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Wong Ka Kui, Beyond, and Chinese Rock and Roll

Wong Ka Kui playing his guitar.
Wong Ka Kui playing his guitar.

Before #BTS and before #BIGBANG, there was Beyond, the rock band from Hong Kong you've never heard of. June marks the 31st anniversary of the birth-and death-of Wong Ka Kui, Beyond's founder, and the greatest musical genius who ever lived. Not many are familiar with him outside of the Chinese community, but his spirit lives on through the one-of-a-kind music he left behind.

In 1983, Wong Ka Kui formed the 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 pursuing one’s dreams despite hardships. He used his music as a vehicle to inspire change, push social issues to the forefront, and raise awareness of the problems that plagued 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.”

Before the popularity of #Kpop, Asian music never had the chance to thrive internationally, especially in English-speaking countries. It is only relatively recently, thanks to the rise of Kpop, that Asian music could finally be heard and appreciated in non-Asian countries. Wong Ka Kui's untimely death at the height of his career in 1993 after he fell off a stage in Japan shocked the world. Momentum for his music to be heard by the masses came to a standstill. The tragic loss stopped Chinese rock and roll's future on a world stage dead in its tracks. Without a doubt if Wong Ka Kui was still with us today, his musical influence would have spread worldwide the same way Kpop has taken the world by surprise.

Wong Ka Kui was a legend ahead of his time. It is unbelievable that in just 10 years he was able to create such variety of iconic masterpieces. He and Beyond left an indelible impression in the world of music. Ka Kui's distinct and powerful voice captivated those who were lucky enough to hear his music. He was a true musician and artist; he could sing, write, and play a musical instrument. His music continues to speak to fans today as it did over 30 years ago. His soulful voice and meaningful lyrics continue to resonate. 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.

My hope is to keep Ka Kui alive in memory by sharing Beyond's music. I urge everyone to do more research on him as his music deserves to be heard. You can find English translations for his most popular songs online, and you'll be blown away by the depth of those lyrics. There are actually some interesting similarities between Wong Ka Kui and Bon Jovi, another rock musician I truly respect. They were both born in 1962 and both started their rock bands in 1983. Their songs also share similar musical qualities, so if you're into Bon Jovi--or David Bowie and Pink Floyd, two of Ka Kui's biggest influences--I hope you'll listen to Wong Ka Kui's music as well.

An interesting update is that a singer who looks and sounds strikingly similar to Wong Ka Kui recently popped into the scene. Check out 王维锴. I'm truly amazed at the similarities! Beyond should re-unite with 王维锴 as the lead singer, similar to what Journey did when they replaced Steve Perry with Arnel Pineda. Fans would be ecstatic and as incredulous as it sounds, Beyond could rise from the ashes.

Here is Beyond's signature song titled 光輝歲月 or "Glorious Years" about racism and oppression which detail's Nelson Mandela's life and his struggles as the first Black president of South Africa.

Another signature song titled 海闊天空 or "Under a Vast Sky" about possibilities and chasing after your dreams.

Here's a song titled Amani or "Peace" calling out to end the war, inspired by Beyond's visit to the war-torn nation of Tanzania.

Other notable hits include 真的愛妳 (I Truly Love You), 喜歡你 (I Like You), 長城 (Great Wall), and 灰色軌跡 (Grey Tracks). 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.

What are your first impressions of Wong Ka Kui and Beyond's music? Which songs particularly resonate with you and why? If you have any questions at all regarding this music or any translations, please feel free to reach out. Let's get the discussions going.

I'd like to leave with this final thought: Isn't it interesting that the 3 songs posted here (particularly the first and third) are as apt today as they were over thirty years ago when they were written? In light of what's happened over the last few years and what is currently happening, will the world ever come together?

Here's to the legendary Wong Ka Kui, Beyond, and Chinese rock and roll!


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