This month marks the anniversary of the birth–and death–of Wong Ka Kui, the greatest musician that ever lived. Sadly, outside of the Chinese community, only a small handful of people are familiar with him and the musical legacy he left behind. Here’s an introduction to the greatest musical genius and rock and roll pioneer you’ve never heard of.
In 1983, Wong Ka Kui formed a Cantonese rock band named Beyond where he was the lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist. In a period where manufactured music dominated Hong Kong’s music scene, Wong Ka Kui stood out by composing and writing over ninety percent of Beyond’s songs, which were not only above love and hope, but about loss and sadness, overcoming obstacles, searching for peace, and most importantly, pursuing one’s dreams despite hardships. He used his music as a vehicle to inspire change, pushing social issues to the forefront and raising awareness of the problems plaguing society. Wong Ka Kui single-handedly revolutionized the music scene, putting Chinese rock and roll on the map. He was quoted as saying, “I wanted to hear a certain type of music, but it was absent in Hong Kong, so I decided to compose and sing these songs myself.”
Asian music never had the chance to thrive internationally, but I’m positive that if he was still making music today, he’d achieve international success–even breaking into the English-speaking market–and put Asian music on a world stage. But no, Wong Ka Kui’s untimely death occurred at the height of his career after falling off a stage while filming a game show in Japan in 1993. Yes, he made his lasting mark in music all within ten years! Unfortunately, this tragic loss stopped Chinese rock & roll’s momentum dead in its tracks.
There’s no mistaking the influence that Wong Ka Kui and Beyond had on music. Ka Kui’s distinct and powerful voice captivated those who were lucky enough to listen to him. He was a true musician and artist–he could sing, write, AND play a musical instrument. Considering how people desperately seek music as a way to find consolation or to relate to the world, the loss of Ka Kui was the worst blow to music–and, specifically, to Hong Kong’s music industry–for which we will never recover from. Wong Ka Kui was a legend ahead of his time. It is no wonder his music speaks to fans today just as they did over 30 years ago. Not a week goes by where I don’t listen to his music. His soulful voice continues to touch me; his songs resonating long after listening to them.
I hope this blog introduces Wong Ka Kui to all of those who are unfamiliar. It is my wish that his music lives on. I urge you to do more research on him, as his story is a great one about perseverance and hard work. Please share his music with others so that his songs continue to be heard, inspiring change for the better.
On a side note, I found some interesting similarities between Wong Ka Kui and Bon Jovi. They were both born in 1962 and both started their rock bands in 1983. Their songs also share similar musical qualities, so perhaps if you’re into Bon Jovi–or David Bowie and Pink Floyd, two of Wong Ka Kui’s biggest influences–you’ll also listen to Wong Ka Kui’s music as well.
Below are some of Beyond’s greatest hits. I sincerely hope you enjoy them. I’m always open to discuss them or help with translations if needed. For those new to Wong Ka Kui’s music, what are your first impressions? Do his songs resonate with you?
Beyond’s signature song, “Glorious Years,” about racism and oppression, inspired by Nelson Mandela’s struggles as the first black president of South Africa.
Another signature song, “Under a Vast Sky,” about chasing after one’s dreams.
Here’s a song, “Amani,” about striving for peace, inspired during a visit to the war-torn nation of Tanzania.
Beyond also has Mandarin and Japanese versions of a few of their greatest hits, so I hope you search for and listen to those as well.
Here’s to the legendary Wong Ka Kui, Beyond, and Chinese rock and roll!