Breaking more ground in terms of Asian representation and inclusion, Disney taps Asia’s Soul Supreme, KZ Tandingan, to sing Gabay for Raya And The Last Dragon.
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Before anything else, a history lesson into the wonderful world of Disney.
Now, the last time there was any serious Filipino representation in a Disney animated film goes back to 1992. A standard in pop culture both here and abroad, Aladdin did not only break ground for drawing up the fictionalized Middle Eastern city of Agrabah, but it also gave rise to Lea Salonga being the singing voice of Princess Jasmine. While there are many things synonymous to Filipino culture, one of the clear standouts is the beacon of Philippine pride, whose crisp clarity has permeated generations with the enduring classic, A Whole New World. Since then, she has voiced the songs for Mulan and been inducted as a Disney legend, and rightfully so.
However, it can be a tad bit too hard to realize that since then, there has been no Filipino representation with Disney, at least at that level. Sure, every so often with a major release, Filipino singers would be given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to sing versions of the main theme songs as part of local marketing efforts, but nothing quite to the same prestige as that of Lea Salonga. Everyone from Nikki Gil (High School Musical), Janella Salvador (Moana), Darren Espanto and Morissette Amon (Aladdin), Inigo Pascual (Coco), and Moira Dela Torre (Mulan) have been tapped, but never was it done so in the beautiful Filipino language.
Well, until now that is, because following a trail of mysterious hints, the shroud of secrecy is lifted and it can be revealed: KZ Tandingan has been handpicked by Disney to breathe life into the first Filipino song in Disney canon, Gabay.
KZ Tandingan Takes On Disney
It may have been a long time coming, but as we all know great things take time. And it makes perfect sense now; especially as it threads itself into the colorful tapestry being woven by Disney ahead of the highly anticipated release of its Southeast Asian-inspired animated film, Raya And The Last Dragon.
A story of many firsts, Raya And The Last Dragon takes us through a vast and vivid world that celebrates a synthesis of many Southeast Asian culture. Distinct and diverse as it may be, it all comes together in a exceptional telling that follows the adventures of Raya (Kelly Marie Tran) through the fantasy of Kumandra as she tracks down the legendary last dragon, Sisu (Akwafina). Tasked to restore peace and unity in a fractured land and among divided people, the first Southeast Asian princess has her work cut out for her, eventually learning that it takes more than just a dragon to save the world.
Among the many breakthroughs is a predominantly Asian cast, rightfully voicing Asian characters. And to further drive the message of groundbreaking identity and representation where whitewashing and marginalizing are still a challenge, Disney is making sure our voices are heard. This time things are different, because finally, it is in a language that is of our own as essayed by no less than Asia’s Soul Supreme, KZ Tandingan.
“I am very grateful and I feel very proud to be singing in my language, and show off its beauty to the rest of the world,” shares KZ Tandingan who is proud to be part of this history-making moment. “I grew up watching Disney movies. Finally, there is a Disney Princess who I can feel a very strong connection to, and that is Raya as the first one inspired by Southeast Asia.”
The Filipino And Disney Connection
From a silhouetted image with her back turned, giving us nothing more than just a textured ponytail with orb-like increments to clue us in, it can be officially said that KZ Tandingan is one of the voices proudly featured in this effort of inclusion in Southeast Asia. “I love that the song reminds us that sometimes we feel we are weak, especially when we are alone, but if we just learn to trust each other, to come together, and to unite, only then are we able to change the world,” she shares about the trust, strength, and unity she drew inspiration from to perform Gabay, which is set to be released on March 5.
“Raya and the Last Dragon is inspired by various Southeast Asian cultures and, as such, we found it fitting to launch Gabay as a way for us to celebrate the film and connect with our Filipino fans,” explains Allie Benedicto, Studio Marketing Head of Disney Philippines. “Gabay, the first-ever Disney track sung in Filipino, demonstrates our commitment to work with local creative talents to tell our stories in a locally relevant manner.” Truth be told, there isn’t anything more Filipino than that.
It may have taken a long time since history was made with Lea Salonga, but here we are, finally hearing ourselves in the Disney song, Gabay. No one can take this milestone away from KZ Tandingan or even us as Filipinos, because the truth of the matter is, representation and inclusion will always matter. And you have to admit, it feels pretty damn good to finally be heard.