My Creative Process
Because languages and our bodies mediate our experiences of the world, my creative process centers language and my sense-making as avenues for opening doors and building bridges across oceans, divides and worlds. Brick by brick, word by word, I am amazed by how we use language to build scaffolds of meaning, pillars which give voice to how we make sense of the world. For me, I believe languages are amazing systems we share and collectively build to represent the ideas, people, things and world around us. Still, there are limits.
People are different and our understandings of the world are shaped by those differences in location, identity, culture. As a queer, second-generation Filipino-American, I live between walls, messily spread between the bordered identities that contain me. It is an experience that demands a name and begs for a voice. Though the constitutive mechanisms of common sense, disciplines, and categories complexly provide clarity in meaning (and in this sense, belonging), its inflexibility and rigidity sometimes hinder the possibility for imagination and change.
When I discover nameless ideas, feelings or things still waiting to be named and voiceless inventions still waiting to be voiced, I am reminded of the hyphen, which is core to who I am. The hyphen represents the in-between that doesn’t fit within the frame imbued with naturalness. Not inside or outside of the frame, but rather one foot in, one foot out, eclipsed in hyphenation. History, alongside my experiences, tells me to locate the hyphenations, hybridities and queer slants lurking in the indeterminate partially shaded penumbrae of natural common sense. This is what inspires my creative work: to give voice to the voiceless, to name what has not been named correctly if at all, and to shine a light on the hazy trail of people, ideas and things that our fixed meanings leave behind in the margins.
In working through these queer slants, I released my first album, Heartstrings, in 2018, which brought together a collection of songs that provide a glimpse of what love looks like from the perspective of a queer person of color. As someone who grew up singing in choirs, rock bands, theatre, and even in my lolo and lola’s living room with a karaoke machine, I drew much of my inspiration for this album from my creative experiences in order to navigate my questions of sexual orientation and identity. In this self-discovery process, each song resembles my struggle of coming up against the limited horizons of love as it is generally conceived and how in those breaking points, I sift through lyrical strings of melodic meanings to discover which parts of me are authentically me.
Yet as time and cultural shifts untangle the implications of discrimination and prejudice, I am conflicted by contemporary conversations that suggest we drop the hyphen because it enforces that I am a partial-American, modified by being Filipino, by being a Brown person of color. Does the articulation of “Filipino American” balance this dynamic of identity by saying I am Filipino first and not just an American with Brown skin? Or does it obscure the colonial tensions that render such an identity as an oxymoron? Perhaps, this shift of representation in our language is a necessary step toward imagining what that future might look like for the physically displaced and historically dislocated immigrant descendants like me who feel stuck, hyphenated, modified in-between cultural camps.
In thinking about the conditions of my being, becoming, and belonging, I have since then found my music to be at the heart of how I relate to others as a queer Filipino American singer-songwriter crafting unspoken narratives through music, but also as an activist supporting my community in the Filipino diaspora through their struggles of displacement and dislocation and as a communication researcher seeking to understand how the world is made to mean.
As the second addition to my creative pursuits, Apollo’s Refuge grew from the aching anxieties, angst, and agony of 2020. Immersed in a deep sadness, I was reminded of Audre Lorde’s essay Poetry is Not a Luxury, in which she says, “Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought.” Songwriting is similarly an introspective medium through which I craft combinations of the old and forgotten to open reimagined ways of seeing the world. It is an affective way of creatively resisting what is, embracing instinct, and creating a vocabulary for the heartbreak many of us know too well. Initially, I carved an isolated island for myself to close out the terrible pandemic plastered in pandemonium. But as I peered beyond my refuge of reflection, I was compelled to compose after witnessing the moving response of protestors taking to the streets for the Black Lives Matter movement despite the risks it posed to their well-being. It made me think, perhaps, rather than reserving the safety my music offers me, I should bravely share because everyone needs a safe place to land. With this belief, I set out to write and compose new music.
I turned inward to find a way to move past my personal fears brought on by the pandemic, the failures of capitalism and nation-states, and the racial injustices that continue to plague our lives. And I returned to music which has always been that source of solace for me and decided to build a collaborative musical refuge for those who feel lost, afraid, or in need of a place to rest in these times of chaos. Conjuring allegories of Greek mythology, I composed love letters for you, my friends, family, colleagues, acquaintances, strangers, past lovers, and all those in between who have been hurt by loss, oppression, trauma, and loneliness. Invoking the musical and healing powers of Apollo and Asclepius, the stories I articulate through my songwriting are designed to offer avenues of connection, a place for refuge, and glimmers of hope. Invoking imagery of water, islands, and ships, I sing to tell the stories of how my experiences, vulnerabilities, and insecurities as a queer person of color have inspired me to be more compassionate, empathetic, and loving, all of which I hope to extend to you as a way to relate, find refuge and remind you that we’re not alone.
You can find my music including my latest album Apollo’s Refuge on most streaming services including Spotify, Apple Music, and YouTube.
A Sunflower Archipelago
My most recent album, A Sunflower Archipelago, documents different stories and struggles across the Filipino diaspora. Reflecting on the relationship between freedom and control, the album draws its inspirations from sunflowers, which are said to have the capacity to communicate and collaborate with each other through their root systems in order to share nutrients, according to a team of researchers at the University of Alberta. On the contrary, it is said that sunflowers can also turn on each other and hog sunlight and resources, depending on its environmental conditions. Staying with the troubling dynamics of how conditions of freedom are created, A Sunflower Archipelago pairs sunflowers with archipelago for two reasons. In one way, the use of the archipelago is a nod to the Philippine archipelago and its network of linguistic and cultural diversity. Perhaps more saliently, this idea of a sunflower archipelago emphasizes the problems that arise when we are restricted to limited ways of relating to one another. This album then provokes the imperative to find new ways of relationality, and the need to attend to the contexts and conditions that make new forms of relationality possible. I imagine then these stories-in-song as an intersectional solidarity series that tries to assemble an ensemble of struggles for survival.
As a final note, the album’s design was inspired by the ornate details and embellishments of the Baroque era and takes an unconventional approach on the Baroque concerto. The album might be interpreted as a series of three movements, or what might also be understood as three actively changing islands within this album’s archipelago. In each island movement, there are five songs that tell different stories of struggle. Each set of five songs are thematically structured not just as a series of stories that seed the foundational bed for making new connections across them possible, but also in its placement in relation to other songs in similar positions in other movements. For example, Satellite, Halo-Halo and Dear Angelo could be interpreted as three stories that speak to racial violence and its infringement on freedom in different places, spaces and times.
You can listen to A Sunflower Archipelago on Spotify, Apple Music and YouTube.
“Beauty is not a luxury; rather it is a way of creating possibility in the space of enclosure, a radical art of subsistence, an embrace of our terribleness, a transfiguration of the given. It is a will to adorn, a proclivity for the baroque, and the love of too much.”Saidiya Hartman