Just over 2 years ago, British singer-songwriter Kashy Keegan hopped onto a plane, Hong Kong bound, with nothing more than $1000 in his bank account and a pocketful of dreams. Having spent a lifetime endeavouring to break into the British music industry to no avail, Kashy became an overnight phenomenon when his song This Is My Dream was singled out as the anthem to the HKTV licensing protests in October 2013, when Kashy was flown in to Hong Kong for a live rendition of the tune. A tad bit of shameless self promotion plus a whole lot of tenacity ultimately culminated into a record deal with a local record company. Over coffee and a chicken – avocado caesar salad on a fine Friday afternoon, Kashy told MadbuzzHK about working a full time job as a lifestyle magazine editor to fund his new album, Inner Song, finding his best friend while living in Hong Kong, and going gaga over meeting his childhood celebrity crush (we’ve all been there). With him having spent quite a bit of time in Hong Kong now, we reckoned we’d also challenge him to our 6 question Hong Kong Citizenship Quiz (because ain’t nobody got time for 7 years of residency for a legitimate HKID). Here’s what happened:
Kashy performs at the 2013 HKTV rallies
A great majority of the songs on your last album This Is My Dream were (quite evidently from it’s title), songs of encouragement and hope. Will there be some new themes, lyrically speaking, in Inner Song?
Yes! The first song that I released [from Inner Song] was Need For Love. It was the first song I wrote when I came to Hong Kong, but it’s not specifically about Hong Kong. It’s more of a commentary on modern society and how everyone is sort of in their own world now, looking down all the time. I just think it’s the era of self-obsession. No one really, at least when you’re looking around, connects that much. People are quite indifferent to one another and quite guarded. And I just feel that there is a contradiction, because deep down, part of the human condition is a need to feel loved, or appreciated, or valued.
In this album, I also talk more about love than I would have ordinarily. I met my best friend here, and I would say she is the most reliable, honest and genuine person I have met. So that was a surprise, and a big source of inspiration. I always used to do songs about self nurturing, self empowerment and self love, but now I do more songs about love in a relationship context. Maybe for the first time really. I think that would surprise people who have known my music before from way back in the MySpace days, because it was never my thing.
Did you find that self-funding an album granted you more creative autonomy?
I think absolutely, yes. When I work with the record label, because they’re putting up the money for it, you don’t really get a say. You just have to go along. I don’t know. It’s weird. When you are the brand, it’s strange when you are treated that way, like a coke bottle or something. If it is like an object, like a phone, at least there’s some separation, but when it’s you, and people want you to be like this or be like that, depending on how much bargaining power you have, people can really play you like a puppet, pulling all the strings. Say if you’re Adele, for instance. I’m sure she doesn’t have to answer to anyone. She can just pretty much do what she wants. I’m quite strong-willed, so I wouldn’t do anything I really disliked, but even still, it was more compromise than I was used to.
Do you have a favourite song from Inner Song?
I think what is most representative of me is Out of the Rubble, because again, it’s kind of a motivational song. The analogy is when you experience your world crashing down or when you think everything is going to pieces. It’s a song about starting over, and having the inner strength to build your life again, because in my life, I’ve had to do that. Before I came to HK, I had lost my job, I was made redundant from another job the year before, and I lost my flat as well. It was like the rug was pulled from beneath me. Then I ended up coming to Hong Kong, but I only had like, $1000 in the bank. And I had to start again, get the record deal. There was a lot of pressure. There was no security at all. So I was kind of inspired by that.
What songs do you personally turn to when you feel the need for some motivation?
It might sound corny and cheesy, but the first one is the song Hero (by Mariah Carey). I heard that in a pantomime when I was 10. It actually could be a Disney song because it’s about the hero within yourself, a song about inner strength, but quite simple. And as a kid, it resonated. There’s also a gospel song, I Can’t Give Up Now, talking about coming too far to give up. And there’s a group called Sounds of Blackness, and they have a song called Optimistic. I also like the one by a new singer called Andra Day. It’s called Rise Up. Pretty much any song that’s got a message of encouragement, I’ll listen to, because I’ve had many struggles in the past. That’s why I’ve always gravitated towards that music. I think music is the best for helping you transform your mood. It can really lift you up if you.
Were you a big Disney fan as a kid?
More the classic Disney films. I wanted to be Aladdin.
As in… getting to marry a Princess, that kind of thing?
Yea! I just loved the whole Arabian / Moroccan style. It always seemed quite mystical to me. And of course, getting to ride the magic carpet. And who doesn’t want to have 3 wishes? I did used to like to sing A Whole New World when I was very young. And in England, we have pantomimes at Christmas, and they’re usually themed on fairytales, so Aladdin, Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk. When I was very young I used to do those as well. I think that’s why a lot of the music is drilled into me, because of that.
Kashy, in his adolescent years, reporting at a theme park opening for the CBBC Newsround.
What did you play in the pantomimes?
Just the chorus… dancing, filling in village scenes, singing the unison numbers. I was only 10 or 12 or something, but it was fun. I used to just like meeting the celebrities who would be in it as well.
Who was the celebrity you were most excited about meeting?
It would mean nothing to you, but we used to have this show called the Gladiators. It would probably be hideous now, but they used to fight with life-sized cotton buds that you’d do your ears with, things like that. They pit themselves against the Gladiators and they were these larger than life warriors. Whoever scored the highest in the end would win. It used to rake in like 17 million each episode. And there was one who I was obsessed with called Jet. I used to phone up her mum and dad. I found their number through directory enquiries. I remember one time, I racked up the phone bill to 200 pounds because her parents lived in the North of England, and I would phone them. I would send them pictures and presents for Jet. She would probably hate them, but you know, as a kid, that’s a big thing. They wrote to me in the end. And then finally I got to do one of the pantomimes with her.
Did you go up and talk to her?
Yea! The first time she arrived, there was a break and she went with her then boyfriend to the local Pizza Express. I just followed because I was just so over the moon the see her. I walked in with one of my friends from the show as well. And I was asking the waiter “Do you know who that is?” We just sat down, eyeballing her until she came over. There was a certain innocence to it, but if I were to do that now, I would be arrested I’m sure haha.
While you were struggling as a musician back in the UK, did you ever consider signing up for the X Factor?
Sometimes. I have been tempted. But I was always concerned. I don’t really like singing the cover songs, because my main thing is writing songs, not so much the singing side. I feel those shows are more about wanting to be famous and showing your vocal gymnastics. I feel like you would be like a puppet, told what to wear, how to move, what to sing. And if I just grown up with a love for singing alone, I probably would have do it. But by the time those shows started coming along, I’d already written hundreds of songs, so I didn’t really like to do the covers.
What are you working on at the moment?
Actually, I’m doing This Is My Dream in Mandarin. It’s something the label wants me to do. I was a bit reluctant because I think it’s a gimmick. But, as a songwriter, what you want is the most amount of people to listen to your song. So it is my song, it’s just in another language. I’m keeping an open mind and giving it a go. For Cantonese… I’ve tried. Maybe I could try harder. I was doing language exchange with a local guy who was teaching me Cantonese and I was teaching him English. I think you have to mimic the whole accent to really get it. It’s not impossible, obviously. I’ve seen Westerners speaking Cantonese really well. It’s the time you have to invest. But also, there’s an advantage to it. In the office where I work, most people will be conversing in Cantonese, understandably. But in terms of office politics, I don’t need to get involved. Even if they’re slagging me off or whatever, I’m blissfully unaware. And I love that. For the first time ever, I don’t have to know.
Kashy in the recording studio.
In Hong Kong, you need to have lived here for 7 years to receive your HKID. But we figured if you can pass this Hong Kong citizenship test that we’ve devised, you would probably be equally qualified for one. Up for the challenge?
OK let’s give it a go.
1. Name 3 dishes you can get at a dim sum restaurant
Kashy: The BBQ pork bun. The shrimp dumpling… the vegetable dumpling? At the one in Kowloon City, I get the prawn burger with the wasabi.
Madbuzz: OK. Um. That last one is a bit more… indie.
2. Which major sporting event happened last weekend in Hong Kong? And where should you sit if you want the full party experience?
Kashy: The 7s. And is it West stand? South stand?
Madbuzz: It’s the South stand.
3. Hong Kong received it’s first and only Olympic gold medal during the 1996 Atlanta summer Olympics. Do you know what sport it was in?
Kashy: Did she do the… I think I know the lady. Is it a lady? I should know because I was going to do something with her for the RTHK. Was it the javelin?
Madbuzz: It’s a watersport.
Kashy: She did… OK I don’t know.
Madbuzz: It’s windsurfing.
Kashy: Oh I wouldn’t have got it. That’s interesting though. You’d never think that a HK-er would be good at windsurfing.
4. Can you recite the phrase the lady on the MTR says when she’s trying to tell you that you can’t eat or drink on the train?
Kashy: Um. I’m really bad because I hardly ever use the MTR. What I do remember… well I don’t even remember so much now, but when I first came here, I could do the door closing one? It’s like the first thing you learn in HK because you hear it so many times. But, my excuse is, I never catch the MTR for work. We get taken in by shuffle bus. And then at weekends, I usually taxi or Uber now. So I don’t know!
5. Can you name the tallest building in HK.
Kashy: Yes. It’s the ICC.
6. Name the veggie that will come free with your purchase if you shop for vegetables at a wet market.
Madbuzz: It’s spring onion. Have you ever been to a wet market before?
Kashy: …. I have never shopped at a wet market. But I know, there’s one in Causeway Bay, not for from where I work. When I first came here, my friend totally didn’t want to take me there. She only wanted to show me what she considers to be the nice areas of HK. She thought I would be turned off by that. But it’s actually interesting, because you wouldn’t see something like that back home so much. Maybe that’s what tourists would like to see. The real HK, as opposed to the beautiful facades that are more Westernized.
Madbuzz: OK. So you ended up with 3/6. I suppose you pass.
Kashy: ….Haha great. I would like to see how many Westerners can pass that actually. That would be interesting