China Wine and the heady road to the US

China Wine and the heady road to the US

SINGAPORE - On Monday, he had talked about his strategy of using the music of his wife, Ho Yeow Sun, to engage the MTV generation and preach the gospel to them.

Yesterday, City Harvest Church founder Kong Hee spoke of its efforts to use the same springboard to break into the American market - and the discomfort that came with it.

Specifically, he talked about his wife's controversial hit, China Wine.

Kong said that in 2003, an American pastor had suggested to him that Ms Ho's music would appeal to Americans. Songwriter and producer Wyclef Jean was brought on in 2006 to help Ms Ho.

Wyclef was a "hitmaker" who worked with Colombian singer Shakira on the Latino-reggae song Hips Don't Lie.

He suggested that Ms Ho scrap the songs that had already been recorded for the English album as they sounded "too white, Caucasian" for her.

Instead, Wyclef recommended Ms Ho try a new "Asian-Reggae" fusion sound, which led to the making of the single China Wine.

But Kong added that Ms Ho was "uncomfortable" with the new direction, as it did not sync with the image she wanted as a pop artist.

"We were concerned if this was the way to worked for Shakira, but, as Asians, we come from a more conservative background," said Kong.

But he added that they were still open to the idea if it would help Ms Ho break into the secular United States market and spread the Christian message.

"If Sun made it in the US, it would open a big door for our missions," he said.

The partnership with Wyclef ended in 2008.

Kong said this was partly because he was keeping an eye on the budget and wanted to make sure that the church funds used to finance Ms Ho's career were returned and with interest.

So Wyclef had to go, as he asked for too much money.

Kong and five others face various charges for their part in allegedly misusing some $50 million in church funds to boost Ms Ho's career, and then covering up the misappropriation.

City Harvest had indirectly financed the US foray by buying bonds issued by Ms Ho's manager at the time, Xtron Productions.

The prosecution believes these and other bonds were shams orchestrated by the defendants to enable the misuse of church funds, and there was no "genuine concern" among the defendants whether the borrowed money would be returned.

But Kong said his "rigorous" oversight of the US project's budget refuted this.

Questioned by his lawyer, Edwin Tong, about the prosecution's claim, Kong said: "I did my level best to make sure that all of the money being put into the US album would come back.

"Why? Because the church had invested its building fund in Xtron and I wanted to be sure the church suffered no loss."

The Xtron bond money was eventually repaid and with interest, but the prosecution believes this was done through more sham transactions, which amounted to the church paying itself back with more church funds.

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