit was at the blind auditions when Soprano turned round,” Enzo adds. “It was so magical and it was incredible to know that all my hard work had paid off.”

While on The Voice, Enzo got to meet a lot of famous French musicians, many of whom he describes as his idols. “I’d say my favourite was Soprano because he gave me loads of extremely important advice,” he says. “One of them was not to start very energetic in the rap. Like start very slowly, then get a bit more energetic as the song starts to go. Then climb the mountain.

“I was very nervous, especially in the blind auditions, the first step,” Enzo adds frankly. “I was actually considering like… failing, not because I didn’t want to do it but because I was so nervous. My legs were literally trembling. I’ve never had that feeling before.”

Photo by Duey Tam

And how did Enzo gel with the other contestants? Did everybody get along? “We became best friends. I think because we all have the same creativity and the same musical mindset,” Enzo says, adding with a chuckle: “We all think the same.”

Industry veteran
When we meet, Enzo’s just out of home quarantine after returning from Paris, which he’s thankful for. He’s not keen on the idea of one of those government quarantine centres. “It’s like jail, basically,” he jokes.

Despite the fact that The Voice is a singing competition, Enzo thinks he knows why the show pursued him. “I’m a singer and a rapper,” he points out. “They wanted something different from just singers.”

Enzo comes across as wise beyond his years, a bundle of barely contained ambitious energy, and he already sounds like an industry veteran. He knows he wants a career in music. He’s already writing and producing his own music – “hip-hop inflected pop” – and he hints at future projects with big names in the music industry that are being considered in the wake of his success. He can’t name names, but he plays it off like a pro. Suggest he’s so young to be wrapped up in all this and he chuckles.

“I think [12] is actually old. I started singing and dancing when I was two,” he recalls. He rolls his eyes in horror at the thought of old videos and material of him singing when he
was around four. “I was terrible. I didn’t know anything about singing back then,” he says. “At 10, I started to turn it around a bit, and even more now. But it takes so long to get anything done I feel old now.”

Amusing as it is to anyone over, oh, 21, that a first-year secondary schooler could feel old, it’s best to bear in mind how youth-driven the modern music industry is. Justin Bieber is 26 years old and has been a pop star half his life.

Enzo’s a fan of The Biebs – check his superb cover of Lonely on YouTube. “Justin Bieber is incredible, especially now he’s changed his style,” Enzo says. “He’s a pretty big inspiration. Lonely is a song that touched me immediately.”

Enzo’s thrown by the fact that this writer (another Canadian person) doesn’t really rate the Ontario-born singer. “But you’re from Canada,” he comments, fully perplexed. I ask if he digs French superstar Charles Aznavour and he stops cold. “Oh, yeah. No.”

Photo by Duey Tam

Musical prodigy
Enzo was born in France to Francois, a pilot, and Moroccan-French mum Fatima, but landed in Macau at six months, living there until the family relocated to Cheung Sha when he was seven.

“I was sad when we left Macau because all my friends were there,” he says. “Lantau’s quite different. But once we moved here, I got to like it more.” Finally discovering rap probably helped him get comfortable too.

Though he got distracted by football at age six (his second career choice), a few years back Enzo ‘stole’ his older brother Romain’s (now 14) guitar and started playing music. It was around the same time he developed an ear for rap music, also thanks to Romain. He was eight.

“My brother used to listen [to it] all the time. I wasn’t interested until I heard rap battles,” Enzo says (for you fogeys out there, check out 8 Mile).

Enzo cites influences that include genre titans Jay-Z and Tupac Shakur, Travis Scott and Chance the Rapper, who he likes for his “realism.” But his favourite rapper if he had to pick one? “I’d have to say Eminem because without Eminem I wouldn’t be on The Voice, I wouldn’t be nowhere,” he says. “He’s the one who really motivated me to start rapping.”

Enzo’s not a fan of the newer generation of rappers like Lil Pump and Lil Wayne, who he sees as all flash-and-dash, with no content. And he takes a cautious pass on the sad stuff, rap music that makes people cry. “I wouldn’t say happy exactly but I like music that’s energetic, jumping, where there’s a vibe to it.” He sang Can’t Hold Us by Macklemore at the blinds, and Uncover by Zara Larsson in the finals.

Enzo is very definite about preferring to rap in English than in French, in fact he giggles when I ask him that question. And he loves playing the guitar. “My nerves go away a bit when I’m with my guitar because I feel like it’s protecting me, I feel like it’s my shield,” he says. “When I’m singing by myself, I’m a bit more nervous because it’s just me, my voice. And I feel like with the guitar there’s more excuses.”

Enzo’s dad used to play the guitar and sing a bit in a band, and both his parents are thrilled by his success. “My parents love it. They think I’m special,” Enzo says. “Without them I’m nothing. They’re the reason why I’m this far on my musical journey.”

Photo by Duey Tam

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