PANQUEQUE Brings Dreamy Electropop to Fringe MNL
I'd long been a fan of Tala Kamea's intricate clothing designs, so when I heard she was working on a new music project under the title PANQUEQUE and coming to Manila for Fringe festival, I knew I had to hit her up. As a designer, her creations have included music and movement - and once I learned about her impressive musical and dance background, everything instantly made sense. Born and raised in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, and now currently living and working in Toronto, Tala is a multi-instrumentalist and dancer with experience in both classical and contemporary folk music and dance. She has been writing music since junior high and is trained in violin, piano, and saxophone (among many others, I'm sure) and even played guitar in a Filipinx rondalla group as a teen.
Citing influences like Grimes and Dev Hynes, Tala calls her latest work "futuristic dream pop" inspired by a mix of electronic, R&B, pop, and indie. I was able to get a sneak listen to some unreleased tracks and they've honestly been playing on repeat ever since; her music is ambient yet catchy, her voice delicate and airy - and like her namesake PANQUEQUE, slightly sweet, but not too fluffy. My favorite track is a demo called "Karma," a playful island-tinged jam, her voice autotuned in a way that makes you feel like you're listening to what dancehall in space would sound like and that I can't wait to hear live this week during one of her Manila performances.
We chatted with Tala via email about her music, her inspirations, and her connection to her cultures and multiethnic identity, and were blown away by her thoughtful and incredibly frank responses. Get to know her below and be sure to check her out live if you're in Manila this month!
HP: I read that you started studying music at a very young age. Can you tell me a bit about your journey and how PANQUEQUE came about? (Also, how did you decide on the name?)
PANQUEQUE: My parents started me on the violin at around 4 years old. My dad played the violin + trumpet, my mom had played the piano growing up, and music was very much a part of life for both of them. From Kindergarten to grade 7 I attended a private/charter school which required students to study a stringed instrument, following the Suzuki method of learning which is largely based on listening and then repeating. Through this school I got involved in a music theatre group and started taking voice lessons. My teacher taught me some basic piano skills so that I could easily play along to the songs I was singing. My aunt, who lived in California, gave me her Yamaha keyboard which we drove back to Canada with one summer. In my teenage years I joined a Filipinx rondalla group at the prodding of my parents. I decided to play the guitar in this group so that I could also learn my fave pop and rock songs on the guitar. I was also playing the alto sax in band class through junior and senior high. My high school band teacher was an incredibly proficient jazz musician, and put a lot of emphasis on us learning theory, and really trying to play in as professional a manner as we could. His influence was a turning point for me in my music learning in that I recognized how little I really knew, how far I had to go in honing my skills, and how hard I would have to work. I'm still nowhere near the proficiency I would like to be in anything.
In university I received many entrance scholarships, and I blew some of that money on an electric guitar and a drum kit. I was writing music since junior high, but started dabbling and producing tracks in my parents' basement throughout university. I played music and made a lot of amazing friends in my early 20s in Edmonton. The music scene is small there, but amazing. I ended up moving to Toronto to go to fashion school, during which time I completely abandoned music. I had no time for it. Finally in maybe 2014/2015 I started writing again, producing some tracks in garageband cuz it was all I had for software. I write on guitar and piano, but having done the singer/songwriter thing in the past I was curious to see if I could take my tracks in a completely different direction. I was surprised with the sound I developed on garageband, and excited. I finally felt like I was moving in the right direction with my music. I ended up meeting an incredibly talented producer, Gavin Whelehan, who was able to see what I was trying to achieve through my rough demos. His musical tastes and mine line up in a really wonderful way - it's a bit of a completely lucky break in a sense. We've been working together to craft and polish my music, and since meeting him I have really developed as a producer as well. I finally felt ready to start sharing my music late in 2017, and decided on PANQUEQUE for a few reasons. Firstly, it's a super fun word that I fell in love with when I first heard it while traveling in Argentina and Chile in 2015. It's fun to say, and has a nice rhythm to it both visually and aurally. It also refers to a delicious food item. I suppose I view this music project in a similar way - fun, light, sweet and delicious.
What inspires you as an artist?
A lot of my writing stems from intense emotional experiences. I think I process emotion and hardship through music. I'm inspired by many musical genres and artists, from classical to r&b, pop, emo, electronic, etc. My main focus is always melody, and crafting beautiful textures and movement in the music.
Who are some other performers that you look up to, and why?
Off the top of my head I love fka twigs for her incredibly distinct musical and artist style, and the way she merges her dance practice with her music. Solange is dope, although I think some of my fave work of hers was when she was working with Dev Hynes, who is also a huge influence. He, too, has such a distinct musical style and groove that is amazing to move to. Tove Lo is an artist I just started getting into - part of what I love about her is that she has these very interestingly crafted electropop tracks with incredible melodies and shiny production value, but her lyrical content is so honest and brazen - I think that's quite atypical for "pop" music. I have so much respect for Grimes as an artist who is somewhat of an "outsider" - a nerdy weirdo in a way, but also has such a recognizable sound. I think she really started a music movement, and also she is my hero because she is a bit of an unexpected fashion icon - always wearing amazing designer clothes wonderfully well, without the pretension.
There are so many more...
How does your heritage inform your work and identity as an artist?
I think growing up with the influence of both Philippine and Hungarian cultures has provided such an array of experiences. Just being exposed to the music, dance, and folk dress of these cultures certainly has infiltrated my creative practices, but I have a hard time directly identifying where and how. I danced in a Filipinx folk dance group for years, and played Philippine folk songs on my guitar in a rondalla. Spending so much time with other Filipinx youth definitely guided some of my early experiences, listening to r&b and hip hop, studying and performing choreographed hip hop dances... Karaoke is huge in the Philippine community, as I'm sure we're all aware, so just spending time with friends singing and choreographing dances and performing them at debuts were all such a big thing for me as a teen. I think I felt at home in this social setting, I loved the constant appreciation and expression of music and dance.
As someone who also has one Filipino and one non-Filipino parent, I'm interested in hearing a bit about your experience and feelings about your identity, like if this was conflicting for you or something you embraced growing up?
This topic is so interesting to me, and so confusing all the time. I used to hang with all my Filipinx friends and not think twice about what I looked like. I think I thought I looked more Filipinx than I do. I actually don't look Filipinx at all. It was only later in life that I realized people who don't know me might be really confused seeing me dance or talk about my culture. And then even amongst people who do know me, I still sometimes get the feeling that some people don't see me as being truly Filipinx. I agree that I definitely don't have the same lived experiences as someone who is full Filipinx, but I also don't have the same lived experience as someone who is fully Caucasian. I find I sometimes lean on a particular part of my identity more depending on my situation, who I'm talking to, where I am, etc. The fact that I do this is somewhat troubling to me - I feel guilty at times for doing this, but then I have to remind myself that we are all very complex people who reveal and share parts of ourselves only when the time is right or appropriate. I'm trying to judge myself less, because I know everyone else is already doing it for me, and trying to embrace and celebrate the multitude of facets I possess. So just because I have a long nose doesn't mean I can't dance tinikling with the best of them.
Another aspect of being mixed means that you get people commenting on how gwapa or maganda you are because you're mestiza. Not gonna lie, it's great when people tell you you're beautiful, but it's also really uncomfortable, because they think you're beautiful because you have white features. It's twisted - the influence of colonialism has convinced society that white is the way to be. Skin whitening products are solid proof of the beauty standards in the Philippines (worldwide even). So I can't help but feel weird when being complimented on my mixed look. There is definitely some fetishization of mixed people that comes from both sides. I try to give props to being mixed in a different way - in that it's a wonderful thing to bring cultures together through love, and also from an evolutionary standpoint we're biologically advanced (half-joking but actually our species benefits from such genetic exchanges). There's a scene in the TV show Shameless where a character refers to the kids he would have with his wife as "tomorrow babies...little mixed race babies of the future." I love that.
In the end, I'm really proud to be a mix of cultures and bloodlines, and I feel lucky to have been given the chance to experience different cultures through my parents.
How does it feel to be performing in the Philippines and participating in an event like Fringe Manila?
It's so exciting! I don't think I really understand the scale of this festival yet (as I write this I am 4 days away from arriving in Manila). The team at Pineapple Lab has been amazing so far - promoting the events, making sure we will have what we need when we arrive, and so on. To coordinate all this with so many artists and groups is a massive task, and they are superheroes for taking this on.
In a way I feel overwhelmed because the last time I was in the Philippines was in 2006. I was performing with a Filipinx music group from Edmonton, but we were a large group performing in a small town (San Juan, La Union). This time around it's just me, and doing something very new to me. I really hope that the audience in Manila will be into my music - you never know how it will be received. Aside from my performance jitters, I am excited to meet Filipinx artists from all over the world. I hope to take in some workshops, learn some new things, and want to make some field recordings for sampling in my music.
Tell me about some of the events you're going to be doing while you're out here!
I'm playing 3 shows:
- 17 FEB at XX XX at the Circus 2020 x Fringe MNL event alongside so many amazing DJs and artists including Kyvita (also from Toronto) and RV Mendoza from Detroit.
- 22 FEB at Dulo for the after party of Maylee Todd's Virtual Womb show (she's a captivating artist also from Toronto)
- 24 FEB at 20:20 for Fringe Music: Live at 20:20 with Maylee Todd and the Hernandez Bros
What makes you Hella Pinay or what does that mean to you?
Being Hella Pinay means I love lechon kawali, lumpia, and turon (the list goes on). I love r&b and karaoke. I wear tsinelas in the house. I've made dresses, blazers, and baptismal gowns with butterfly sleeves. I'm proud to be Filipinx cuz we're incredibly creative, talented, and hard-working people. I'm proud of my culture and love to share it with anyone who is open to experience it.
Do you have any projects in the works? How can people connect with you and find your music?
I'm currently recording my first EP. It's taking a while because it's hard to find the time and the money to do it, but it's coming. I don't want to release anything that I'm not 100% happy with. The best way to hear a full song until then is to come watch me live - I'm trying to play at least one show per month. I'm also doing some production for an upcoming artist out of Toronto: illi (@illi.xv on Instagram). He's an incredible songwriter and singer, and a truly wonderful human - I can't wait to see where we go with his music.
Right now the best way to connect with me is through Instagram (@panquequepanqueque) or Facebook. Hit me up!