Diwata Vibez: Our #PinayCrush Low Leaf On Soul Expansion, Roots, & Her New Album
Ethereal, experimental, authentic, layered (and quite frankly, stunning) - all words that can easily be used to describe singer-songwriter-producer Low Leaf's music, but also to describe Low Leaf herself. Born Angelica-Marie Lopez in Los Angeles, CA, Low Leaf deftly merges electric harp, piano and guitar with electronic beats to create soulful and free-flowing musical explorations. Classically trained in piano (shouts to Pilipinx parents who stay pushing those piano lessons) and self-taught in harp, guitar, and beat-making, Lopez has been actively recording since 2011's Chrysalis EP and has since released multiple full-length albums and EPs, as well as an ongoing series of instrumental sound meditations called Diwata Mantraz. She’s performed all over the world, including in the Philippines alongside legends such as Roy Ayers and at Boiler Room in London. Her latest album Palm Psalms: A Light to Resolve All Darkness just dropped on 11/11/16 via her own label, Creator DIY.
A departure from her previous solo work's electronic and hip hop elements (such as 2014's gorgeous AKASHAALAY, created as a spiritual offering to the Philippines), Palm Psalms moves to strictly live instrumentation in collaboration with musicians from LA to the PH. Inspired by Psalms 57:8, which reads: “Wake up, my heart! Wake up, O lyre & harp! I will wake the dawn with my song,” Palm Psalms is a collection of compositions written to plant seeds of light and universal truth. Structurally, Palm Psalms' melodies often flow like freeform jazz, exploring space through eclectic rhythms, soaring musicality, and lyrics that speak of finding balance and peace within and with all creation.
We were blessed to speak with Low Leaf about her latest work, creating her own path, and connecting to the indigenous soul of the world through her Pilipina heritage.
Hella Pinay: Your new album is sick! I love the super jazzy flute and drums, strings, and the vocal layering. You’ve mentioned that you moved away from electronic elements for this album and that everything is live. Who are the musicians you’ve been working with and how did you pick musicians for this project? What was it like creating with a large group of people as opposed to solo?
Low Leaf: Half of the musicians that played on this album are based in the Philippines, and the other half are artists from the US. When I was in the PI [in] early 2015, I showed my musical bredren some demos I wanted to throw away; he’s a Filipino producer named Paolo Garcia who goes by several aliases: Venusfly and Pasta Groove.. he was into them and convinced me that the songs were worthy of being developed. So he helped me record drums and bass out there. As for the musicians in the US, everyone that contributed to the album either recorded in my home studio, or sent me stems from their own home studio. All the stems were gathered gradually throughout the course of the entire year, so I didn’t realize so many people were on the album until it was finished and I was writing out album credits. Collaboration has been a huge catalyst for me stepping outside of my musical comfort zone and letting go [of] doing everything myself.
Your album release is coming up December 16, is this your first time playing live with the full band? Any plans for a tour?
The release show happening on the 16th will be the first time I’ll be playing with a 13 piece ensemble, which is why I’m calling it ‘The Ascension Orchestra.' But I been playing with 4 of my core band mates since the beginning of the year, and we are growing together so much. There are plans for a EU/UK tour next year. Still hoping for a US tour, as I’ve never toured in the US and don’t have an agent out here. Also hoping for Asia. I’m ready though.
I personally really love your Diwata Mantraz series for my own meditation practice, and it’s dope to see our indigenous spirituality referenced in music! Are there any diwatas that you connect with or honor in your own spiritual practice?
Thank you! The diwatas I vibe with mostly exist in the faerie realm. So I connect with them through plants, flowers, trees, the ocean, the sky, the wind… I don’t have any spiritual practices where I worship anything else except for the creator though. But I def strongly feel the presence of my angels and earth faeries all the time, and they really love to help me out, and love when I dance.
What’s your family’s migration story from the Philippines? Where in the Philippines does your heritage draw from?
My mom is from Bicol which is in Luzon, and my dad is from Butuan City in the south. My grandfather from my mom’s side was a part of the US navy, so when my parents got married, they were able to attain US citizenship. They moved to LA in their early 20’s, and had humble beginnings as my dad pursued his dream of becoming a doctor, and my mother to help him run their private medical practice. I’ve visited Bicol many times since I was a little girl, and have a special connection with that place because of my family. I’ve yet to explore or even visit Butuan, because my family says it’s too dangerous for me to go out there alone, which is unfortunate because Mindanao looks so beautiful and colorful!…. still feel like there’s so much unearthing to do. So much more music to make..
Is your family supportive/encouraging of your work as a musician and of your connection to our pre-colonial heritage and practices? I.e. your tattoos, and having a more animistic worldview?
My parents are the most supportive forces in my life. I know they’re proud, but they also know I’m capable of so much more, so they don’t really glorify my accomplishments so I can stay pushing hah. Without my parents’ support I wouldn’t have been able to make the past album at all. As far as my spiritual practices, I keep to myself because it’s hard for them to fully understand what I’m up to, since they are Catholic. It’s also a personal thing that I like to do on my own anyway. Religion is a touchy subject for a lot of Filipinos.. but they know that my respect and reverence for the creator permeates.. and I think by now they understand that I’m an artist, and love me as the wildflower that I am, even though they don’t really get it. ^_^
I watched your mini-documentary “Roots” and it was really beautiful to hear your story because I feel like it is a direct reflection of so many of our experiences as Pilipinas in diaspora - we're often not really encouraged to know our ancestral history, and then once we start digging it becomes a source of pride and discovery and is important to us forming our own identity. It feels like in your music there was a period that was very “Pilipinx-centric" if you will, and now lyrically your music feels a bit more universal. That said, at this stage in your musical journey, how does your Pilipina heritage inform your work and identity as an artist?
Lately I’ve been feeling super connected to the indigenous soul of the world through the lens of being Filipina. I can’t help but I feel drawn to so many cultures in a very nostalgic kinda way.. it’s almost as if my heart has grown bigger to be able to hold space for more love, from all cultures, because my soul’s expansion. I still feel a bit disconnected from my Filipino heritage in many ways, mostly because I’m not able to return there whenever I want, and I haven’t been able to access some things that I’ve been wanting to, such as the kulintang to make music! Also, whenever I visit, I have to experience a lot of pain for the sake of releasing cultural karma or something.. it’s always super intense, dramatic, yet magical and mystical at the same time. I feel like that AKASHAALAY project was honestly just touching upon the surface; there’s more to discover.
Tell me about your imprint Creator DIY and what it stands for. What inspires you to create?
Creator DIY began as ‘create or die’ in 2007 when I was living in the Bay. It was kinda this motto that really kept my fire of creativity going, in a new day new song kinda way. Now it’s evolved into this act of creating my destiny, pretty much a molecular oath to follow my heart and create my own path… it’s not so much an ‘imprint’ as it is a symbol of me doing my thing..
You do a lot of work outside of music that’s really uplifting and dope. Besides housing your music, your website is a portal to all of this other amazing information on holistic living and spirituality, and you even sell some clothing and accessories that you refer to as “Armor”. You’ve spoken about how as we transmit we also receive. When/how did you hear the call to do this work?
My approach to music changed in 2009 when I came across Sufism and their beliefs about music, the cosmos, and mysticism. When I began touring in 2012, I realized that I would sometimes make people cry, which always made me so happy. Sometimes my music was an inspiration, sometimes it was a release, sometimes it was a shift, or an awakening. I began to realize that it’s not about being an entertainer, but about entraining people as a vessel myself. After I visited Mt. Shasta in 2014 and began really healing myself from the root up, I decided to explore this healing path more. It all kinda intertwined with me healing some Filipino colonial wounds in my energetic field as well. I wouldn’t so much call myself a healer, as I believe I am just a conduit to help people realize their own abilities to heal themselves by way of demonstration, or holding space for them.
In your music and writing you come off as incredibly real. As someone who’s very sensitive to universal energy and vibrations, do you ever find it difficult to share these parts of yourself that can be very private?
It’s interesting because I am pretty translucent in terms of my soul, art, and beliefs. But when it comes to my private life, I don’t project any of that stuff online at all. I’m a very introverted person oftentimes, but artistically I’m all fire and have no shame. A funny balance there, but, I think that comes with being a Leo moon.
It feels like a lot of music out there right now is not about trying to uplift and unify, but instead encourages division and consumption. How is it working in the music industry which can be an oppressive and negative space, especially towards women?
There’s a lotta consciousness control happening in mainstream music. The spirits that are channeled to create that frequency have intentions that aren’t aligned with what I’m about, so it can be a very harmful experience to hear a lotta that music without selective hearing and discernment. It’s a huge challenge because the collective consciousness’ appetite is tuned to a general spectrum of musical consumption that’s incredibly limited. But even in the non-mainstream music realm, oftentimes the music that gets coverage is pay-to-play. It’s really rare to have a writer such as yourself, want to cover an artist because they actually enjoy the music. Even when you do have that, in my experience, editors will go in and alter writers' words to create a story that seems more sensational. Altered truths… it’s all an illusion. But luckily we have the choice to subscribe to what we want because we live in a free-will universe. So, I’ve resolved myself to aligning with a savage lover mode of being, and just staying focused on my vision, void of any comparisons, so that I could become the truest me in this lifetime and attract the people who share an affinity with my soul. Those are the people I wanna work with. Plus, I incarnated here to Be love, during a time when earth is full of pre-existing structures and outdated paradigms; she needs our love now more than ever. I am a part of a collective soul group that came here to awaken, to change, to revolutionize by way of vibration and being.
You speak a lot about interconnectedness and compassion and the idea that we are all manifestations of the divine. It feels like you have a lot of hope for mankind which is a really beautiful statement in a time of mainstream fear and pessimism. How do you stay so positive and grounded in this current stage of cultural existence? Do you have any advice for others struggling to keep their own light shining?
I don’t really focus on the positive/negative outlook, as I strive to find a balance of peace beyond that duality. I’m all about harmony stemming from the inside out. So, to maintain my clarity I practice daily cultivation.. every day I wake up, meditate, pray, get my body aligned, do my own rituals to stay in tune with the flow of infinite abundance that is accessible at all times. Our minds are these huge antennas, and our thoughts are broadcasted out to the universe, so I have to be extra careful with what I feed my consciousness, and what I am creating in my reality. Once you realize how powerful you are as a lightbeing beyond the 3rd dimension, you become accountable for your thoughts, your energy, and the responsibility you have to cultivate your special God given gifts. The illusion is that the light can ‘go out’. Because we Are infinite light, once we gradually lift the veil of believing that we aren’t, our perception expands. And often times we get in our own way, because our fundamental beliefs are not in harmony with our spirit’s organic timeline that it’s resonating at. At this present moment, our highest selves are already fully realized, just waiting for us to ascend and tap in. So, as everyone is in a different part of their soul’s awakening, as long as we seek truth, understanding and wisdom with a pure heart, we can never be disconnected from our own true nature, which is unconditional love. There’s a lot to say on this topic, but, I believe it comes down to every challenge being an opportunity to refine your faith.
What makes you Hella Pinay or what does that mean to you?
To me, being Pinay means you are a unique blend of all our ancestors from different corners of the world.. n to be Hella Pinay, means to be so real, that your authenticity isn’t even a question. You come as you are. Bold. Fearless. Graceful. Wise. Intelligent. Creative. Natural. And free.
If you're in the Los Angeles area on December 16, hit up the album release for Palm Psalms: A Light To Resolve All Darkness and Low Leaf's debut with the 13-piece Ascension Orchestra + DJ Sets by Ras G & Zeroh at the Center for the Arts Eagle Rock at 8PM (get tickets here).