An acclaimed American beatboxer has been left homeless in South Korea and struggling after his employers allegedly failed to honor his contract.
Kenny Muhammad, also known as the Human Orchestra, arrived in Seoul in June 2014 on an entertainment visa (E-6). After a year of negotiations between his lawyer in the US and the agents representing him in Korea he signed what he thought was a binding contract.
“My lawyer put together a good contract that is fair for everybody but they don’t do that over here,” Kenny told the Korea Observer.
Instead of the good deal he was expecting he said his agents consistently violated their contractual obligations, stole personal items from him, as well as photographs and videos from his computer, and caused him to lose his apartment in New Jersey.
“They had one mask in New York, but once I got to Korea I saw the mask fall off,” he said.
His signed contract, which was seen by the Korea Observer, states that his agents would make “a reasonable effort” to book Kenny on a consistent basis. However, Kenny said that he was never shown a schedule and booked his first performance himself.
From June to August he only performed twice through bookings secured by his agents, Gag Concert on KBS and Star King on SBS, both of which aired in August. Kenny said he never saw the contract with the TV stations and never received payment for his appearances.
“Right after I finished SBS they disappeared on me,” he said. “I couldn’t communicate with them. It was always a one-way situation. I had to wait for them (to contact me).”
That same month his relationship with his agents worsened when he discovered a bag containing papers with his name and some USB keys in the back of his agents’ assistants’ car. He took the files and found them filled with personal photographs, videos and contact information that was stored on his personal laptop.
“It was a straight violation. It woke me up to the reality of who I was dealing with,” he said.
That same night he noticed that information had been deleted from his email and YouTube accounts, some of which he has been able to retrieve. He later discovered the sim card from his phone had been removed.
Kenny filed a larceny charge with Songpa Police Station, but so far nothing has come of the situation.
His contract stated that he would receive a monthly payment of US$8,000 as well as 60 per cent of net earnings generated from the use of his talent. Kenny said he had to fight to get his August payment. A turning point came when he noticed he didn’t receive his September payment and he decided to seek legal help.
After finding a lawyer later that month who agreed to take his case for 1 million won($920), he said they signed a retainer contract and agreed that he would pay the fee at a later date. Kenny said the lawyer, who told him he had a “slam dunk case” against his agents, wanted to charge them as criminals.
A few weeks later he was told that the firm could not represent him because he hadn’t paid the retainer fee. Kenny said he was using his US bank account which had recently been blocked after he withdrew money at an ATM machine in Seoul. He said he made them aware of his situation.
“I even showed them my account and showed them the money was there. I just had to wait for me to get access to it.”
His relationship with the law firm ended after a heated argument with the lawyer.
During October Kenny said he had little to no contact with his agents and in early November he returned to his apartment in Jamsil, Seoul, which was provided for by his agents, to find that he had been evicted.
“I was having coffee at Starbucks and I had this piercing feeling – go back to the apartment,” he recalled. “I rode my bike all the way back to the apartment and I got in front of the apartment building and all of my bags were outside. Everything was out in the front.”
His agents’ assistant told him they would put him up in a hotel for five days and then move him into a new apartment. After one night Kenny was told by the hotel manager that he needed to pay if he wanted to stay longer. He was not able to contact his agents.
After staying with a friend in Dubai for the next month he returned to Korea in early December to fight his agents. He had one last meeting with them, who contacted him via email while he was in Dubai, in a bid to get what he is owed. The meeting didn’t work out and he found himself homeless.
“I was struggling,” he said.
While trying to be cautious with the little money he had Kenny found himself spending the night in a coffee shop.
“I would go in there, I’d maybe have enough for one small latte … I would just stay on my computer,” he said.
He spent the majority of the next five weeks sleeping in different saunas. Through the help of a friend he found a cheap room in a “goshiwon” where he has been staying since early January.
He again sought legal help in January but couldn’t afford the 3 million won upfront fee the lawyers requested. However, a lawyer from a labor law office in Gangnam reviewed his contract in January and concluded that it was hard to claim Kenny was an employee or that the contract he signed was an employment contract and suggested that he take a civil case against his agents.
While Kenny received three payments from his agents for June, July and August it has been spent on supporting his family back in the US, paying off some debts and bills, and supporting himself in Korea.
He is now living off residuals from previous work that leaves him with about $400 per month after paying his rent. He says he is owed payments for his two TV appearances, his September salary and money for living expenses.
He is still suffering from the effects of an incident in July which resulted in his knee needing medical attention. Even though his contract stated that medical expenses would be covered, he said his agents refused to pay and he hasn’t been able to receive the proper treatment he needs.
While Kenny did a visa run to Japan three weeks after he arrived in Korea, he said he never received an Alien Registration Card and does not know his ARC number. He said his agents would not provide him with their business registration details that immigration required. The stamp in his passport says his visa is valid until August.
Kenny describes this experience as traumatic and says that it has taken a physical and mental toll on him.
“It’s been really rough. There have been times, like moments of giving up, where my spirit got depleted. I got depressed where this thing almost killed my spirit.”
While he can get a flight home through the US embassy he has decided to stay in Korea to try and fight his agents and warn others who are thinking of coming to South Korea on an entertainment visa.
“I didn’t know they were bad people,” he said. “When I got to Korea they pulled the mask off their face and I saw who they were.”
For those who want to provide legal assistance to Kenny or help our investigation into his case may contact Lee Tae-hoon via his email, firstname.lastname@example.org.
The following is the link to Kenny Muhammad’s Wikipedia page. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kenny_Muhammad