Remembering Beyond’s Wong Ka Kui

Rock Cantonese Asian Highlights Singapore
KKBOX Editor

Music has the ability to galvanise and bring strength to a world and age that needs it. For songs that spur the spirit, you will be hard-pressed to find anotherAsian band as powerful as the iconic Hong Kong group Beyond.

The band took Asia by storm in the ’80s with their freedom-themed tracks, including the hope-filled hit ‘Boundless Oceans, Vast Skies’, until the untimely and tragic death of its leader and lead singer Wong Ka Kui in 1993.

It would be 27 years to the day of the singer-songwriter’s death on June 30. To commemorate his death anniversary, KKBOX looks back at the band’s epochal milestone and songs that are bound to ignite the flame of hope and passion in you.

Beyond’s Angsty Beginning + 'Old Footprints'

Formed in 1983, the four-man group consisting of lead vocalist Wong Ka Kui, his brother and bassist Wong Ka Keung, guitarist Paul Wong and drummer Yip Sai Wing. In their earliest days, the band, heavily influenced by English pop and rock’n’roll, produced several English songs and only began writing Cantonese tracks in 1985. Waiting Forever released in 1987 is Beyond’s first official EP. A highly-emotive album, the songs centered on the themes of angst were written during the band’s underground days.

Unique from Beyond’s style, one of the title tracks ‘Old Footprints’, composed by Wong Ka Kui, was distinctively refreshing. From reminiscing a smiling face from the old days to lamenting the days that are gone, the lyrics are well-written and conveyed a depth of emotions, illuminating the sense of despair with lyrics singing “my tears fall and fall”. It was a pity there weren’t more of such in the band’s later compositions.

New record deal + 1988’s 'Grand Land'

After coming under the record company Kinn’s Music, the quartet had a complete style makeover to make them more mainstream — not only by cutting off their rebel-rousing long locks, but changing the themes and style of their compositions. The ballad ‘Loving You’, which found a second life after Hong Kong powerhouse G.E.M covered it recently, was born during that period; as was the seminal hit ‘Grand Land’. The latter became the 1988’s top 10 tracks, and gave the group its first commercial success.

Wong Ka Kui said then that he knew they had to become more mainstream in order to eventually play songs that they like. The band members soon started doing movies and TV dramas to boost their youthful and sunshine image and win over more fans, even trying their hands as variety show hosts. Their efforts paid off. Their 1989 ‘I Really Love You’ hit song, written in dedication to mothers, propelled Beyond’s fame to great heights.

Songs for world peace + 'Amani'

After the band’s trip to Africa, the song ‘Amani’ was released in 1991 when Wong Ka Kui witnessed the war-torn state the country was in. Written partly in Swahili, the musician was burdened by the sight of children who did not have a safe land to grow up in. ‘Glorious Years’ is Wong Ka Kui’s contribution to world peace. Inspired by Nelson Mendala’s fight against racism, the song was a powerful composition that also imbued Wong Ka Kui’s personal belief that confidence can change the future.

Sadly, his song-writing was greatly stifled by the studio in the two months leading up to his death — though he managed to produce the groundbreaking ‘Boundless Oceans, Vast Skies’ right before his passing. Not long after the track was released, Wong Ka Kui would die from an accident while participating in a Japanese variety show in Tokyo. Buoyed by the huge wave of emotions and the spirit-rousing sentiments behind the song, this generation-defining track attained an influence unlike any other and soon became synonymous with the term ‘freedom’. It has since become the unofficial anthem in Umbrella Movements in 2014 and last year.

A great talent was lost to the world on June 30, 1993. Then 31, Wong Ka Kui would have made such impact to social causes and written powerful pieces true to its times had he lived out his life. Even so, his spirit lives on in his songs, and his conviction in freedom, peace and hope perpetuates within the words he had penned.

Listen to Beyond's music on KKBOX.