Metamorphosis of a Kpop Singer

by Lynda Tyrrell, 07/04/2015


Who would have thought a simple Instagram post would lead me to meet such an interesting and wacky person as Sanggu. I call him wacky at this point as when we first started chatting back and forth I had some concerns about him. Although he came across as intelligent, driven and artistic, the things he told me about his past set off some alarm bells. I thought he might be one of those people who falsely brag they did this and that, know this or that famous person. So I did the logical thing - I Googled the man!

I first checked out who Ronnie King is and discovered he is a multi-platinum Grammy and Oscar nominated giant of the music industry. He and Sanggu worked together in the 90s. In fact, I discovered an old photo of Sanggu on Ronnie's web site that confirmed they did indeed know each other. So one thing he told me had panned out but what about all his other stories?

Like the one about him working with TLC and Lisa “Left-Eye” Lopes! TLC was part of my favourite jam back in the 90s. I knew the words to their songs and at first was like wow really? Like some fifteen year old groupie who just met their idol. After the initial wow factor wore off, I found myself once again being sceptical and so did a little more investigating.

During this time, Sanggu offered to send me a version of a song he was working on with Ronnie King. When the file transfer came through, I sat back and got ready to hear what I assumed would be some crappy song then *BOOM* there it was. Only seconds into the song. I found myself smiling. I could not understand a word as it was in Korean but I was totally blown away by not only his voice but the song itself. I did not even know what Kpop was but nevertheless the song worked its magic on me. I also found myself being totally impressed that he could speak Korean, which led me down the path of asking him why.

It was at this point that I learned about his past and his new love for this music genre. His first record deal came from Lisa "Left-Eye" Lopes of the world famous girl group TLC during the peak of their fame. TLC was instrumental in Sanggu's development which was the primary focus of his record deal with Left-Eye Productions under Sony Music at the start of his Journey. The deal happened only days after he made the decision to make a career out of singing, and vaulted him into a hornets nest of learning before he’d ever recorded a note. After Left-eye’s unfortunate passing in a car accident in Honduras, Sanggu was left looking for a new direction and mentor.

From working with TLC, Sanggu had made connections and quickly found a new manager. Another act this manager was representing was paired with Sanggu to work on a new “rock” project. That act was Collective Soul. Sanggu worked closely with lead singer and song-writer Ed Roland on six original songs they wrote together and which Roland himself produced.

He also spent time in the studio with Elton John and Collective Soul as part of the creative think-tank for lyrics with Roland as they recorded their duet “Perfect Day” In the coming months the Collective Soul experienced some turmoil that slowed the work process so Sanggu took an offer from a club owner in Houston, Texas to go and perform around the city. This was when he met the great Ronnie King. The chemistry between them was instantaneous. Ronnie and Sanggu spent the next few months recording literally 100’s of songs and developing their bond as friends and musicians.

Sanggu still felt he wasn’t creating music that was expressing his point of view nor reaching the sound he was looking to find at this point. He went back home to Canada (Vancouver) to regroup and wait for inspiration. During this time the “Gangnam Style” by Psy was all the craze but Sanggu found himself avoiding listening to the song. One day he finally gave in and sat down to see what all the fuss was about.Sanggu said he experienced a loss of time and must have watched the video on loop for nearly 4 hours straight.

Somewhere in the middle of the marathon, he knew he had become obsessed. “The rhymes I was hearing and the words themselves although meaningless for me, felt like dominoes falling from start to finish, each one falling perfectly after the next.” he said. He was hungry to figure out what Psy was saying and there was no time to waste. He found a song from Kpop artist IU that had lyrics Romanised so he could read them, and that same night he attempted to record himself on camera singing her song going only off the Romanised lyrics. Although he had never uploaded anything to YouTube, he uploaded this, and even though in his own words he “butchered” the language and likely “caused Sejong the Great to roll in his grave a few times”, the video got over 30,000 views before he woke up, and topped out just above 100,000.

This was when Sanggu set himself to start learning Korean and discovering the Korean culture. His obsession grew steadily over the course of the next year. It was only a few weeks after he shared his song with me, the one he and Ronnie had been working on that it caught the attention of a major Kpop television producer who had heard the song and loved it.

Now Sanggu is ready to release his music for Korean’s to judge whether or not he has hit the mark. With discussions on potential reality TV shows for Sanggu and various music entities with their eye on his progress, he feels both ready to launch and proficient enough to finally set foot in Korea for the first time.  His team made up of the legendary Ronnie King and his lyricist, a well published and award winning poet from Ulsan, Korea named Sangrim are committed to the end. This is what Sanggu said of his project: “I don’t know if Koreans will accept it, but I know it’s what’s in my heart. If not now, eventually I hope I can give back some of the joy that this music has given to me, even if on the smallest scale.” 

For more info visit www.mawheyo.com and on instagram @mawheyo.

Photo by Andy Kang

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