Kyla tells ‘em who’s Queen

The Queen is seated on her throne. And she ain’t going anywhere.

Celebrating her 18th year in the music industry, Philippines’ “Queen of R&B”, and the only one eligible for the title, Kyla makes her unflinching comeback in the recording sphere with a brand new album entitled  “The Queen of R&B”, proclaiming point-black, straight out that she is nothing short of the acclaimed title, Queen.

The new record has been launched on Sunday, 15th of April at the Eastwood Mall Open Park.  Prior to this, two back-to-back singles have already been released between January and February: “Only Gonna Love You”, which features international rapper, REQ,  and “Fix You and Me”, both written and produced by Jonathan Manalo of Star Music.

Kyla is better than ever, more feisty than ever. Her artistry, more exquisite than ever. Her voice has reached an exceptional degree of maturity and even freedom.

I believe this is her most eclectic album by far—offering a variety of styles, sounds and feels; new and classic sounding R&B cuts, upbeat pop tunes; funky, reggae, and soft rock vibes; sad contemporary ballads, heartrending duets, and her exceptional revivals.  All of these are harnessed by her distinctively soulful vocals. It feels like her creative muscles have been stretched out flexibly and extensively in the design of this new work.Da3U4ksVQAE4qXg

I was just over the moon when I woke up that Sunday morning, seeing that the album was already available to stream and download online. I have to confess that I had to skip my pre-church morning devotions just to listen to the new tracks! Since then I have not stopped playing and savouring the tasteful mix of songs.

The themes are very universal and highly relatable: the pleasures and misadventures in love and romance. It’s for the happily in love, the kilig-deprived, the hopeful, the shattered, the thankful, the bitter, the friend-zoned, and of course, the I’m-right-here-waiting types. Just your classic, run-of-the-mill Filipino love language wrapped in beautiful music.

Here are my thoughts. The track order is according to my most favourite:

1) “Only Gonna Love You” is a terrific take on pop-reggaeton music, with very strong flares of hip-hop and rap. I happen to enjoy Latin rhythms lately, and this track was successful in combining the Latin dance sound with Kyla’s solid R&B vocals, and grabbing harmonies, that she delivers in a very tantalising and sultry fashion. Her vocal acrobatics particularly towards the end were simply breathtaking. Gah, that descending F5 run, and the high, melodic finish. Are you kidding me? Although I can’t say the last bit was in full whistle register, but the C6 definitely is (or has to be). We don’t get to hear her sing in this register all the time! Moreover, the Remix version was sparkling; the Motown mix was quite delightful; the F5 belts are daring, and the melismas are strictly on point in this one!

2) “What If I”, for some reason, takes me back to the classic, late90s-early00s R&B sound in terms of rhythm, instrumentation, chord progressions, dynamics and harmonies. It felt like listening to Way To Your Heart (2000) tracks all over again. It brought me the classic Kyla, which was heart-warming and thrilling at the same time. The song has a smooth, head-bobbing flow; it’s the kind of song you will play, finish listening to, then put on repeat, and not get sick of. Catchy melody and an addictive What-if-I hook; splendid texturised and counterpointing harmonies, and almost old school R&B riffs and runs. This piece is so easy to enjoy!

3) “Tayo Parin” has a strong Pinoy pop quality to it, that resembles the sound of Star Records divas during late 90s and early 2000s. It’s fun, catchy, sweet-sounding and dancey. The most notable aspect of this song is the numerous chord changes. Yes, numerous. Because who pitch-modulates up to 5 times in ONE freaking song? You’re out of your mind! This topples Beyonce’s 4 semitones in “Love On Top”. As if four was not enough! But Kyla made it a possibility. This would be a very challenging song to sing, that’s for sure.

4) “Pangarap Na Dumating” is the luscious pop-rock cherry of this album. This beautiful and bittersweet song highlights Kyla’s ability to stylise a simple pop tune, sprinkle her soulful zest all over it and make it extra-special, and most importantly, hers. It is that simple yet musically intricate principle that makes her sound so unique and riveting. This pop-rock and soul fusion is definitely a treat!

5) “Fix You and Me” leads us back to Kyla’s classic soulful R&B ballads. This song stretches out Kyla’s full vocal capacity, and it probably has the most daring runs amongst her originals. Also, it feels like this is Kyla’s best “entry” in the hugot song bank of the Philippines. And it’s a formidable one!

6) “Proper Heartbreak” is without a doubt an outstanding feature of this album. It highlights her vocal expression; all the music is subdued, and the spotlight is turned on her voice, which becomes the main instrument or driving force of the song. You can hear every single breath; every single vibrato is an unheard cry. Her voice colours every nuance of the character trying to cope with conflicting feelings of resentment and acceptance, and the pain of letting go. Kyla captured her vulnerability and fragmented heart. This is the same approach, and the same area she taps into in the acoustic version of “Fix You and Me”, but just with a more hopeful ring to it (I also need to mention that her intro runs for this acoustic mix is my most favourite).

7) “Talk About Us” is raw and bare R&B. Charming melody, feel-good rhythm; and the harmonic layers, especially on Kyla’s bits are irresistibly stunning. However, a part of me was hoping that the duet was done with Jay-R (Man, that would’ve been like “Back in Time”, part 2!). Nevertheless, I must say that Iñigo Pascual did a superb job in this track, and actually took me by surprise. Another track you can put on repeat.

8) “Sa Iyo”. Two words when I heard this song: artistic explosion. I was really looking forward to this. When I heard the first few bars of the song, I said to myself, “This got to be Jay Durias stuff!” It just had that distinctive Jay Durias/Southborder vibe because of the glassy, drone-y synth and the sophisticated, unpredictable chord progressions.  The design of the melody really fits the lyrics and the aimed musical flow of the song. What surprised me is that I didn’t get any complex harmonies and movements, which was expected from these two brilliant artists. Instead, they gave me placid. They gave me subdued. They gave me chaste. They touched my soul. So much respect.

9) “Pagdating ng Kailanman” will have to be my favourite Tagalog ballad. It is a very basic case of the melody and the lyrics joining together in paradisical marriage, and having a truthfully happy ending. The instrumentation and arrangement are rapturous. Most importantly, I believe this song also highlights the very best of Kyla’s vocal inflections, runs, dynamics and stylistic outpouring.

10) “Mahal Kita Pero Konti Na Lang” and “Huling Muli” will have to be the next Teleserye theme songs on TFC, I swear! They have a strong Filipino flavour and will surely cater to the Pinoy senti- taste. However, these ballads are done with absolute finesse, both in terms of musicality and expression. The quality’s a bit higher. The piano-string accompaniment plus the rolling cymbals are all just perfect. Her hums and vocal flips can pacify me even in my most disturbed state. Her belt bits are brave and full-hearted.

11) “My Melody” was fun and melodious. This brought in a substantial dose of soul, reggae and funk, which was in full glory in Kyla’s Journey (2014) album. The husky resonance in her head-mix-falsetto areas is plain intoxicating. Moreoever, her low notes are too alluring to be ignored. This is also well displayed in “What If I”, “Fix You and Me”, and “Pangarap na Dumating”. Test of a true soul diva!

12) Her remarkable revivals, “On the Wings of Love” and “Till I Met You” have put her back on the charts, and helped reiterate that Kyla is truly not your ordinary Filipino singer. She has taken these Filipino favourites on a different level with artistic intricacy and authority that have exceeded many of our expectations.

13) I have been a constant fan and lover of Kyla’s Himig Handog entry duets, “Monumento” (with Kris Lawrence), and “Tayo Na Lang Kasi” (with Jason Dy). These songs have elevated the artistic weight and standards of Filipino-composed music. I am hoping that Kyla will be given another chance to sing a solo entry in the coming song festivals, like her winning piece “Salbabida” for Philpop back in 2014.

This album is a 10 for me, and has absolutely exceeded my personal expectations. I have waited a long time for this comeback album, and I am very grateful that Kyla continues to make beautiful and authentic Filipino music that speaks to generations, and inspires creativity and artistic ingenuity, especially in new and aspiring Filipino artists.

She is a true gift, a cultural gem that will continue to shine brighter and brighter in the years to come; and her music, insurmountable.

All hail the Queen!

13 Filipino Artists You Need to Listen and Re-Listen to

Filipino music is very much alive today. It is here to stay. It ain’t going anywhere. And just like any other type of music and/or culture, it evolves. It matures. It expands. It diversifies. It reflects the phases of growth and progression that the Filipino culture undergoes, as well as the vagaries and proclivities of Filipinos’ creative minds.

OPM (Original Pilipino Music) or now also coined “Pinoy Pop” has come a long, vigorous way. And our Filipino artists are better and braver than ever. They are the unwavering stalwarts of our creative heritage. They define OPM. They fuel OPM. They take it to different heights. And now, they continue to bring forth immensely significant contributions for this generation and the next generations of artists and music lovers.

So here’s a short list of Filipino artists that I believe deserve our listening ears, and whose musical works are undisputed  and world-class. Make sure that you listen to them to know and understand why they’re top-notch.

1) KYLA

screen-shot-2016-11-30-at-10-54-38-pmShe is dubbed as the Philippines’ Queen of R&B. And she absolutely lives by this title. Kyla is an artist of high reputation whose voice, I believe, does not sound like any other! She has everything a vocalist would ever dream of: (1) a wide pitch range, (2) a sweet, breathy and velvety vocal tone (for her low to mid register), which can switch up to a lusty and dynamic timbre (for her high register); (3) perfect pitch—her runs are always on point and constantly carries a high degree of complexity; lastly, (4) improvisation skills—she can turn any song into her own either by embellishing or refashioning a simple melodic line into something quite interesting. Just listen to her tasteful rendition of a Filipino favourite, “On the Wings of Love” that basically put her back on the charts.

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2) YENG CONSTANTINO

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Dubbed formerly as the Pop Rock Princess, and now Pop Rock Superstar, the multi-awarded Yeng Constantino has absolutely blown audiences away in different parts of the world in the last ten years with her stylistic prowess, undeniable talent and distinctive artistry. Yeng’s remarkable contribution to the OPM domain as a singer and songwriter has been incredibly significant and can never be discounted in history. She is a strong and living force in the industry. Her music has set a whole new standard for the Pop Rock genre, producing smashing hits like “Jeepney Love Story”, “Salamat“, “Lapit“, “Ikaw“, and the all time favourite, “Hawak Kamay“. Recently, a musical was successfully written and staged featuring a range of her most notable hits.

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3) JASON DY

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Known primarily for being a winner of the Filipino edition of The Voice, Jason is another R&B whizz whose musicality combines a very contemporary mode of singing (from the enunciation to his musical trajectory), and an ardent, soulful delivery. His runs are always daring and gutsy. He is in significant ways a trendsetter because of his flexibility in singing a range of different styles such as ballads, funky tunes, and even dance hits, without sacrificing his vocal identity. That defines a modern artist in a way—flexibility, agility, innovation and responsiveness to change. See how he infused an R&B flare onto this original ballad piece.

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4) MORISSETTE AMON

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This woman is a musical firecracker and an extraordinary performer. Morissette is one of the few Filipino singers (if not, the only one) who use the whistle register very effortlessly on a regular basis. In terms of abilities and artistic achievements, she has accomplished exceedingly much at a very young age.  Her technique is strong and sturdy that allows her to become flexible in using all her singing registers. And her high notes—all smooth and easy. She’s known to also ‘break’ her voice on purpose, which is a technique popularised by Mariah Carey during her prime years. Listen to one of her original hits that embody the novelty and colour of her vocal style.

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5) KZ TANDINGAN

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The “Soul Supreme”. KZ just keeps getting better. Everything about her is still evolving—her style, her sound, her looks, her intensity. She has only been around for a few years but her impact in the industry and with her audience is expanding incrementally with great force. She defines soul and passion. She has already contributed important and monumental songs for her generation like the award-winning “Mahal Ko O Mahal Ako“, “Scared to Death”, and her superb rendition of “Wag Ka Nang Umiyak” by Ebe Dancel. She knows how to reshape a song and give it a brand new fashion. Her warm and raspy vocal timbre sings more than just the story of the music—it penetrates your soul and messes with it every once in a while, so don’t get surprised when tears just start rolling down your eyes. She is that artist that you always want to watch and listen to live because of her enormous effect on you.

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6) JOHNOY DANAO

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How do you even begin to describe Johnoy Danao? Maybe the folks who have watched him in his sold-out gigs could explain better. He has been called the modern troubadour for his unexplainable ability to tear your heart up alive with his beauteous poetry and splendid vocals. He is an extraordinary acoustic artist whose music embodies absolute sentimentalism. His music is the touch of warmth that does not take away the pain, but soothes it very sensitively. I can still remember my initial reaction when I first heard his “Ikaw At Ako“. I was just pierced to the bones, wide-eyed, thunderstruck. It’s like it did something in me that is hard to explain. And that’s how you know you’re listening to music that is beyond just the music, but also speaks to the intangible soul.

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7) UP DHARMA DOWN

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Well now, I’ve not a lot of words to say about this group. They have proven quite enough, really, and earned their stripes over the years. They are an icon in the Filipino music realm and have carved their artistic niche very well even internationally. And their music is proven to be timeless and relevant. I believe their music is actually ahead of its time. That is why more and more people have learned to recognise and appreciate their multifaceted style, poetry and artistic language. The eclecticism and urbanity of their approach are just some of the things that make them unique. Who has listened “Tadhana” and not has his or her heart miss a beat?

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8) SARAH GERONIMO

12496461_10153207952346750_8854062340252040429_o“Sarah G” has already been hailed as an OPM royalty who has flexibly showcased outstanding versatility, and several aspects and attributes of her artistic identity in the past decade. Breaking free from being a traditional “biritera” (female belter), she has now emerged yet with a brand new element that redefines what it is to be a “pop star” in the Philippines today. Her style and sound have transformed drastically, and have diversified from mainly diva ballads into a more eclectic mix of R&B, soul, dance, alternative, even rap. She has ventured more on contemporary singing, highly enmeshed with dance, delivered with vehement attitude and intensity. All of these make her the hot-blooded, walking-talking, triple threat that she is today. She always has something new and interesting to offer so never miss a tune from her. Here is one of the hits that signify her transition era.

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9) MARK CARPIO

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Mark Carpio seems to be a new name in the OPM scene, but it will be hard to bypass the kind of musicality he offers. This guy is a balladeer with a strong vocal resonance, an advantageous pitch range, and substantial flexibility to shift between different registers and dynamics. His love songs are quite evocative and could probably be classified as “#hugot” songs (songs that draw out deep-seated emotions) because of the height and depth of emotions they portray. Some of these powerful, moving songs have now been used as soundtracks for film and TV such as “Hiling” and “Kay Tagal“. We expect to hear a lot more from Mark in the coming years.

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10) JONA

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You gotta admire this woman for her staunch pipes that can withstand any excruciating octave or any musical whirlwind. If you ever get lost around the C6-G6 area, you’ll find her there. Jonalyn Viray, now popular as Jona is one of the strongest and most dynamic Filipina vocalists in the whole of Asia who has enough flexibility to sing a wide array of styles–from pop ballads to billboard toppers. She is an ambitious vocalist, and knows how to accomplish all that she envisions, one by one. Her vocal range is sweeping; her higher register is cogent and compact. She is phenomenal. She is another example of a modern-day artist who knows how to innovate and redesign music, and proves to us that creativity always wins. In her recent solo concert, she has demonstrated that her set of pipes is indeed indefatigable and that she has earned and truly deserves her spot in the show business today because of her hard work, her excellence and consistency.

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11) EDWARD BENOSA

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This good looking dude knows how to capture the real essence of ballads—passion, vulnerability, romanticism. And surely, he is beyond his riveting looks. His voice carries a heavy deal of poignance in his hits like “‘Di Man Lang Nagpaalam” and “Why Did You Stay”. He lays his fragile soul bare with his powerful voice and unfeigned delivery. No wonder at the early stage of his career, this promising neophyte has won Best New Male Recording Artist in the prestigious Star Awards for Music of the Philippine Movie Press Club (PMPC). Definitely looking forward to more of his soul-stirring performances and thrilling vocal exhibitions.

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12) MOIRA DELA TORRE

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Moira is an artist to watch out for. She may be called a trendsetter for being one of the first few artists to introduce a singing style more prominent in Western contemporary scene today: a technique that includes singing with a twang, fluctuating dynamics, and consistent breathiness. Last time I checked, there isn’t a name or term for this vocal style yet. Some people call it the “indie” vocals because it is mostly used by indie artists—the likes of Regina Spektor, Norah Jones, and Nataly Dawn. More and more singers of all races attempt to sound like that these days, but they just sound ridiculous. (Seriously, just stop.)  Thankfully, we have one that sounds pretty “legit” and actually intoxicatingly mellifluous, and that is Moira. She has merged this sweet-toned singing style and the Filipino musical flavour, producing a very wholesome outcome.

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13) DARYL ONG

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Exceptional and edgy—these are the words I believe that best describe Daryl Ong. These are the qualities that made him fit in and belong to the new breed of Filipino singers. (Or should we call them revolutionists?) Daryl is an R&B powerhouse with a voice so slick and refined. He is not a typical R&B artist that casually copies modal runs from established icons. He demonstrates cleverness and precision in utilising melisma and playful melodic variations just in the right amount and blend, and only as needed in the new flavour of the song. This is what makes his song revivals powerful and compelling. He retools any music with command and authority. And he makes the Filipino audience fall in love and appreciate Filipino-bred R&B. Listen to his tasteful rendition of “Stay”, originally performed and written by my OPM hero, Carol Banawa.

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