YouTube is a great way to find the next superstar but there’s something magical about witnessing an artist perform, in the flesh, before they become famous.
It was with a lot of trepidation that I got involved, in a very small way, as a narrator and MC, to promote an album titled ‘One’, a collection of songs 99% produced and composed by Sydney-based artist and producer Oliver Gadista.
The album features original songs sung by various artists, all handpicked by Gadista himself and all of whom, in turn, accepted the invite to raise funds through their talents.
My concerns arise from the fact that I'm a big RnB and hip-hop fan and didn't want to be disappointed in case the album was less than stellar.
The doubts I had, as it turned out, were completely misplaced. After listening to the artists perform live at the CD launch early this month, all I had was admiration for everyone involved.
Okay, so if you’re not into crossover music or your iTunes is filled with all things loud and screeching, then this album is not for you.
As I mentioned in an earlier article, ‘One’ reflects album composer and producer Oliver Gadista’s signature style through and through – a mix of RnB, slow rock, nu jazz and ballad with an element of Original Pilipino Music (OPM) thrown in.
I’m not a real music critic so I’m sure I’m not being precise with my description but “easy listening” and “self-affirming” come to mind except I’m sure they’re not right either because making music so easy to listen to must be hard – the way great dancers execute their dance moves as if they were easy to do.
Self-affirming lyrics can be tough too because you risk sounding cheesy, which Gadista successfully avoided doing.
But back to the album, the proof lies in the audience reaction – and the compliments that came after the album launch in Chippendale early this month came in spades. The audience knew that they were in the presence of real talent, at least one of whom, will likely become famous one day.
The standout performance had to be Florabelle Grace Pasco’s rendition of ‘Every Chance’. She’s got that liquid gold voice that sounds super-soothing to the ears. Admittedly I am just a little bit biased because I’m a big fan of the late Aaliyah. Pasco’s song certainly reminds me of Aaliyah’s ‘At Your Best (You Are Love)’.
Two songs that have the makings of a hit are Marianne Cuasay’s ‘Blessed’ and Rachel Wong’s ‘Thy Will be Done’. Both have those memorable hooks that make you want to press the ‘repeat’ button over and over again after you listen to them. Gadista did a superb job in composing both songs and they certainly matched the artists’ voices as well.
Budding singer, guitarist and composer Ana Mateo also performed in the show, filling in for Genelle Cross who sang ‘You Make My Day’ in the album. Mateo sang beautifully, too, and with talent and youth on her side, I’m rooting for her to start scooping Aria Awards in the future.
There are 15 songs all up and I’ve got nothing but compliments for each and everyone of them.
Crossover hip-hop and dancehall artist Jason ‘JMidas’ Gustaff, shows off his rapping skills in ‘Save Me’, a throwback to grooves familiar in the 90s, then hits the right notes in the chorus ‘Will Someone Save Me/Hands Up Who Wants to Rescue Me?’. Call it conscious hip-hop but the ‘prodigal son’ anthem of the song ties in well with the narrative that will be revealed at the live show this Saturday (see details below).
Of course an album featuring Filipinos is not complete if it doesn’t take advantage of the country’s deep pool of song belters.
The community’s established artists Brian Lorenz and Cleo Diana give the album that extra oomph – with vocal chords to match – with their renditions of ‘Bigger’ and ‘Leaving’ respectively. Special mention to Erwin Querubin who performed as lead guitar in ‘Bigger’.
Lending their talents to this unusual project (it's not everyday you get a group of artists from different cultural backgrounds work on a charity album), are Hannah Natoli (‘Sunshine’ reminds me a lot of OPM – the kind you want to listen to in a bar after a long day at work), Maria Sitchon Lado (Mix up OPM, jazz and bossa nova and you get ‘Song For You’) and Criz Guce (Her song ‘What Would You Do?’ plays a big part in the album’s theme of helping out those in need).
Fulfilling the big task of matching the diverse female voices in the album, Matty Jay in ‘The One’, Oliver Gadista in ‘Wake Up’ and Rie Manaloto in his ‘Never Change’ duet with Mary May Hapin, completed the list of a thoroughly enjoyable set at the show in Chippendale.
It's worth noting that the album was recorded in a home studio and provided a platform for many first-time singers (to record an original song, at least) who wouldn’t have had the opportunity to showcase their skills if not for, credit where credit is due, Gadista’s commitment to the cause: he composed the songs and produced the album in two weeks so as to meet the fundraising deadlines.
The schedule was so tight that each artist had to record their part of the group song 'Love is What We Need' separately - to match their own time availabilities - and some artists didn't even get to listen to their album recording until their first show.
Credit goes to this group of musicians who gave their time and talent to the project in the hopes of helping those who were affected by Typhoon Washi, or Typhoon Sendong, in the Philippines, a natural disaster that devastated the lives of thousands of Filipinos.
There are many more people, behind the scenes, who have worked tirelessly to get the project off the ground. I've heard of countless sleepless nights to sell tickets, print album covers, do media promotions and pretty much do everything that needed to be done.
But having listened to the entire album (several times just to be sure), their efforts are worth it. Setting aside the fact that the album came about in the spirit of fundraising, it's taken a life of its own to become something bigger: a jump-off point to a fresh chapter in locally-produced music.
The more finicky might say that the album is still rough around the edges compared to big label CD productions and can be improved had Gadista been given more time to work on it.
Still, with the odds stacked against team 'One', the album's fruition is nothing short of a miracle. I wouldn't be surprised if it becomes a hunting ground for the next certified hit or the next stars in the making.
Photos by Michelle Baltazar and Gerry Musa.