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The Miseducation of Hua Li

Montreal's preeminent multi-hyphenate spills the stories and lessons behind her transformative, time-bending new record.

by Madeline Lines

Photos by Karla Ximena

Snow is floating down thick and slow on the sleepy Sunday morning that I meet Peggy Hogan – aka Hua Li – to chat about life and music in Montreal, old and new. Cafe Bravo, our meeting place, is located down the street from one of the city’s most iconic hangouts and live music venues, Casa Del Popolo. Spending more than a decade in the city has landed Hogan on all sides of the music industry — including the label side — but it all comes back to chasing the feeling that first lit up her chest in venues like Casa del Popolo when she was coming through the city as a touring musician.

“In those days, every show felt monumental,” says Hogan. “Having obsessively researched all of the venues in Montreal on blogs as a teen in BC… I don’t even remember what my first show was at Casa, but I remember being there before the showroom even existed, and being like ‘Everyone’s played here, this is a special place.’”

While moving through the city and the innards of its music scene for years can rub a bit of the magic off, Hua Li’s latest album negotiates the wide-eyed wonder of youth with the jadedness that comes later. “Maybe one day, I’ll let you kiss me on Cherrier,” she muses on ripe fruit falls but not in your mouth’s boppy single, named “Cherrier” after the Plateau street she’s long left behind. Reckoning two truths at once is at the heart of her work and life – from being bisexual and mixed race, to working on both sides of the music industry as both a performer and for record labels Outside Music/Next Door Records. As a result, she’s become skilled at carving out spaces in-between.

The title ripe fruit came from a placeholder Hogan put on the recording file while she was still in the writing phase. “I literally Googled ‘Chinese proverbs’ – so embarrassing,” she laughs. But as she continued to make the record, the evocative phrase really stuck. Being fluent in Mandarin, but illiterate, it was hard to track down the origin without knowing the original wording.



“It felt really embarrassing for a while, but then I was like no, I’m committed to this phrase,” says Hogan. “So I still don’t know what the actual proverb is. I hope that maybe after the record comes out, it will find its way to me.”

Growing up in Victoria, BC, Hogan says her introduction to music was that of a stereotypical Chinese upbringing: choose violin or piano. Her parents gave her a week to decide, and while her mom casually started playing violin concertos on repeat around the house, it was a Beatles song her dad showed her that sold her on the piano. Being classically trained helped lay a foundation for her musical knowledge that she sometimes forgets to give herself credit for. 

She was reminded of it during a formative Banff Centre residency that helped sow the seeds of many songs on ripe fruit. In a collaborative environment that helped usher in serendipitous features from Darkus Millon and Caroline Getz, she realized other artists kept asking her to play piano on their sessions. Now known for her sharp raps and energetic tempos, it felt freeing to also be recognized for her roots.

“It was so validating, because I’d developed so much imposter syndrome around being a pianist in the intervening years,” says Hogan. “I realized ‘Oh, there’s something I can offer people here.’”

The new album is a culmination of revelations like this. Instead of handing off the songs to producer Alexander Thibault, like with past albums such as 2020’s acclaimed Yellow Crane, Hogan says she got the guts to take a more active role that felt more like a dialogue. She dared herself to go bare on the vocal production. Most of all, she carefully crafted songs that she felt she could “authentically embody on stage for a long time.” The result is a record where she comes through bolder, clearer, and more confident than ever. 

“I think there’s a greater depth of care that I put into this record,” says Hogan. “I wanted it to be less of a slice of a particular moment, and more of the essential seed of that moment, a journey I can connect to anytime I’m performing.”

Hard-earned lessons and stories from the streets and dance floors of Montreal are paired with truly danceable beats on ripe fruit. The pulsing energy of “Feed Me Petals” reaches a euphoric chorus featuring a hypnotic interplay with Ambrose Getz. Little nods to the city are sprinkled in, Montreal becoming a fitting muse as the trusty backdrop for over a decade of personal and musical transformation. 

Montreal has been changing along with her, and not always for the better. Hogan remembers when “wow” moments were easy to come by in the music scene, but now she says she savours a few per year. She mentions, however, that there’s comfort in the fact that tried and true venues are still producing these moments – from the first time she walked in the doors of Bar Le Ritz to see her friend Charlotte Cornfield open for The Most Serene Republic, to a recent Rochelle Jordan show opened by a carefully crafted, “sensitive” set by local DJ M Bootyspoon. “It was one of those shows where the background melted away, and it was like, ‘I’m here for something special,’” says Hogan. 


“I think there’s a greater depth of care that I put into this record.”

— Hua Li

Hua Li has become a regular tending to the local music scene, whether it’s through work like facilitating panels at the indie fest POP Montreal, to stirring up sets as a DJ and oft-collaborator with local legends like Gayance. I wonder what it would be like to bring her little recital-playing self for a walk through the expansive and experimental life she’s built here.

“I would love to bring her into my home studio and be like, look at all the toys I have – look at how fun it is to just try ideas,” says Hogan. “All of the work that you’re doing now,  all the times you’re going to go into the piano bench and cry, it’s going to culminate into something special.”

Hogan recently bought a toy piano with a “weird, jangly sound” that she loves to mess around on. She tells me how the first woman to ever graduate from Juilliard was a specialist of the toy piano, and how in interviews she talks about how it takes a lot of skill and technique. 

“I think I always felt like I didn’t get enough toys. There was a huge swath of no play time, always practicing,” says Hogan. “I would love to bring my four-year-old self in and tell her, look – now, we get to play.”