Music is who you are

Reese Lansangan

Reese Lansangan recently made headlines in Manila when her composition A Song About Space was featured by US NASA in its latest campaign. Listening to the 28-year old Filipino indie pop-folk artist’s buoyant songs and watching her sprightly music videos, Reese could be taken as someone who’s youthfully carefree. As a line in A Song About Space goes: Swimming inside her own galaxy.

But when asked whether she’s experienced any form of suppression as a music artist, she openly shares that she feels the societal pressure of being a woman. “We are led to believe that we have to look perfect,” says Reese. This sentiment pushed her to write Tenderfoot, with the lyrics:

I was told to love my body
'Cause it's the only one that I'll ever get
No, it's not what people see
It is the mind inside of me that weighs me down
So each day I'll try to do it better

“It teaches us to embrace who we are, and to celebrate our individuality,” points out Reese. “I just really love to write my truth, and I just want to be brave about it by putting it out there,” she adds.

Paying it forward

Reese joined a songwriting camp in 2013. She writes: Back then I was a girl occasionally penning songs in her bedroom. Joining that camp transformed me and gave me the tools to live off of music - something that I truly loved. If I never got over my fear of trying, I don't think I would be here...

Seven years later, she sits alongside her mentors in the music camp as a mentor herself.

Together with multi-awarded singer-songwriter Noel Cabangon and top-notch composer Jungee Marcelo, Reese will guide budding music artists in the national round of Living Freedom Songwriting Contest in the Philippines.

“Music is always there to help us make sense of the things that we find hard to express,” comments Reese. “Even the most personal stories can be universal when you are courageous enough to put it out there. Don't second guess yourself, and just write it,” she advises.

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Eurovision of Southeast Asia

Organized by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF), Living Freedom Songwriting Contest is taking place in five countries in Southeast Asia: Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, and Thailand. “We tend to talk about concepts of freedom in a very academic way. Living Freedom is an effort to reach out to more people, and know what freedom actually means to them,” explained Frederic Spohr, Head of FNF Thailand and Myanmar.

A webinar entitled Music, Lyrics, and Freedom on 10 July 2020 gathered seven music artists in the region, who were also mentor-judges in the competition. They talked about the universality of music as an expression of freedom.

Myanmar composer Myint Moe Aung narrated his country’s struggle for independence from colonizers and from dictatorship. He emphasized that music was as constant as the resilience of political movements throughout Myanmar’s history. The forests became venues to compose songs because of the repression and censorship. In the 8888 Uprising in 1988, among the ties that kept protesters against the military junta together was the song Kabar Makyay Bu (We Won’t Be Satisfied till the End of the World).

The 8888 Uprising followed the People Power Revolution in the Philippines in 1986. “Music became a source of inspiration and courage, and what enlightened people to resist and topple the dictator,” said Noel Cabangon. Bayan Ko (My Country) became the rallying song of Filipinos. Today, as the country faces threats to democracy, the song is revived as a reminder not to allow history to repeat itself.

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The right music key

Asked about her favorite song, Malaysian music artist Amylea revealed that it was Eternal Flame. “My mom used to sing it to me, and it’s one of the best memories of my life even though I had no idea what the song meant back then,” she disclosed. “Music resonates. It is sincere and genuine. It touches the heart, and it’s both magical and spiritual,” expressed Amylea.

The mentors-judges urged aspiring singers and songwriters to join Living Freedom Songwriting Contest. As an initial advice, Thai music producer Wern Ruangkit recommended not to simply follow the trend. “The key to success is to write your own story, and best way to convey it is through music. Music convinces people to believe,” he remarked.

Indonesian singer Reda Gaudiamo urged those who wanted to write socially-relevant songs to study the issues. “Read and ask questions. Do it whole-heartedly,” she encouraged.

Jungee Marcelo gave practical tips. "I suggest to focus on form and substance. Learn theories or how to play an instrument,” he recommended. “Do a really good demo. Judges would favor entries where they can focus on the sound and message. Be careful of transient sound that would affect your recording,” he instructed.

Living Freedom Songwriting Contest will bring together the five artists who bested the national rounds for a live performance in Manila. The top artist in the regional level will get to fly to Germany.

The mentors stated that Living Freedom is a good opportunity to practice and learn creating music. “Just go for it,” prompted Reese. From her A Song About Space: Float among the stars. Fly to Mars and back.