Check out this week’s latest news in the world of Original Pilipino Music.
Hya, Alfa Join Alessandra de Rossi-helmed AWOOO Records
Fresh from the success of her directorial debut My Amanda in July, Alessandra de Rossi is now setting her sights on different waters. This time around it’s music, which she’s revisited more vigorously as of late: adopting the functional moniker ADR, reissuing her 2012 debut Adrift via Lilystars Records, even penning songs for her films.
The difference is it’s other people’s music now. And no, De Rossi isn’t simply pimping playlists or fawning over new discoveries on her socials. She’s taking things a notch higher, putting up her own label AWOOO Records, which she’s formally unveiling to the public today (September 24) after making an under-the-radar announcement earlier in the month.
To the character-actress-turned-indie-darling, it’s not so much about scratching a visionary itch but passing deserving talents the mic. “I think [Filipinos] really stand a chance in changing how the world looks and sounds,” she says, confident that local music can enjoy the same attention other art forms like cinema are getting. “All we need is to offer something pure, peculiar, and distinct. I think we can make it, too!”
And “pure, peculiar, and distinct” was precisely what she saw in AWOOO’s two inaugural artists, both women: the Fil-German San Carlos City chanteuse Hya, and the SoCal-based singer-songwriter Alfa. The former was a talent-show champ who’s previously made the rounds—Rising Stars Philippines, Just Duet, The Will to Win—before landing a spot in Bangon Talentadong Pinoy, where De Rossi was a judge who found herself fangirling instantly.
“She sounded like an angel, and my world just stopped. I knew in my heart that this girl, given a chance, could be someone new singers can look up to,” De Rossi says of Hya (or Lee’Anna Weber Layumas), whose impressive range and knack for soothing melodies the actress also singled out. Her lilting debut single “Raindrops,” arranged and co-produced with Nick Lazaro for La Balls Studio, is out today.
Alfa, whom Eric Gnezda of PBS’ Songs at the Center calls “everything you want in a singer-songwriter,” is a schooled multi-instrumentalist who gravitated towards songcraft very early on, eventually releasing three albums, an EP, and snagging herself top honors in the world category of the John Lennon Songwriting Contest in 2020.
While shades of chillwave and ambient pop permeate the music of AWOOO’s banner artists, De Rossi insists she is more after a feeling. “As long as you make me feel something, or if you make me feel like I’m not alone—when your music can be my best friend—it really becomes AWOOO,” she says playfully, speaking of how Hya provides “courage in times of unrest” and how Alfa “sings like no one is listening.”
AWOOO, which means “a world of our own,” is a sublabel of Lilystars Records, whose head honcho Clem Castro serves as partner and de facto adviser.
“It took twenty years for people to actually believe in me,” the AWOOO label head says, alluding to her slow but steady ascent in film and television. “I hope God blesses me with the right people, so that I can serve these artists and they don’t have to wait as long to be heard and understood.”
Filipino-Australian artist Bryan Estepa sparkles with newfound exuberance on 6-track EP, Back To The Middle
Two years on from the release of his sixth studio album, Sometimes I Just Don’t Know in 2019, Filipino-Australian artist Bryan Estepa returns with another exciting set of soulful and melodic guitar pop. Released under Lilystars Records, Estepa’s new EP, Back To The Middle grows closer to home with its penchant for warm, inviting hooks and sunburst instrumentation.
Lyrically speaking, there is no set thematic agenda when the acclaimed singer-songwriter conceptualized and penned Back To The Middle. In an authentic troubadour fashion, Estepa lets the song take him to where it wants to go most of the time. “But by the end I did notice a leaning towards the idea of letting go and acceptance,” Estepa shares in a statement. “Life throws us curveballs that we may not want or see coming, but then we ask ourselves how do we deal with them? There’s always a slither of light ahead.”
While his previous record, Sometimes I Just Don’t Know exhibited a more melancholic, brooding treatment, Estepa’s six-song EP essentially gravitates on a balance between light and shade, with songs whose bright sparks pop up. Expanding his sonic palette with power pop choruses and irresistible exuberance, Back To The Middle sounds brighter and jumpier than he’s never sounded before, and is buoyed with a renewed sense of energy.
The new EP includes the weightlessly effervescent ‘Trick Of The Light,’ which NME praised for “evoking classic pop harmonies and alt-rock unease” and the ‘90s alt-rocker ‘Admit Now, Pay Later,’ which garnered approval from Rolling Stone Australia for heralding “a change in his own approach to songwriting.”
The title track ‘Back To The Middle’ is particularly interesting in a way that it evokes a different kind of joy and feel-good melody on a resonant level. “To me, it’s a good little upbeat pop tune that has all the hallmarks that I like in a song – a good hook, catchy harmonies and jangly guitars,” Estepa explains.
‘Everything You Wanted’ changes gear with its wistful Americana-leaning power pop vista, while ‘Little White Lie’ reveals itself to be a kaleidoscopic beauty of a tune that allows Estepa to experiment with keys, synth horns, baroque pop flourishes and artful backing harmonies. Rounding out the release is a lilting cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘I Threw It All Away,’ from the 1969 album, Nashville Skyline.
Back To The Middle was recorded during the pandemic period, and was a product of Bryan Estepa’s eagerness to connect with people again, at least on a musical level. Needing to scratch a niggling creative itch, he got together with multi-ARIA and APRA award-winning Australian songwriter Josh Pyke, who helped shape the record with richness and timelessness embedded in its layers.
According to Estepa, what makes the record a clear cut above the rest is how he gave way to Josh Pyke’s production ideas and allowed the award-winning producer’s creative spin to add magic to these songs. “It felt really good to let Josh Pyke take control of production duties from the moment I handed over a bunch of my demos to him,” the pop-rock artist admits. “I have normally come to the studio very much prepared with production and overall sound ideas. But we approached this differently in that we built each song over the day and sometimes even finished writing them together just before we hit record, like on ‘Everything you wanted’. It was exciting watching the songs unveil themselves as we were trying new arrangements, going with weird instrument choices and not being afraid to try anything that will make the song distinct in its own way.”
About Bryan Estepa
Born in Cubao, Quezon City in the Philippines, Estepa and his family moved to Sydney, Australia in 1987. It was there, at the age of 15, that he began to pursue the craft of songwriting before starting his adult musical journey fronting indie pop band Swivel in the late-90s pub scene. He recorded his inaugural CD with the band, which paved the way for his solo career. A year of travelling across the USA and performing at open mic nights inspired songs for his debut EP, Start Again in 2003 and since then Estepa has gone on to release six critically acclaimed solo albums (All The Bells And Whistles, Sunday Best, Vessels, Heart Vs Mind, Every Little Thing and Sometimes I Just Don’t Know).
Estepa recently wrote a piece for SBS detailing his formative musical years as a Filipino growing up in Western Sydney and early in 2021 he appeared as a guest-host on ABC Radio’s Weekend Evenings, broadcast live across Australia, discussing his career in music.
Def Jam Philippines releases “Puso At Diskarte,” another game-changing hip-hop anthem
Def Jam Philippines, considered as one of the most respected record labels in the country, returns with a game-changing posse cut featuring some of the most important rap acts of our time.
“Puso At Diskarte,” the first single off the label’s second compilation EP, RHAPSODICITY, brings together veteran and rising Filipino hip-hop artists such as ASTRO of Owfuck, ZARGON, HONCHO of Ex-Battalion, DCOY (Wakin Burdado) of Madd Poets, MIKE KOSA of 187 Mobstaz, PRICETAGG and LAYZIE FU of 4 East Flava on the same page—each offering distinct expertise and star power to the mix.
Produced by CURSEBOX, the anthemic banger delivers show-stopping verses that set the bar high for hip-hop collaborations, and massive, titanium-grade beats that blur the boundaries between gangsta rap and contemporary urban music.
According to Allan Mitchell “Daddy A” Silonga, A&R Senior Manager of Def Jam Philippines, “Puso At Diskarte” started out as a concept which aims to gather hip-hop icons from different affiliations and groups within the community. “With the help of Dcoy, we’ve messaged them one by one, and explained to them the vision behind the project,” the label honcho shares in a statement. “We’ve always wanted to foster dream collaborations that push the envelope in terms of artistry and impact, and produce an iconic music video to complement the bigness of the idea. ‘Puso At Diskarte’ not only shines the spotlight on grander themes in hip-hop, but also elevates it as an art form and a cultural force.”
Lyrically speaking, the all-star collab track documents the struggles of every hip-hop artist involved in the project and how they managed to survive the odds through determination, commitment, and hard work. All the participating artists penned their parts, with Daddy A co-writing some of the verses and the bridge. This exchange of ideas resulted into a compelling rap tune that fosters a sense of community and teamwork, honoring what Def Jam stands for in the first place both as a label and as a pioneering hip-hop dynamo.
“Puso At Diskarte” serves as the maiden track off Def Jam Philippines’ collaborative EP, RHAPSODICITY, which is touted as a “lyrical EP.” The upcoming compilation will also feature tracks such as the propulsive jam “Lahing Maangas,” the lyrical heavyweight “Diversity,” the future smash “Lakbay,” and the Pino G.-produced “Epic.”
As Daddy A puts it, “This EP will be remembered because of the lineup of artists and their collaborators. It’s really a miracle specially during this pandemic to put together a massive EP like this. This is gonna be epic!”
About Def Jam Recordings
Founded in 1984, Def Jam Recordings began as a maverick independent label inspired by downtown New York City’s vibrant street culture and the emerging sound of hip-hop. Def Jam has represented the very best in cutting-edge music for 35 years, pioneered by iconic stars like LL Cool J, Slick Rick, The Beastie Boys and Public Enemy. Over the following two decades, Def Jam established its dominance with superstar acts like Jay-Z, DMX, Ja Rule, Method Man & Redman, Ludacris, Rihanna, Jeezy, and the inimitable Kanye West. Now in its fourth decade, Def Jam’s music and lifestyle has grown into a global brand – synonymous with creativity, quality and authenticity – encompassing a diverse roster of marquee and emerging stars like West, Justin Bieber, Alessia Cara, Logic, Pusha T, Jadakiss, Vince Staples, Jeremih, Big Sean, YG, 2 Chainz, Dave East, and Jhene Aiko, among others.
Images and details provided in recent press releases