The tunes of Tai Po

The tunes of Tai Po

Kevin Kaho Tsui tells Candace Kwan about becoming a self-made musician, seeing the world, and finding happiness in his roots

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Kevin Tsui Ka-ho, local indie singer and songwriter, plays guitar in his studio at Fo Tan.
Kevin Tsui Ka-ho, local indie singer and songwriter, plays guitar in his studio at Fo Tan.
Photo: Bruce Yan/SCMP

Just 10 seconds into Kevin Kaho Tsui's audition for his secondary school's annual showcase, his teacher asked him to stop: he just wasn't ready to perform.

Fast forward to 2014: with plenty of touring experience under his belt - including a performance at the Clockenflap music festival last year - Tsui releases his first full-length EP, Dear Florence.

It's a bit of a surprise, since this indie musician/full-time kindergarten teacher-turned babysitter didn't even grow up with a musical background.

"I'm not musically trained, and I never learned how to play the piano," says Tsui. "I cannot read music notes, none of that. I don't even think I'm that good at guitar - I only really started playing in 2010 after graduating from university."

Around the same time, two popular musicians on YouTube - David Choi and Kina Grannis - inspired him to start his own channel. "They showed me that Asians can write songs, too, and that they're worth showing to the world. We're around the same age, and I feel like I grew up with them," says Tsui.

There are more than 100 videos on his channel, but the 28-year-old singer shyly admits to setting almost half of them to private. "It's a little embarrassing … I feel like there are some videos that I could improve on."

All of Tsui's original songs on his YouTube channel feature music videos that are directed, filmed and edited by him. The music video for Tai Po, the opening track of Dear Florence, was filmed over a sunny weekend. It was just Tsui, his camera, and tripod. "I know Tai Po really well, so I didn't have to do any research. I just went to my favourite spots."

A majority of the eight-track EP is on relationships and breakups, so to make something different, he wrote the whimsical tune as a homage to the place where he grew up and still lives.

Tsui is truly a one-man-band - the majority of Dear Florence was written, recorded, mixed and packaged in his very own studio in Fo Tan. But the studio isn't just where he works: it also inspired the cover for his album. "Everything featured comes from things in this room, from the egg tart plushie, to the little pedal I use to perform, to the taxi sign."

Shortly after graduating from the University of Manchester, in Britain, with a degree in art history, Tsui embarked on a little busking tour.

"Busking means showing your creative side to the public," says Tsui. "I wanted to try doing that outside Hong Kong, and since I was visiting friends in Europe, I thought 'why not bring my amp and guitar?' I learned a lot from performing in front of total strangers. I met new people and that enhanced my confidence."

His advice for would-be buskers is to only go when they're ready, because buskers in Britain usually have to go through an audition before they are given a permit. "Busking is a really great experience. It doesn't hurt to spend a little more time practising first."

It's been a few years since he went busking, but you can catch his street show this Sunday.

"I'm going to do a 20-minute set at each of the locations I filmed for my Tai Po music video," says Tsui.

Next stop for Tsui will be Taiwan, to promote his EP.

For more details, visit Tsui's Facebook page.

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
The tunes of Tai Po

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