Creator to Creator: Angela Abrenica

I remember the gentle yet haunting warmth filling the space as the night went on. Before her first solo concert, I haven’t heard Angela – or her artist persona, byi – live. I’ve been to numerous concerts and music shows, but I’ve never felt a tender embrace of togetherness as byi’s ONION + BANANA JUICE.

Aside from intentional words grounding her melodies, I saw how integral other art forms were to her musical practice from experiencing her curated space – from the projection of a live hand-drawings, to the dress and accessories decorating her body. As a person heavily influenced by music yet not a music artist myself, I’m always curious about what journeys music artists take in creating their worlds. Read my conversation with Angela as she shares how her musical journey began, the pre and the post of a concert, and what intentions she brings moving forward. – Mirae.

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Photo by Tejas Panchal from ONION + BANANA JUICE

Tell us about your creative journey. How did you begin creating music, and how was “byi” born?

Music was always in my home growing up with my dad playing the guitar at any chance he’d get. I would sing with him to all my favourite 90’s pop music as a kid. At family gatherings, my dad and the other Titos would play their guitars while all the Titas sang and clapped along to the beat. The real hustle was Christmas. All the kids would rehearse a performance and before performing, we’d place a paper plate in front of us where the parents would throw money as we sang and danced. We’d split the earnings amongst ourselves afterwards. I also used to play with a tape recorder that was the catalyst for all kinds of my crazy kid creations.

As I grew older, writing stories and poems became my form of expression. Poems turned into melodies once I picked up the guitar. I learned piano and drums as well. It wasn’t until the end of high school I decided to go into a music program and place music as a focus in my life. I was involved in a music duo for 6 years where I learned about navigating partnerships, performing and organizing shows, and recording. During a transitional time apart from this duo – a time I questioned music’s position in my life ­– byi came to me as a plea to continue; a knowing. I always knew I had much to share, but didn’t believe in myself enough to do so in the ways that I wanted to. My first performance as byi was in April 2017. That performance reminded me why I had to trust and believe in myself, so I committed myself to doing so.

[7] by byi, illustration by Raychelle Duazo

The amalgamation of your voice with acoustics and percussions, mixing and distortions in your album [7] has an intimate confidence alongside hauntingly surreal yet gentle emotions, which I find all so alluring. What was your intention with this album? How do the nine songs relate to “byi” and “Angela”? 

Wow, thank you! I’m a huge fan of concept albums. I enjoy the many ways we can tell a story through them. [7] is an album about the 7 main energy centers in the body (chakras). As you move down the song list, you are moving down each chakra from the crown of the head to the feet. I initially started this project at a time when I felt my soul-starved; incredibly distant from my instinctual self. The only thing I was sure of was I had to create an album that truly reflected me and my experiences, something I never fully allowed myself to do out of disbelief that I was capable of such. I took many slow, necessary steps to creating it. I was able to quit all 3 jobs I was working at the time and invested myself in learning Muay Thai, which helped spark my suppressed fire and creative power while teaching me discipline. I also found myself crying almost every day for months releasing unexpressed emotions I held myself back from feeling. (Frank Ocean’s [Blonde] was on heavy rotation). I was physically ill often needing to tend to the blockages that formed from these unexpressed emotions. I would have not been able to do any of the physical work it took to create [7] if I didn’t let myself do the emotional releasing first.

The more I committed to my ways of healing, the easier it became to work with these songs to their completion. The album process healed and grounded me as I learned what each chakra wanted to express through me. The last song describes my intentions to [7] titled “by i”; a song I wrote after writing a letter to myself titled “my reasons to finishing something”. It took more than 2 years to create altogether. By the end of it, I adapted a workflow I never thought I could see myself having. This project showed me how important it is to ground myself and my ideas. It also showed me who I was in that moment, what I’m capable of, how important it is to share what I have to offer, and what I have to offer for future collaborations moving forward. [7] was the birth of byi and the rebirth of Angela.

Photo by Tejas Panchal from ONION + BANANA JUICE

Following your journey in making your first solo concert “ONION + BANANA JUICE: 7 live experience” come to life last year through Instagram, I had already felt so much warmth before entering into the concert space. Seeing the amount of thought and labour put in by you, your friends, and family, and then witnessing the incarnation of everything, including the works of 20+ local ranging artists, at the concert, was a beautiful experience.

Could you tell us about how you felt throughout this journey? What was the most difficult ‘labour’ in this journey?

Oof, you got me. Thank you. I remember there was so much happening at once. I recall telling myself “I don’t have to do this,” just before first announcing the idea of the show. I moved with a lot of fear. I had doubts in my abilities and ideas. I didn’t know whether I truly had the support of others and my biggest panic attack occurred in this time. But committing to the creation of the show allowed me to see all the parts of me where I felt insecure, healing them by continuing to trust in the show. Ultimately, I found myself feeling more in my power than ever. Like the album process, by the week before the show, I was flowing into everything, feeling so much energy everyday because the doubt was no longer there. I learned to move with more focus and trust.

I could go into details about the amount of work it took everyday for the 2 months of planning and the 2 months of executing, which includes weekly rehearsals, nights I spent working on live overhead projector materials, meetings and creating sessions with those involved, etc, but these tasks simply came as they were, not easy but not difficult and actually fun.

The most difficult labour was the depression after the show. Sometimes I forget about the afterwards. I was sitting with this for a while where I scrutinized everything I thought went “wrong” and punished myself for them. Because of this, I aligned myself up with situations I didn’t deserve, found it difficult to take care of myself, hid away from people who cared about me. I remember receiving videos and photos of myself from the show and not believing that it was me – feeling so far from who that person was. I realized months later that I was afraid of what I had become from the show and didn’t want to own into the responsibility I’m able to step into. I’m still learning how to do this – the awareness of this fear helped me a lot. Seeing myself is a journey into many depths. I wonder if anyone else goes through this after a big release of artistic work…

With much of your creative work, including the concert, ‘community’ appears to play an important part. How does community take presence in your work?

The concert definitely taught me about community. The show wouldn’t have been what it was if not for the community who financially, physically, emotionally, and artistically supported me. To be honest, I’ve only recently been able to see and feel “community” in the ones that I’m in. And I’m still exploring where else I feel comfortable to share myself and hold space for others in. I’m learning how to stand tall in a grounded community. I grew up with very supportive parents and sisters who are both in the arts, yet I’ve always taken it to myself when it comes to moments where I need support from others. Sharing myself authentically, especially when I’m not feeling my best has been a struggle. I’m learning that my communities accept me in all forms of me…I’m very grateful for this.

I’m selective about where I choose to perform. Performing is a very sacred space for me, and it’s important that I give in a space that can receive it (particularly events that focus on the performance). I know I can’t control certain things, but I do have a choice in where I decide to perform and so I choose to perform for communities I resonate with. The show was a great way for me to collaborate with communities in a larger scale. This is one area I want to continue to grow in. One of my goals is to create a production team for live experience shows, not only for myself but for other artists in the community that have experiences and ideas they want share.

What memorable responses have you received about your work, and have they changed the way you think about making art?

I’m learning how to share myself more. I’m comfortable by myself most of the time but I know I have a lot to give. When I do share myself, I receive a lot of affirmations to continue to do so. This is a reminder for me to create from a place that’s very real within me. I recall moments of people reaching out, not knowing me personally saying that they resonated with me, my music and my words. I’ve received responses from friends who’ve watched me grow into byi, expressing such proud-like joy. The power of performing was more affirmed by those who came and told me what they felt, how healing it was for them…I’m glad, as it was for me too. I’m learning how to constantly challenge how I can share myself. I find the more open and honestly I do something for myself in front of others, the more I connect with them.

Photo by Tejas Panchal from ONION + BANANA JUICE

What themes/questions are you interested in exploring currently?

I’m constantly on a journey with the depths of my being. I understand and feel others and the world this way.

I’ve been thinking/reading about death and that it’s something that happens continuously in cycles as we let go, as we live, as we cry (from book: The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying)

Reflections and seeing myself in my power, seeing others. Not being afraid of myself. I’m learning how to stare at myself in the mirror, right into my own eyes.

Committing to deeper experiences, a deeper life.

How to fight.

How to have a better relationship with money and get what I want.

How to receive what I want.

How to reconnect to my parents’ ancestral land and share it through my creations.

How important the communication with my body/earth is.

Exploring the other art forms I’ve been too insecure and resistant of, bringing them into my life again and into my music more. I know I’m a creator of all sorts and I’ve thought for so long I had to stick to music because that’s what I’ve been doing the longest. But there’s oceans to me – I know this.

Relationships of all spectrums. How I can be more honest, open and loving in the ones I’m in and want to be in.

How to invite more play into my life, not being afraid of falling – kids aren’t afraid of falling when they play.

How the love languages I need from others reflect what I don’t give myself. Learning how to speak to myself with love.

What can we look forward to, in your creative career, in the next few months?

I’m in a grounding phase, working into my foundation, enriching the soil, providing my roots more room to grow deeper – I’m working on bettering my practice. Learning a new recording program, deepening my understanding of my instruments, collaborating, writing new songs, and simply enjoying creating everyday.

If I perform this year, I’m challenging myself to make them different, intimate, and reflect something I’m trying to learn more about.

Expect something to do with food, a new music video + a new idea that I’m excited to share – all at once! Currently brewing. I’m in no rush.

Lastly, what does being a “Canadian” artist mean to you?

I was born in Toronto, along with my sisters. My parents immigrated here from the Philippines when they were my current age. I sometimes question how different I may be if I was born and raised in the Philippines. Would I be calling for my own culture in the way I do now? What would my purpose be then? A lot of my work and drive has been because of this yearning for home. Yet isn’t Canada also my home – the earth my home?

I feel, growing up in Canada, I have grown into the artist I am. I’m aware that I’m working with all kinds of elements that haven’t been experienced by any of my ancestors. These intense seasons have guided my intentions, commitments and creations in which I’m constantly humbled by. Winter teaches me how to tend and focus inwards to stay warm and rooted; spring teaches me how to allow new experiences; summer teaches me how to be in community and thrive together; fall teaches me how to only keep what I need. These lessons come in different forms constantly shifting with me. There are also so many others like me and unlike me who show me worlds of experiences and perspectives I may not have known if we haven’t crossed paths here on this land. To work with what I’m given here – which is A LOT – I’ve chosen to create work that brings me connection and home, one that knows of home everywhere. May this work continue to grow where it needs to, continue to be of service to greater love and honour all beings before, with and after me.

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To view more of Alesha Aquino, visit her IG @aaqart.

To listen to byi’s album, visit her SoundCloud, and follow her IG @byi.earth.

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