Following the journey of her songs, as evidenced by Asa Naman, Maris Racal is committed to her most authentic self. This means creating music that not only resonates with her past, present, and most importantly, future.
The Past: How Maris Racal Got to Where She Is
Maris Racal grew up on Bisaya tunes. She may not remember a lot of them by heart—the titles and lyrics mostly blurred by childhood lenses—but there’s always something about them. “It’s like those songs you’ve forgotten that’s still in your heart [and] you still feel the vibe there—that’s my inspiration,” she says with a nostalgic and wistful smile over Zoom. To her, it’s the way that they’re band-driven, and the happy vibes that they provide; all of that just feels like home to her.
That’s a lot to do with why, even in her artistry, she keeps the language close to her heart. In her recent single, Asa Naman, Maris Racal exhibits the loyalty she has to that particular sound. Not only does it allow her to play around with double and hidden meanings—title phrase “asa naman” meaning “where are you” in Bisaya, and “hoping” in Tagalog—but, according to her, it helps shine more light on the beauty and nuance of Filipino language. “It’s always going to be a part of me to incorporate Bisaya words into my music.”
The industry is hard, as she has said multiple times before. “The audience is very serious when it comes to music. So, I guess to them, when there’s an actor who sings it’s kind of cringey for them,” she explains. One of the few things that got her through the earlier bumps in her career is Unwritten by Natasha Beddingfeld. “It reminds me of the time when I was [just] starting [out] in the industry. Whenever I feel anxious or frustrated, or sad, I would always listen to that song,” she discloses as our discussion dwindles to the kind of music that always sticks with her. “And then now that I’m seven years in the business, and then that song randomly plays, it takes me back to that time.”
In general, she always gets attached to certain types of music because of her own personal experiences. She’s specifically fixated on songs for the brokenhearted. “Even when you’re not, you [still] feel the pain in which you’ll remember all the sad moments,” she describes the sensation as. Maris has a particular affinity for Dreaming With a Broken Heart by John Meyer. “Whenever I listen to [it], even if I’m at my happiest day, I would still feel sad. You know—because that was my song when I was so brokenhearted.”
The Present: Her Music
But her vault—as she calls her long list of written and finished tracks ala Taylor Swift—is not just about the break-ups, the love letters, and romantic musings. She has a lot to offer with her music—more than just Bisaya tunes, there are some pure-English and pure-Tagalog lyricism in there as well. The themes are vast, not just incorporating love, but of women empowerment as well. She thrives on being herself; while perception may be that she’s just another celebrity big on relatability, she doesn’t quite agree. “The goal is not really to be relatable. The goal is to be true; and it’s so easy to be you, right? Because there’s no other requirements, you just have to be yourself.”
Inspired by artists like Lady Gaga, Ariana Grande, and Taylor Swift, along with her growing obsession with K-Pop artists like Blackpink, Twice, Itzy and Aespa—she’s crafted a sound that’s authentic to her. “It’s like a diary, I guess—like reading someone else’s diary, something like that,” she confesses. She refers to her songwriting as very much a “chicken and egg” situation in that, she never truly knows what will come first. “There are times where lyrics come first…[and] there are times [where] I use melody. For example, when I’ve just woken up and there’s this melody in my head, I record it immediately so that I don’t lose it. And then eventually, I would just put words over it.”
It helps to know that she’s got the strong guidance of Rico Blanco in every step of her way. More than just the confidence and comfort he provides for her, he also throws in music and lyric ideas as well. He was the first to suggest Maris Racal write a Bisaya song, which sparked the early beginnings of Asa Naman, before back-and-forth voice messages and phone calls led to its final form. On the technical side of things, he taught her the proper level and volume to sing, the right amount of air to use, as well helped navigate through the various repetition of chorus and verses. “I don’t get disheartened when we repeat the same line over and over again anymore, even if it ran for hours. Because I know there’s a reason why they want you to do it again and again.”
The Future: Where She’ll Go from Here
Maris stands at the epoch of her musical career, and there’s a lot still that she wants to do with it. She’s hoping to explore many different genres and themes, because being boxed into one sound doesn’t suit the likes of her. “If you have a lot of choices, you’re happier—you’re more fluid,” she says, ever the free-spirited soul that she is. There’s also talks of her combining her acting and music-making—she thinks she can write her Pamilya Ko character Peachy Anne Mabunga a really good track, and make short films out of music videos. “I have the most perfect song for it already, I’m just waiting for the pandemic to end so it’s easier to make.”
But more importantly, her main goal is to be part of the Bisaya pop culture movement. She wants to inspire other Bisaya artists to stay true to their sound. “I know there are some other people out there that feel pressured to write a Tagalog song, so that the whole of Philippines can recognize them,” she explains in a thoughtful manner, her passion bleeding through the screen separating us. “I just want them to realize that you can write a whole Bisaya song and it’s going to be a hit. It’s like that.”
Dreaming big, she’s got a list of collaborations she’d like to do someday. The likes of Zild and Ben&Ben; from Olivia Rodrigo to Taylor Swift. But she’s happy with where she’s at, and for now, she just wants to focus less on the international scene and more on what she can do in the Philippines.
Text by MAE TRUMATA