The Juno Awards is the Canadian counterpart of the Grammys for Canadian artists. And in the upcoming 50th Juno Awards this May, a Vancouver-based Filipino Canadian R & B duo has been nominated for the Breakthrough Group of the Year Award.
Manila Grey is the Filipino-Canadian duo of Ghostride Neeko and Blame Soliven, friends since they were 13, living at Richmond. They were individually making music and decided to partner up, along with azel North, their in-house producer, in 2016. First generation Filipino Canadians, the name Manila Grey represents the place where they "create music and express what they've learned growing up in a different country", i.e. Vancouver, for Grey; and Manila, as a sign of love to their roots.
In an interview with Hypebeast, they revealed that they “lean towards elements of what it means to be a Filipino because deep inside they still want to be in touch with their roots, even as they represent the Filipino Canadian diaspora”. They inject Filipino elements like Baybayin in their visuals and brand identity, recognizing the importance of cultural representation and reshaping the viewpoints of succeeding generations of Asian-Canadians.
"It's always been about creating the best music we can for everyone, but growing up barely having any Asian-American or Asian-Canadian influences to look up and relate to is also a big driving force on why we do this," Neeko explains. "Y'all should see all the hard-working people behind the scenes, too,” Soliven adds. “We didn’t even realize how many Asian artists, graphic designers, art directors, stylists, managers, video directors, curators, etc. who are so essential in driving the business and creative process of the music industry. That makes us so happy.”
“As we got older and the music started progressing, there’s always been a duality between the stories of our past life in the East, and our current life in Vancouver, that we just had the constant urge to tell – but couldn’t tell until now,” says Neeko. Soliven adds, “We realized that this is a big opportunity and outlet to introduce the people to something very unique.”
Their music has been described by one writer as “some of Canada’s most polished and confident in current hip-hop, at times reminiscent of The Weeknd and Majid Jordan”. Manila Grey released their debut EP No Saints Under Palm Shade in 2017, followed by the full-length album No Saints Loading in 2019, and another album No Saints on Knight Street in 2020. Their streams have a reach of over 50 million streams on Spotify and YouTube. Hits like Timezones, Youth Water and Silver Skies have highlighted them as notable names in the hip-hop and R&B acts, garnering support from music tastemakers Complex, Hypebeast, RESPECT Mag, Lyrical Lemonade and Hot 97. They also have been named as ‘2020 Ones to Watch’ by Complex. They have had several packed shows in clubs and sold-out tours in Hong Kong and the Philippines.
Asked in an interview with Hypebeast on their successful Philippine show at the Black Market Manila in 2018, “The crowd reception was insane. We were so grateful for all the love! We set out to expand our culture, we really wanted to add to it, you know? But we were trying to do it from thousands of miles away in Vancouver. Then coming home and seeing so many people support that and ride with us, we just couldn’t believe it. This is one of the biggest reasons we consistently try to push our limitations as artists.”
The Juno nomination is one validation of their successful direction in music. Incidentally, other Filipino-Canadian artists who were nominated for the Juno awards were Elise Estrada, who was nominated in 2009 for ”Best R&B/Soul Recording of the Year’ award, and Warren Dean Flandez, who was nominated twice, in 2017 and 2019 for “Contemporary Christian/Gospel”.
Sources: complex.ca; Hypebeast; Words and Music, SOCAN Magazine; Manila Grey Facebook
* This article was published in the May 2021 issue of the Alberta Filipino Journal.
** Do you know of a Filipino artist that should be featured? Send us a message, firstname.lastname@example.org.