Artists You Should Know: Khalil Fong
Name: Khalil Fong or 方大同 (Fong Tai Tung)
Dominant Language of Discography: Mandarin Chinese
Genre: R&B / Pop / Acoustic
Khalil Fong is an American-born singer-songwriter and producer based out of Hong Kong. Though he was born in Hawaii, Khalil lived in Shanghai and Guangzhou during his childhood. His parents wanted to make sure he was well educated of Chinese heritage and culture and avoid becoming simply an ‘ABC’ (American-born Chinese), emphasis on the ‘A’. Khalil’s unique style is heavily influenced by his upbringing, being introduced to soul, funk and jazz through his father who was a professional drummer. He states that his initial aim when landing a contract deal with Warner Music Group in 2005 was to introduce a “more authentic Soul, R&B and Hip Hop sound into Chinese music”. This is also why his songs are mostly in Mandarin, which allowed him to gain a loyal following in China and Taiwan.
In 2013, Khalil departed from Warner Music Group. More recently he has established his own label, Fu Music. Through this label, his ultimate goal is to bring multicultural experiences to the Asian music scene; fusing Chinese and Western musical influences.
Some of Khalil’s biggest musical influences include artists like Jimi Hendrix, Questlove, Musiq Soulchild, D’Angelo, and Michael Jackson. I first encountered Khalil’s music through Spotify, when I was scrolling through the ‘Discover’ tab and he was listed as one of the “Top Recommendations for You”. Spotify has undoubtedly recognized my interest in Korean R&B, but I had never actually ventured out to listen to other Asian language music. I can’t read nor understand Mandarin whatsoever but I thought: “Why not?” and clicked on the album Wonderland.
Listening to the Wonderland album I was instantly drawn to How It Feels. I proceeded to do something unlike myself, and that is immediately do a quick search for English translations. I came up with nothing. I was willing to accept that defeat, but then luckily the chorus started playing (in English):
“Do you know how it feels every time that you say goodbye? Do you know how it feels every time that you make me cry? Don’t break my heart”
When I’m listening to music in a foreign language I’m not so much fixated on having the exact translations for everything so long as I can grasp the overall point. And I believe that line says enough!
Fast forward to his 2012 album Back to Wonderland, that feature tracks like You Could Be (你就是) and Love At that definitely show off the Musiq Soulchild influence. What I really appreciate is that it’s “influence” and not “imitation”, which I tend to be sensitive about when exploring new artists. Khalil definitely takes these musical influences as a strong base and molds his tracks into his own.
We then have a very special album, Journey to the West (JTW 西遊記 ), which marks a special milestone for Khalil as it is his first album under his independent label Fu Music. With this newfound creative freedom, Khalil took this opportunity to really go outside of the box and explore more musical styles. Also unlike his other albums, this is much more collaboration heavy featuring Wang LeeHom and Hanggai in addition to well-known Korean artists Zion.T and Crush. In this album you’re hit with Chinese, Mongolian, English, and Korean, making it quite literally an international and unconventional album. Being a huge fan of both Zion.T and Crush, I had to listen to the track Flavor(味道) and I was not disappointed (is my bias showing?). You’ll see they really committed to the whole ‘meal’ theme in both the video and lyrics.
Though brief, I hope this gives a better understanding of an artist I really enjoy (and I hope you enjoy him too). Check out Khalil Fong’s website that covers his biography, discography and projects!