100% Congee: the soul-searching musician carving out his own path
After writing and producing music for the likes of Griff, Ed Sheeran and Finn Askew, the Londoner’s impressive first EP, Kwong, is a poignant love letter to his family.
Congee, AKA Sam Tsang, has just returned from a trip to Mahón in Menorca. It was his first holiday in a long time, organised by friends who figured he was in serious need of a break. After all, he’s fresh off the back of releasing his debut EP, Kwong, which hit airwaves last week. A proper labour of love, the EP is the musical culmination of Tsang coming to terms with growing up in a Chinese family in London, untangling the messy process of embracing his heritage and culture.
In keeping with his thoughtful disposition, Tsang’s lyrics tend to be poignant and introspective, even when they’re laid over alt-pop beats and compulsive, syrupy production. “I know you used to pray that we could speak without the barriers /Still to this day we haven’t had that conversation, sorry you’re still waiting” he sings on Be Alright, a song about getting to grips with the language barrier between him and his mum.
“I think, for me, it was a project where I could be like, OK, this is how it feels to talk about this stuff and have it out in the world. It was like an acceptance of myself,” says the 28-year-old, who started playing the guitar as an early teen after spotting a talented guitarist playing at his mum’s Chinese church. “It was the first time I’d ever seen someone do that. I thought, this is it. This is the thing,” he remembers.
And so his mum bought Tsang his own guitar, which led him to eventually make music, write songs and then bag himself a spot at the prestigious Guildhall School of Music and Drama. “During uni, I started doing production and it went from there,” he says. “After I left, I was introduced to people and started writing for them. Things really built up.”
Now, Tsang’s got more than a few producing accolades under his belt. He’s worked with Ed Sheeran, viral musician Finn Askew, and his close friend and Brit-winner Griff, having produced her and Sigrid’s critically acclaimed track Head On Fire. But after spending so much time collaborating with others, it now finally feels like the right time for Tsang to work on his own music.
The making-of Kwong turned out to be quite the learning curve for him. “[I was] used to hearing someone’s vision, going for it and serving someone else in that aspect,” Tsang says, “but this project felt like something that I’d never experienced before. I had to ask myself: what do I want from it?”
From how to stop overthinking to the best advice he’s ever received, get your 100% fill on Congee below.
10% Where were you born, where were you raised and where are you now based?
I was born in Willesden Green and then moved to Watford, where I was raised. Then I moved around London for a bit by myself and now I’m living with my family in Tottenham.
20% When did you realise you could do what you loved for a living?
I think it was when I signed my first publishing deal. I didn’t even know what that was at the time – I literally had no money in my bank account, maybe like 50p. It was pretty peak and I was doing all these sessions at the time. Then one thing led to another and I was like, “oh, maybe I can actually do this now.” That was around three years ago.
30% What’s a piece of advice that changed your life?
Think less, make more. I’m such an overthinker and perfectionist, especially when it comes to my own projects. It’s much easier said than done, but I’m trying to turn creating into more of an instinctual thing.
40% How do you get yourself out of that perfectionist funk?
Therapy! I’ve lived my whole life just trying to perfect or fix everything. I think it’s just constant practice to be like, actually, maybe the fact this isn’t perfect is a really good thing.
50% What kinds of emotions and experiences influence your work?
Kwong is mainly about being brought up in a Chinese family in Britain, going into mates’ houses and being like, “OK, your family is very different from mine.” So much of my upbringing involved me not appreciating how my family did things and thinking everyone else was so much more “normal” than me. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve started to think about how not to do that anymore. How do I just express myself and realise who I am?
60% If you were cooking food to impress someone, what would you make?
My mum is currently teaching me how to make crispy pork. She spends three days cooking it!
70% What is the most pointless fact you can share?
I don’t know how accurate this is, but there’s a shrimp in the ocean that has 15 cones in its eyes. It’s called the mantis shrimp, I think. It can probably see everything!
80% Love, like, hate?
I love climbing. I like this specific flavour of Smint – I won’t have any other one. And I hate when the floor of your bathroom is wet.
90% What do you think artists can do to help save the world?
I mean, apart from the obvious like recycling, I think they can keep telling their stories. We all have such unique stories and the more that’s brought into the world, the better.
100% If you could go back and watch one musical act in a specific era of their career, who would it be and why?
I would love to see Kanye perform his first album.