Malaysian-born violinist Josh Kua on his journey to success and coping with perfectionism

Malaysian-born violinist Josh Kua is on a mission to break the stereotype surrounding violinists through his music. Photo: Josh Kua/Instagram

Never shy away from experimenting.

That’s the mantra that violinist Josh Kua repeats to himself whenever he’s composing a track or gearing up for a performance.

Since launching his musical career in 2015, Kua has demonstrated his versatility by exploring various genres.

The musician has dabbled with electro-pop in his 2018 single, Elevate, and played around with trap beats in his 2022 track, Sail Away.

In his latest release, All A Game, the 34-year-old takes it a step further by fusing his violin symphonies with hard-hitting beats and synth basslines to create an intense, evocative track that pushes boundaries sonically.

“I’m not afraid to experiment and improvise when it comes to my art because I think that being open to new things will open more doors for exciting opportunities.

“As a musician, my ultimate goal in the long run is to be my own unique expression. I don’t want to fit under any specific label,” he told StarLifestyle.

To showcase his versatility as a musician, All A Game features Kua’s own vocals for the first time, making it his most distinctive work by far.

At our interview, the violinist stressed that the intention of the track was not to “fit in” with what’s trending today, but to break the stereotype surrounding violinists.

“I have been asked many times, ‘Shouldn’t you be in an orchestra or something?’ just because I said I was a violinist.

“Through my art, I want to push the boundaries around how the violin is perceived today... to show that the violin can work beyond the realm of classical and orchestral music,” he said.

The beginning of it all

Nurturing his musical flair since his childhood, Kua picked up violin lessons at the tender age of four after falling in love with the instrument when he saw a violinist performing on TV.

To him, there was no better source of comfort than music.

“I grew up with low self-esteem and found myself seeking and finding validation through excelling in academics and music.

“Over time, I developed a strong confidence when performing in front of audiences.

“It was while playing music that I found myself most comfortable to let go, to be myself and to express without constraint,” he told Prestige magazine.

Though raised in Melbourne, the Kuala Lumpur-born star grew up with plenty of knowledge about Malaysian culture, thanks to his parents.

Growing up as a minority in Melbourne, Kua feels strongly about certain social issues. Photo: HandoutGrowing up as a minority in Melbourne, Kua feels strongly about certain social issues. Photo: Handout“I grew up with a lot of Asian cultural influences like respecting your elders, the practice of which is sometimes a bit different in the Western society.

“That’s why Malaysia is a cool place where there is a lot of intercultural inter-mingling yet everyone understands what is acceptable and what is not in different communities,” he told Opulence.

Growing up as a minority in Australia, Kua said that he feels strongly about certain social issues, especially racism.

According to the violinist, working in industries with heightened racial bias has made him aware of the role race plays in determining how one gets treated by society and their chances at success.

Elaborating more about the racism present in the industry, the violinist told Men’s Folio that as an Asian model, he had been told by other agents in the past that all “better jobs” were reserved for Asians with “Caucasian features”.

“I think it’s important to talk about the overt racial biases present in Asia, particularly towards ‘whiteness’ in general, and specifically towards those of Caucasian or Caucasian-mixed descent, as well as East Asian ethnicity and colour.

“These groups, as well as lighter- skinned Asians, are idolised and preferred over other Asians or darker races,” he told the Manila Bulletin in 2020.

From law to creative arts

Kua’s Malaysian parents met in Melbourne while studying at Monash University, the institution where he would later earn his degree in law and commerce.

That’s right! Apart from being musically talented, the violinist is book-smart too.

“When I was a student, I always found studying to take away the enjoyment of a subject. My biggest concern was that if I studied music, I’d lose passion for it.

“After a year doing industrial design, I switched to law and commerce because I didn’t enjoy drawing anymore,” he told StarLifestyle.

Kua started out as a model before pursuing a full-time career in music. Photo: Josh Kua/InstagramKua started out as a model before pursuing a full-time career in music. Photo: Josh Kua/Instagram

Although music and law were two very different pursuits, Kua was fortunate enough to receive performance gigs during his university years.

“During a foreign exchange programme here in Malaysia, a friend invited me to perform for the launch of a fashion line.

“From there, I thought I could go (professional). After that, I created my Facebook page and started to get more requests,” he told The Star in 2016.

While the violinist was certain he wanted to pursue a full-time music career after graduating, Kua admitted that he didn’t have enough traction at the time to do so, which is why he turned to modelling.

In 2010, the Hope Brews hitmaker received his first modelling opportunity after a casting agent approached him.

“I started out as a photography subject for a friend of mine who was an amateur photographer, and he encouraged me to upload my photos on this online creative portal.

“Sometime later, I received an offer from a talent agent to attend a casting for a commercial in Australia.

“Even though I had no knowledge about the industry, I felt compelled to take on the job,” he said.

Kua's passion for music has taken him to perform in multiple countries. Photo: Josh Kua/InstagramKua's passion for music has taken him to perform in multiple countries. Photo: Josh Kua/Instagram

Little did Kua know, this decision would turn out to be a crucial part of his development.

Since launching his modelling career, the violinist has secured campaigns with big brands like Nivea Thailand and Coca-Cola China. He has also modelled for Honda and Carlsberg.

Aware of the heightened exposure modelling gave him, Kua quickly used it to push his music.

Before he knew it, he was already receiving offers to perform for big brands like Van Cleef & Arpels, Patek Philippe, Swarovski and Omega.

In 2016, the musician successfully sold out 1,000 seats for his very first solo concert, Relentless, in KL.

His passion has also taken him to perform in China, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines.

While Kua has been in the industry for around eight years, the violinist knows he still has a long way to go to break into the mainstream market

“It’s not easy being an instrumentalist where the market is so niche, but I’m fortunate enough to make a living through my music.

“While it would be a bonus to become big, things like money and status are temporary, and I don’t focus on that too much.

“To me, it’s the moments that matter. Every performance is a chance to captivate, tell a story and share a feeling with someone else.

“Although it’s hard to break into the industry, it’s all these simple moments in life that make it all worth it,” he said.

Discovering opportunities in challenges

Although Kua tries his best to keep an overall positive outlook at life, he admitted that he has his own internal battles too.

During our 20-minute chat, the violinist opened up about his struggle with perfectionism.

“Perfectionism is something that I struggle with even till this day. I’ve always been particular about things that I’m passionate about.

“So when it comes to things like my music and the way I express myself through it, I tend to be more cautious,” he reasoned.

While the trait may come off as a positive quality, it often leads to turmoil when things don’t go according to plan.

Wanting to be in control of a difficult situation, Kua always tries his best to seek opportunities in challenges.

“Whenever things don’t go to plan, I will always try to find optimism in the situation.

“One of the things I’ve learned from experience is that in life, the most interesting things happen during the detours. For example, the Covid-19 pandemic was something no one saw coming.

“There were many aspects of my life which were made difficult because of the lockdown, such as not being able to perform at events or travel as often.

“But during that period in 2020 when I was cooped up at home, I was sort of thrust into this situation where I was forced to face my inhibitions.

“So apart from having more time to rethink about the type of content I wanted to put out, I also had time to self-reflect and think about what makes me happy and what I want to do in life,” he said.

Speaking of doing what makes him happy, Kua hopes to live his life to the fullest by focusing on the things that matter.

Outside of work, the artiste keeps himself busy by indulging in simple interests.

One of it is playing with his three cats.

When he’s not bonding with his furry pals, Kua told StarLifestyle that he would be spending quality time with his loved ones.

“I love having meaningful conversations with family and friends. I like going to places with good vibes, good food and good drinks.

“Another thing I’m interested in is philosophy and psychology. I also enjoy learning esoteric things such as how people perceive reality and things like that,” he said with a smile.

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