By Jocelle Koh
Singer-songwriter and creative Khalil Fong 方大同 has always been a pioneer in one way or another. Largely responsible for the introduction of R&B and Soul into the Mandopop scene early on in his career, the thinker has in recent years begun directing his efforts towards other topics close to his heart; namely fostering social, cultural and environmental change in his music and efforts.
Recently releasing new hip-hop single ‘TWIOCAMIC‘ (short for ‘The World Is One Country And Mankind Its Citizens’), the new single is a poignant manifesto of the artist’s worldviews and personal philosophy made even more so by its emergence during the COVID-19 crisis.
We spoke with Khalil about keeping busy during this period, and the importance of marrying different perspectives given the increasingly bleak state of world affairs.
Q: Hi Khalil! How are you holding up in quarantine?
So far so good but of course facing many of the same inconveniences as others around the world at this time. I’m fortunate to be able to be productive at home. I’ve been working on my own material as well as Diana Wang’s new music. She has written some very cool tracks so we are deciding which to put out first. Melodia Kong has also been writing new material and has been working with the JTW production team. She has also had her own meaningful insights during the lockdown and we should be hearing from her soon.
I’ve also completed up to book 10 of the Emi The Dream Catcher graphic novel series. This year we’ll be publishing books 4-6. Me and the team have had our work cut out for us.
Q: Your latest single “TWIOCAMIC” is kind of a mix of hip hop and spoken word poetry. You mentioned that these thoughts have been brewing for a while but only now you’ve found the inspiration to complete the single. What catalysed the completion of this song exactly?
A: Hip Hop has always been a huge inspiration in my music even though I rarely ever do full-on rap. I don’t have a great rap voice nor am I particularly technical in that department. I would describe it as my little hobby and also a vessel for certain topics that I feel may not lend as well to just singing. The philosophy “The World Is One Country And Mankind Its Citizens” is something I’ve wanted to put to music for a few years now. One of the factors that always deterred me was that the sentence itself was very literal for an actual lyric or chorus hook and I wanted to be able to distill the meaning of it into the song rather than to focus on the statement. When I came up with the imaginary word TWIOCAMIC, it all started to come together. I would write down lines on a daily basis and gradually find time on the side to make them coherent. I was brought up with the mentality of being a world citizen and it was always a concept I wanted to focus on in-depth through song but I think it was the timing of all of the world events and turmoil in recent years that sort of nurtured the idea into being.
I think some people will also be more receptive to the notion during these times. At least it could be a reference point for discourse and an extra point of view to add to the dialogue.
Q: The message of the single is to make people more aware of how history repeats itself, and what we can do to change it, which probably requires a big change in our values and societal values too. Do you think this change is something we’ll be able to witness in this lifetime?
A: Well if we take a step back from all of the distractions from our established daily bubble. If we really look at what’s happening from a scientific perspective, we will realise we are going to be facing huge social and environmental challenges in the coming generations. We are coming closer and closer to this bottle neck and we will be forced to adapt new and better habits and to find more sustainable ways to live both from a philosophical and material standpoint. I personally believe that it’s going to be very difficult if not impossible to come out “successful” unless humanity adopts an attitude of fellowship and unity. No one will find the answers or pull together enough resources and willpower unless we are able to work together for the prosperity of mankind.
Q: Especially with the recent virus, it has been a catalyst for solidarity in some senses, but also divisiveness in others. What are some small changes that we can make to act in fellowship?
A: The path will be slightly different for each individual but I would recommend replacing anger and hate for understanding and clarity. It’s something that has worked well for me over the years. The skill of directing any sort of negative energy into positive action in your own life instead of projecting it at someone.
Q: As a world citizen, you see things from a different perspective than others. Why do you believe these perspectives are important to share in a public space?
A: I’ve never really experienced culture shock. I expect people to be different and also very much the same. I think it makes it easier for communication and also to dissolve conflict.
Q: You recently also released a quarantine EP “Home Sweet Home” just a few months back. Is all this creation and creative release happening in real time?
A: Yes. I’m just working on stuff constantly. I’m writing the next Emi story as well in my brain. It’s not ready yet for actual words until I can connect the dots mentally as a solid piece. I have these “idea trees” and the fruits have to ripen and the “season” needs to be right for me to make them cohesive.
Q: What do you hope to share with listeners through these very relevant releases that you’ve been putting out lately?
A: A cheesecake ; )
Q: We all face our own unique challenges during this time. What are some things that have helped you through this time?
A: Cooking and the creative process…and being detached from outcomes.
Q: You’ve done quite a few surprise releases over the past couple of months. What can we expect from you next?
A: I’m not sure yet but don’t have expectations because it might or might not be your thing. These days I’m very much about experimenting and exploring. Also pretty excited to soon get the new books to the kids who have been fans of the Emi The Dream Catcher series.
Always working between his own balance of contemplating and doing, Fong has clearly made the most of an unfortunate situation with his usual pragmatic attitude. With his lofty ideals it would be easy to pass him off just as an optimist, but this doesn’t give him enough credit for the change he’s enacted through his music and creative endeavours.
If we thought that the age of social change in music was dead, Fong shows us we are surely mistaken. For as Jazz legend Nina Simone says; “It is an artist’s duty to reflect the times”. And in this confusing age where authenticity is prized and cancel culture is at large; Fong is one of few who dares to speak up for what he believes in; and to dream farther than many of us have the capacity to see.
To continue creating for nothing more than the sake of creating and recording our experiences is an action that rings even more powerfully in times like this. To be the change you want to see, and to be the singular mover in a timeline filled with inactivity.
It would be inaccurate to label Khalil as just a prolific Mandopop singer, even though in many senses and to many people, that is primarily what he is. But armed with a heart open to all our differences and a unique sound that appeals to many of us no matter where we are on this earth, he is a true global citizen and world-class creative like no other.
‘TWIOCAMIC‘ is a project that inspires me deeply, and speaks the words on my mind more succinctly than I ever could. A much-needed voice of reason in times of moral subjectivity, it all comes down to this new-age universal truth: that we are stronger together than apart, and as Khalil says in ‘TWIOCAMIC‘, “amongst one another we must find trust“.