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How Unique’s music makes us reinterpret the world

SCOUT Friday Picks is our dedicated column on music, with a focus on fresh takes on familiar faces and profiles on new, young voices. For recommendations on who you want us to feature next, send us an email titled “SCOUT FRIDAY PICKS” to [email protected]

03. 27. 20, 6 p.m.
Stay at home and keep it quiet with us. The silent livestream w/ Unique Salonga is on FB LIVE for #SCOUTFridayPicks!

Have you encountered that CUT video where the player has to predict the name of each person in the circle? There’s no one-way ticket to winning that kind of game—much like how luck works in the lottery. But the act of predicting someone’s name is something innate to us. What’s in a name, anyway?

A 2017 article in The New Yorker entitled “The Power of Names” confirms how names affect how we perceive a person, object or movement given that specific name. In a study by Gestalt psychologist Wolfgang Kohler, we’re reminded of how words have this certain “hidden baggage” that plays part in shaping how we perceive them. That’s why reading words like “meander” give off a tensed and hurried image, and words like “awkward” feel uneasy and intractable. You know, just like how they actually mean.

More often than not, we’re happy when our initial judgment of a name actually matches the person. That’s why, when we met young musician Unique Salonga, listeners went crazy not only for his incredible music, but also for how his name echoes what he does. Heck, even who he is. From his closet picks to his online persona, Unique is as unique as he can be.

This sentiment is shared by fans who wait for his midnight releases, casual listeners and journalists who interview him—like me. We’re all drawn to the experimental sound library of Salonga—bringing the local music scene to places we’ve never been. Call it an exaggeration, but this fervent support was undeniable during the release of his sophomore album “Pangalan” today.

Written, produced and arranged by Salonga, “Pangalan” is hammered with crippling messages disguised as livid textures, unsettling sound collages, hard-hitting lyricism and infectious bops that keep us afloat in the middle of the mentioned turmoils.

Odes to self-identity, fame, control and confusion make up this realistic record of our everyday life—most of the time quite literally, like a never-ending routine. These tracks don’t shy away from the artist’s personal feelings. This makes “Pangalan” a far cry from the monochrome, melancholic debut album “Grandma.”

Read more: Unique Salonga’s second album ‘Pangalan’ is a more personal piece

Unique being unique is a debate long resolved. But when I asked him what he feels about young artists who want to go against the tide taking him as inspiration, and he replies with “😕,” I think about how being tagged “unique” can be limiting. It grows in vain when left unwatched, and when you think about it, it can even disrupt someone’s growth. Unique is unique, but it doesn’t end with that. His craft is not only for the purpose of “being different.” It can be about sincerity, or surprises, or power.

This mirrors what The New Yorker derives from Kohler’s study: “What’s surprising, perhaps, is how profoundly a single word can shape material outcomes over time.” In other words, “As soon as you label a concept, you change how people perceive it.”

And maybe that’s what Salonga does, aside from going against the tide. He’s not unique for the sake of it. He breaks boundaries when he feels the need to. He digs deeper because he wants to. The way he interprets the themes he tackles—and makes those images persist in his listeners—is the young musician’s success away from the spotlight.

“Pangalan” doesn’t fall short as evidence. The album name itself reclaims realities, assigning them their own names, shaking up what we know. Now if we think of corporations, we won’t think of buildings only—we’ll start hearing the album’s first track too. If we hear the word “bukod-tangi,” we’ll associate it not only with standing out, but also with being alone. Because that’s what Salonga sang. He re-interprets the world with us.

As we get into the nitty-gritty of “Pangalan,” we ask more questions to Salonga, hoping to get a view of his present world.

Hi, Unique. How has life been treating you so far?
Nakakapagod siya pero worth it.

Aside from working on your latest album, what have you been up to lately?
Sulat pa rin.

What makes your album different from your previous work?
Concept album siya kumpara sa una.

Were you imagining a specific audience while creating this album?
Honestly, hindi. Kasi mas focus ako sa sarili ko nung ginagawa ko siya.

At what point did you feel that your album was good to go?
Nung nag-set na ng deadline.

What were you listening to while making the tracks of this album? Any influences?
Talking Heads, Tame Impala, Radiohead.

“Nakaka-pressure din kasi pakiramdam mo, responsibilidad mong magmukhang katanggap-tanggap sa paningin nila kasi may pangalan ka na kailangang protektahan,”

When opening yourself up in a song, how do you filter the details? How do you decide if a personal feeling or story is worth writing a song about?
‘Yung paraan ko ng pag-filter ay ‘yung ‘di ko sasabihin nang straight to the point ‘yung gusto kong sabihin. Madalas, nag-dedecide ako kung ano ba ‘yung mga topic na malapit sa mga nararanasan ko at sa pagkatao ko.

For a young musician, you have relatively gone through a lot of changes already. People have also associated you with huge labels—telling how you’re one of this generation’s greatest musicians. Is the possibility of peaking at a young age make you afraid?
Oo kasi ‘yung mga normal na bagay, hindi mo na magawa. Nakaka-pressure din kasi pakiramdam mo, responsibilidad mong magmukhang katanggap-tanggap sa paningin nila kasi may pangalan ka na kailangang protektahan.

Do you fear that you’ll someday change in a way you don’t like?
Oo. Kasi minsan, hawak na ng panghuhusga ng tao ‘yung buhay ko. Parang mas kilala pa nila ako kaysa sa sarili ko mismo.

For you, what is the responsibility of a musician, aside from giving people something to listen to?
Alagaan lang nila kung ano ‘yung mayro’n sila. Tsaka samantalahin lang nila ‘yung mga pagkakataon kasi sayang.

If wish-granting genies were real, what would be your three wishes?
Bigyan ako ng kakayahang mag-teleport, maging invisible at kontrolin ang oras.

Maybe we could say that your new album represents another stage—if not era—in your career. What’s your message to the fans who’ve tagged along with you this far?
Thank you kasi naniwala sila sa kakayahan ko. Thank you rin kasi nandiyan sila palagi para sumuporta.

Photography by Kirsten Salazar

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Jelou Galang
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