On Feb. 2, 2021, the Hong Kong indie duo My Little Airport released a new single “那陣時不知道,” which translates to “I didn’t know at that time.” Comprised of Hong Kong natives Nicole Au and Ah P, the band debuted in 2004 and released songs in both English and Cantonese. Sung in Cantonese, the lyrics were written by Ah P with vocals provided by Nicole Au and her younger sister, Karena Au.
I stumbled upon this song recently by chance via the Spotify Release Radar. According to the official artist biography, the duo initially met in 2001 in Hong Kong Shue Yan University, where they were both studying journalism and communications. Fitting for their journalism background, previous My Little Airport discography includes political titles such as “divvying up Stephen Lam’s $300,000 salary,” in reference to Former Chief Secretary for Administration of Hong Kong, and “I love the country not the party.” Their last song “K同學” (translated as “K Classmate”) was released back in 2019, so fans were pleasantly surprised when the duo unexpectedly came back with this new single.
The two-and-a-half-minute song begins with simple keyboard chords, quickly joined by Nicole’s murmuring voice. Simple percussion and an electric guitar, along with Karena’s backing vocals, are then layered on top, providing more depth to the simple melody. The sudden saxophone solo in the middle contrasted with the rest of the acoustic tone, but overall helped tie together the whole song.
Meanwhile, the lyrics evoke a sense of nostalgia, making reference to old photographs from the nineties. The title itself, “I didn’t know at that time,” reminds me of someone looking back on halcyon days, as if to say I didn’t realize how carefree my childhood was. This theme of reminiscence and uncertainty is echoed in My Little Airport’s previous works as well.
“Starting from the very beginning, most songs have been about Ah P’s life, which set the tone for My Little Airport’s songs— the idea of not being attached to certain people or things, validating a free spirit and acknowledging the uncertainty in life,” said Nicole Au in an interview with lifestyle media website Honeycombers Hong Kong, published Apr. 2020.
In the same interview, Ah P said, “Now that we’ve matured a bit, there is this nostalgia that grows from within me and makes me want to help preserve the good things in Hong Kong. For example, we covered these old Canto songs like “青春舞曲2000” live, as these oldie hits probably are unheard of amongst the younger generations. It’s a song from the compilation album called ‘Huang Hou Da Dao Dong’ by Music Factory in the 90s. It’s quite meaningful and I want to share it with others.”
While “I didn’t know at that time” is a bit more sentimental and acoustic than my usual listening habits, and while I do not understand Cantonese, I found charm in the soothing vocals and relaxed instrumentals despite it being a one-off song I stumbled on. My Little Airport quickly impresses with their quietly relatable yet daring meanings, and I’m looking forward to more.