Eastern promise for voice of HKTV: Kashy Keegan
British singer Kashy Keegan found the path to stardom runs through Hong Kong after his song became a protest anthem
Hong Kong has become a special place for Briton Kashy Keegan. A city with an entertainment industry characterised by formulaic television and homogeneous pop music has ironically become a launch pad for the musical aspirations of the previously unknown 30-year-old singer-songwriter, who will be taking to the stage for his first solo concert in Chai Wan on Friday.
"Life can surprise you when it is least expected," the singer of This Is My Dream said on the phone from Kingston in southwest London. Now he calls Hong Kong his second home. "Never say never ... you never know what's around the corner."
It all began when Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and his Executive Council made the decision in October to deny Hong Kong Television Network a free-to-air television licence.
After a three-year application process, i-Cable's Fantastic TV and PCCW's Hong Kong Television Entertainment were granted licences in principle, but Ricky Wong Wai-kay's HKTV, which had invested more than HK$900 million in the project, was not. It subsequently laid off 320 staff.
Viewers fed up with broadcaster TVB's dominance of local television and rival ATV's lacklustre programming were angered by the decision, especially since HKTV had pledged to produce high-quality dramas to challenge those on TVB.
Tens of thousands took to the streets, resulting in a week-long rally outside the central government offices at Tamar, Admiralty.
Though the television dreams of many had been killed off, Keegan's music career was just about to take off.
Thousands of protesters took to chanting Keegan's This Is My Dream, originally a 2012 London Olympics motivational song, after it had been picked by Wong in 2012 to be HKTV's theme song.
"Oh my goodness," Keegan said, recalling the moment he first saw videos of the rallies.
It was a time when a frustrated Keegan was about to give up on music after 15 years of trying. But when Keegan received messages from staff at HKTV asking him if he would be willing to come to Hong Kong to perform at the protests, it proved to be his lifeline.
Keegan said he cannot comprehend the situation in Hong Kong. "How can the government ignore demand? There's so much creative work, time and money involved. It's criminal not to let [HKTV] succeed."
Keegan, who works as a journalist with IPC Media in Britain, sought advice from colleagues on HKTV's offer, and the next day was on a flight to Hong Kong for the first time with a ticket purchased out of his own pocket.
He took to the stage in front of thousands of protesters, performing This Is My Dream twice.
"I never performed this song live before ... It was phenomenal ... surreal," Keegan said. "It was like a fairy tale and was hard to believe, but people were protesting for a far more serious reason. They were demanding government transparency, and this song represents them."
Keegan and his song earned tremendous exposure, with the number of "likes" registered for it up from 75 to more than 60,000 by October 25. The song also topped the Hong Kong iTunes chart, beating Lady Gaga and Katy Perry.
For Keegan, who has been playing piano since the age of seven and has released two albums financed with his own savings, it was a dream come true.
As a thank you, Wong invited him to dinner at his home. "[Wong] told me he was listening to This Is My Dream when hiking. He is not a man to give up. He's determined to revolutionalise the Hong Kong television market. His entrepreneurial spirit reminds me of Richard Branson."
The recent surge in popularity of Corinna Chamberlain, the TVB singer and actress of Australian and New Zealand descent who goes by her Chinese name Chan Ming-yan, has raised questions about whether Hong Kong is ready to embrace Western faces in an entertainment industry that primarily serves a Cantonese-speaking Chinese community.
Keegan thinks he might have a chance, but language might be a hurdle. "I've been trying to learn Cantonese but it's not an easy language to learn," he said.
Keegan believes he will stand a better chance in Hong Kong than in his home country since his music is mainly ballads, which are more popular in Asia.
"In the UK, it's mostly dance or hip hop. Not many like ballads, except for girls. People say that my music isn't viable here," said Keegan, who likes classic pop music such as that by George Michael and Elton John.
Keegan said he has prepared 17 songs to perform at his Chai Wan gig. He hopes his songs can serve as inspiration to his fans - some of whom helped him organise his Hong Kong show and raise funds for it through crowd-funding website Indiegogo.
"In the past, music was a catalyst for social change, but now it's all very commercial. I hope that can change."
HKTV has pledged to return in July with an internet-based mobile television service after acquiring China Mobile Hong Kong Corporation, which holds a mobile television licence. Despite potential technical problems related to the quality of signal transmission and disputes over TVB's leasing of transmission stations to HKTV, Wong has vowed to boost investment, rehire those who were laid off and produce more programmes.
Keegan said he is delighted by the news and excited to see HKTV's dream become reality.
"I've been chasing my dreams for years and I just want my songs to be heard. The only failure in life is a failure to try."
Kashy Keegan's Hong Kong Dreams Come True Concert will be held on Friday at 8pm at Youth Square's Y-Theatre, 238 Chai Wan Road, Chai Wan. Tickets cost HK$198 and HK$168.
Dream: To become a singer-songwriter
Occupation: Journalist at IPC Media, Britain
Music training: Started taking piano at the age of seven; performed with a gospel choir in London
Past jobs: Cleaning, telesales
Influences: George Michael, Elton John, Simon & Garfunkel