Briton Barry Cox eyes stardom singing Canto-pop, but his songs have bite
It would be easy to label Barry Cox a novelty - a Caucasian who sings in Cantonese and Putonghua - but there's nothing trivial about this wannabe pop star's latest song on a controversial topic that divides Hongkongers: shark's fin soup.
"It's like a war - you can't win it but you can let people know and understand the issues about shark's fin," said the 35-year-old from Liverpool, England.
Cox (pictured) isn't your typical entertainer and he knows it.
"Apart from me being a gweilo singing in Chinese, my songs are about things I believe in, like eating healthy and teaching people to stop killing sharks for their fins," he said. "I'm definitely not a novelty; this is something that I do and if it was a novelty, why have I been doing it for so long?"
Cox - also known as Kwok Pak-wing - started learning Cantonese when he was 17 from a mate at the local fish and chip shop in Liverpool.
He was so enamoured by the language and Chinese culture that he enrolled at a local Chinese school, worked in a Chinese supermarket and started singing lessons so he could learn how to be like his idol: Canto-pop star Leon Lai Ming.
"The first time I performed I sang [Lai Ming's song] I Love You OK. I was out of tune but the audience clapping was so encouraging and that's when I knew I wanted to be a singer," he said.
For the past eight years, Cox been based in Hong Kong, travelling around Asia doing shows in casinos, for corporate clients and private parties. "But my biggest dream is to have my own concert in Hung Hom," he said, referring to the Coliseum, a large concert arena favoured by many Canto-pop stars.
Since February, he's stepped a little closer to that dream after he knocked on the door of veteran broadcaster Robert Chua Wah-peng, who produced Enjoy Yourself Tonight, one of the world's longest-running live variety shows, which ran into the late 1980s on TVB.
"I found him on Facebook," Cox said, and sent Chua a friend request the same day. The next morning, the two were chatting over a cup of tea about how to make Cox a star.
"I liked his personality and we clicked," Chua said. "I want to help make his dream come true and I think he will be a very big star. He has a Chinese heart and he understands Chinese culture.
"It's a pity he had been in Hong Kong for the last eight years and been unnoticed," but that is all about to change, Chua said, with the release of Cox's new song urging people to stop eating shark's fin soup. It is slated for release next month.