By Hans Ebert


Sitting recently with a musician friend- one of the few in Hong Kong who knows good from bad, bad from mediocre and blah from pedestrian- he was listening to American songstress Sabreen Staples for the first time.

Sabreen has been the resident singer at the Champagne Bar of the Grand Hyatt Hong Kong for around eight months. She flies under the radar. Not for her is “Facebook fame” and popping up like zits at the usual haunts with the usual suspects and the ghost of many gigs past.

My muso friend was more than pleasantly surprised at what he was watching and hearing. He talked about her phrasing, the quality of her voice and how she’s able to “own it”- own the songs she sings no matter how hackneyed they might be. These are “request songs” though she always manages to throw a curve ball for those sitting there dearly wanting to hear something more than hotel lounge singer shtick.

People ask, Is Sabreen Staples a Jazz singer? Is there really a “jazz” singer in Hong Kong? But why pigeonhole or label anyone? Let’s just say that, perched atop the piano, she sings songs very very well and backed by an old school trio who does the best they can with what they have.

Checking out some YouTube videos from her last port of call- almost everywhere in the Middle East including Dubai, Jordan, Bahrain- Sabreen has had to considerably scale down and “condense” her performances for the far more intimate Champagne Bar.

Despite the sound at the Champagne Bar hardly being perfect and where brushes would often work better than sticks landing loudly onto the snare drum, she manages to shrug this off and rise above it.

Along with the very low key and excellent Mona Lopez, who recently stopped singing at the venue in Lan Kwai Fong called BB Jazz Lounge- what’s with this term “Jazz” bandied about in Hong Kong so much, and, more often than not, nothing to do with a classical American music genre?- this girl should be making records with a world class producer, top flight musicians and an A&R person who knows what suits that voice. It appears that she has recorded an EP- in 2012.

Is Sabreen not ambitious? At least outwardly, she seems happy with her present lot in life.

Singing six days a week is never easy plus having to keep the customers satisfied and smile and schmooze. But being a professional, she gets on with the business at hand- effortlessly- while making the time to immerse herself in the music.

At a time when the “recently opened” the venue Gekko recently closed, and before that the very strange “business strategy” of Studio which abruptly closed while Peel Fresco limps along, Foxglove having an identity crisis, and The DarkSide at the Rosewood Hong Kong, where much was expected in the way of ‘live’ music, already floundering- hoteliers really keep away from making decisions about music- the Champagne Bar carries on.

The venue is nothing like the popular meeting place it used to be two decades ago- what is?- and hardly perfect, but, at least for now, there’s always Sabreen Staples.

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