CEBU—Everybody thinks they have the best taste in music. So when someone tells you they like your taste in music, what they’re really saying is you like the same songs they do, and they’re paying themselves a compliment.
Although you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, people do size up a person based on his/her musical preference, and scientific studies have found that you can typecast personality based on the kind of music he/she likes.
Jazz, classical, blues and folk fans are supposedly more open to experience and to championing liberal social ideals; extroverts are into happy, upbeat rhythms found in hip-hop, soul, funk, dance and electronica; and rock and heavy metal fans are generally driven, tough and dominant.
At the forefront
We’re no music experts, and sadly, we can’t play an instrument to save our lives, but we chatted recently with someone whom we would consider one of Cebu’s music authorities, Cattski Espina.
An independent singer-songwriter and record producer, Cattski has been at the forefront of the local music industry since the early 2000s as the songwriter and front woman of her eponymous band.
She has released four albums, including the self-titled debut “Cattski” (2001), “Vacuum My Inside” (2004), “Sound Mind Speaks Volumes” (2009), and “Cattski Ten-The Anniversary Album” (2010), before going solo with “Zero” (2012).
Her music is a blend of what she calls digital folk, electronica, acoustic pop and experimental music.
“My musical influences have evolved through the years,” she says. “It was Carole King as a child, Madonna as a teen, Alanis and Nirvana as a college student, then Indigo Girls and Ani Di Franco post college. I also got into some electronic stuff when I fell in love with Imogen Heap sometime 2010, then I switched to modern folk and I’m still hooked on it up to now, with artists like Mumford and Sons, Angus and Julia Stone, Ben Howard, Sara Bareilles, The Civil Wars and Johnnyswim—mostly singer-songwriter stuff.”
Though she is best known for her beautiful, sincere songwriting, with lyrics that hit home, what’s been keeping Cattski busy these days is 22 Tango Records, an independent record label she started in 2001 with former band member Anne Muntuerto.
“Why 22 Tango?” we asked.
“Because it takes two to tango. For example, it takes two to tango to make the relationship between artist and record label work. The same way it takes two to tango for artist and audience to connect,” she explains.
“Anne and I love songwriting—the whole process of it, from conception to production to promotion and distribution. We did it for our band from 2001 to 2009, and we learned a lot in that span of time. We wanted to share what we have learned with new and up-and-coming artists. We want to guide them, support them, nurture them, and, most importantly, empower them so they will grow and reach their full potential as artists. Though I’m into all kinds of music, I feel most at home with modern folk and the singer-songwriter sound, which is why it’s the genre of focus for 22 Tango.”
The record label houses The Wonggoys, a band of brothers with feel-good tunes; indie rock group Undercover Grasshoppers; the multi-genre, husband-and-wife duo The Labrats; Ella Melendez, who is best known for her clever songwriting and modern folk sound; Auckland-based electro-pop soloist Valere; and the New York-based Filipino-American balladeer Martina San Diego, as well as up-and-coming artists Vincent Eco, Lourdes Maglinte and Mary Anchit.
Anne, who is based in the US, handles the label’s international digital distribution and publishing, ensuring that their music is available on Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal Music and Pandora, as well as on iTunes and Amazon, among others.
Two of Cattski’s songs have already been used in a US TV series that runs on the Neflix competitor Pivot.tv.
On the domestic scene, Cattski handles the music production, and takes care of the label’s artists and their performances to promote homegrown music.
In 2015, 22 Tango Records produced Cuppa Folk, a series of live performances for singer-songwriters in various coffee shops in the city, debuting at The Abaca Baking Company.
Its newest show at Qube Gallery, called “The Listening Room Sessions,” is a show designed for listening in an art gallery, with the concept that “art that needs not your eyes but your ears.”
“All our indoor shows implement the #shhhhpolicy. These shows are designed for listening, so we encourage the audience to keep background noise to a minimum as the songwriters bare their souls and become vulnerable,” says Cattski.
“This isn’t an original concept. I first experienced it when I played in the legendary Bluebird Café in Nashville, Tennessee, when I was on my US music tour in 2014, so I thought of bringing the concept to Cebu. It’s done us so much good, and the artists who perform always go home so happy and fulfilled.”
For Cattski, one of the most frustrating things about the local music industry is the lack of support for original, homegrown material.
“There are so many venues with live performers here, but they’re all churning out cover songs. No one is actively listening to them. Live music is background music, and the musicians are like furniture in one corner of the room.
“The entertainment industry and reality TV shows promote videoke culture, and Filipinos love to sing, but are very close-minded when it comes to original music,” she adds. “The mindset is that if it’s local music, it’s not as good as foreign material. There is very little support for homegrown music, and as a result, homegrown songs are homeless.”
“We want to change this with our campaign #homegrownmusic,” she continues. “We aim to create a sacred space for songwriters to bare their souls. We organize small and intimate, non-commercial events that allow them to express themselves with no pressure to entertain or to sell. The goal of our shows with the #shhhhpolicy is to give respect and to provide value for songwriters and their songs, and ultimately, to establish a relationship between the listener and the songwriter.”
From what we’ve heard, we like Cattski’s taste in music.