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City Harvest trial: Sun Ho ‘uncomfortable’ with Asian-reggae style, says Kong

City Harvest Church founder Kong Hee also said he had always kept a close eye on the financial details pertaining to his wife's English album as he wanted to make sure her artist management firm would be able to recover its investment.

SINGAPORE: Sun Ho felt uncomfortable singing Asian-reggae songs as she felt she was not a "natural fit", City Harvest Church founder Kong Hee said in court on Tuesday (Aug 12).

Songwriter and producer Wyclef Jean had been roped in to produce Ho’s debut English album in 2006, and wanted it to feature Asian-reggae music. But Kong, who is facing criminal breach of trust charges, said his wife, Ho, felt reggae music was not her style, despite the number of hits that her single China Wine – featuring Wyclef – was getting on YouTube.

Kong and five of his deputies are accused of using church monies to fund Ho's secular pop music career.

Taking the stand in his defence for the second day, Kong said they were excited about working with Wyclef because of his reputation as a "hitmaker" and his ability to help artistes from outside the US break into the American music industry. One example was Columbian singer Shakira, who had collaborated with Wyclef on a hit Latino-reggae song Hips Don't Lie.

Wyclef had wanted to re-record Ho's album in an Asian-reggae style, as he felt the songs she had already recorded were "too white" for her and did not sound authentic.

"We were concerned if this was the way to go ... it worked for Shakira, but as Asians, we come from a more conservative background," said Kong, adding that they were still open to the idea if it would help Ho break into the secular US market.


(Picture: A screengrab from Sun Ho's China Wine music video on YouTube)

Ms Ho later parted ways with Wyclef in 2008 due to escalating costs. Kong said US music producers had proposed pumping another US$10 million into marketing costs, which made him concerned. "I think at that point in time we already spent about US$5 million in that project, so this is - to me, was very, very high," he said, adding that Wyclef and a high-level Sony Music executive later further increased their budget, which also made him feel "uncomfortable."

Kong said he had pushed for more realistic and conservative budgets for Ms Ho's album as he wanted Xtron to be able to recover its investment. He said he was mindful the church had invested its building fund monies into Xtron bonds and the bond proceeds used to support the album, so the church must not suffer any loss, and get its money back with interest.

He also said he studied the budgets and projections sent to him by the US music producers in a "deliberate and careful" way so as to negotiate the best deal before presenting it to the Xtron directors for approval.

This included sending to his team - co-accused Tan Ye Peng and Serina Wee, to independently check the numbers. "Constantly, I would try to push for more conservative budgets, have worst case scenarios, and work on contingency planning," he added.

Kong also said that Xtron directors made their own decisions. And even though they were church members and he had some influence over them as their senior pastor, he said he never took advantage of this influence to make them do his bidding.

Ms Ho's English album was eventually never released, but it was part of the reason why the church decided to venture into the US for its Crossover Project, the court heard. The project, fronted by Ho, is the church's way of evangelizing through secular pop music.

Kong told the court that it was important that Sun succeeded in the US as it would open doors for the church to preach the Christian message – not just in Asia, but around the globe. "If Sun made it in the US, it would open a big door for our missions," he added. 

The court was earlier told that Ms Ho had success with her work in the US, with at least two of her songs topping dance charts in the US and UK, based on club spins.