The weekend of when I was introduced to the music of Toni B. was filled with me dancing in my head and dancing in my room. A fresh sound that I have to admit was unexpectedly pure OPM was taking over my mind and even if I haven’t memorized her lyrics just yet, the staccatos are evident in every skip of my step and every sway of my hips. I thought to myself, “This is going to be good.”
A jetsetter thanks to her mother who works for the UNHCR, Toni found in the Philippines just what she was looking for. “There was always something missing,” she shares. “I couldn’t put my finger on it, and when I came back to the Philippines, I knew I was coming home.”
She joined open mic-nights at the lounge of 7th High, a bar in Fort Bonifacio, during summers between attending university; mainly because she fell in love with their white grand piano. Funnily enough, the piano wasn’t even Toni’s first instrument. With classical training in violin, she veered off that track and decided to teach herself to play the guitar and the piano instead. “I guess I was really into trying to be Michelle Branch!” she follows with a laugh. But that’s where it gets even more interesting for Toni B. She might have pushed aside her classical music background and maybe tried to portray Michelle Branch, but her swing genre is what makes her standout in today’s Philippine Independent Music scene.
I didn’t want to do something that I know for sure already works. It’s a risk that I have to take with every single song I write, but at the end of the day, I don’t want to follow trends. I want to set them.
Her original plan was to work as an official document translator for the United Nations. But being the risk taker that she is, Toni decided to move on from doing covers at 7th High, take it another step further, and tried to introduce her original songs to the audience. Coincidentally, part of the audience was Jerico Fernando, owner of JB Music. He approached her and instantly asked her what she had planned for her music career. “He didn’t ask me if (I would pursue this musical career), but he rather asked me when.”
Right now Toni is considered an independent music artist, part of a community that is tight-knit and full of talent. When I asked her if she was ever intimidated by the scene, she wasn’t hesitant to admit that she was once was. “Especially because when I first started, I really just began as a solo performer and performing a lot of nights alongside some well-established bands,” she says. She later on shares that she realized she didn’t get any judgment, but only support for her work. “I have grown to become really good friends with a lot of them, to the point that we see each other in daylight!”
Although Toni was always fascinated with music even as a child, actually performing in front of a crowd that enjoyed her style was what made her really pursue the craft. “It began to drive me into a direction in which I wanted to do more, to be better, and to start growing as a musician.” But with her unique style, I can imagine Toni getting bigger in the music scene and possibly going from indie to mainstream, which is a whole different world all together.
I definitely wouldn’t mind being a part of the mainstream music industry; I think it just shows that my music has grown to be loved by people of all walks of life.
But just like coming home to the Philippines is a sign that this girl knows how to go back to her roots, Toni says that if she ever does get into the mainstream music industry, “I would try my earnest to keep my identity true to myself and still keep writing songs that still reflect who I am as a musician.”
One thing about moving from one culture to another, often gives travelers a more open-minded way of thinking about a lot of things. One thing that Toni picked up from her travels is her own understanding of beauty, “No matter your skin colour, your size, your height, your weight, your eye colour, etc, I think we truly relied on what a person was like in order to discern whether they were interesting to us or not.” She shares that going to different international schools in different countries definitely helped her realize that beauty truly lies within the eye of the beholder.
Awhile back, Toni was a guest on Rappler’s Live Session and she tells us that it was an eye-opening experience. Given that music today isn’t only discovered in television or radio, artists now rely heavily on social media sites like YouTube. Comments like, “She’s pretty for a big person” or “Parang braso lang nakikita ko” and others surprised Toni.
I think a lot of people forgot that it’s not only a live session, but it was an interview as well, so when not delivering what they want, they get bored with what they hear and end up commenting instead on what they see.
But even this wasn’t Toni’s first time experience to receive comments of the same nature. She tells a story of riding a GrabCar and the driver spent the entire ride commenting on her looks, telling her that she was beautiful, for a chubby person. “He kept going and even said, ‘I never knew chubby women could be beautiful until I saw you’.” She says that she was a little insulted at first because she couldn’t believe that she felt like she couldn’t be considered beautiful in general terms, “It’s like saying, next to a thinner person, all of a sudden I’m not beautiful anymore.”
Even if Toni is comfortable with her own body and she has a good perception on beauty, she still has hesitations about being open with her size. She talks about how even this feature on PLUMP and having her photos taken by the amazing Dianna Capco made her worry about things, like her tummy exploding out of the body suits or even unflattering angles.
But I realized during the shoot, sexy isn’t necessarily a physical attribute. Sexy is a feeling, and when you believe in it, it’ll shine through and bright to others.
In fact, she shares that even if she was insulted at first, the GrabCar ride she told us about also made her feel proud of the fact that the driver must have just been appreciating beauty in all shapes and sizes, but just didn’t know how to properly explain himself.
As the interview comes to a close, I couldn’t help but ask if she was ever inspired to write songs about her body and how she felt about it. She shares that majority of her existing songs are based on her feelings, but her upcoming album is all about empowering people. Toni then realizes that the reason she never got to write about body issues is simply because she never felt that her body was any different, “I know it’s shorter, and I know it’s plus-size, but I don’t emphasize on it and people also forget at times, because I truly just feel like any other person.”
Now what else is in store for Toni B? “I am the Artist of September for MYX and I’m so excited to be on PLUMP PH!” She is also hoping to release her next album early 2017, but she’s honest about not exactly having a game plan. When I asked how she was planning to take on the challenges that the Philippine music industry has for her, here’s her answer:
They should bring it, because I’m ready. I don’t know what challenges are in store, but if it’s anything like my next album, there is no room for fear. We learn best from our mistakes. So come on, what else you got? 💪
ON DRESSING UP
How would you describe your style?
It really depends, I thought I was someone who wanted to dress more rockabilly when I go to gigs complete with the pin-up rolls and red lipstick, but during the day I tend to lean towards a more clean-cut look, with plain colors, and basic stuff.
Who’s your style icon?
Style icon… Hmmm… I wouldn’t say I have a particular style icon that I look up to because most of the time, I look at the clothes, not people. For example, I’d be walking down the street and sometimes I stop random people and be a creep and ask them wear they bought stuff. Haha!
Favorite lazy day outfit?
Do I only have to choose one? Haha! I feel lazy A LOT and on these days, people find me sporting: (1) No make up (I try not to use anything heavy because I think it’s important to let your skin rest and breathe to keep it healthy). (2) Pajama chic, in which I mean I’m wearing a black version of what would just be pajamas (tank top and palazzo pants/joggers).
Favorite outfit when performing?
My rockabilly polka dot romper! Because it makes me look like a lady but I can still do whatever the hell I want like…breathing for example. Haha!
What’s one fashion rule you always break?
I think on my even lazier days I break more than one rule (and more common rules at that!), which are going out in super pambahay clothes. You know? The type that are so worn out they have holes everywhere.
Top 5 must haves in the closet:
- A statement piece kimono overlay
- A good pair of black shorts
- Mom jeans
- Some nude heels
- Polka Dots!
Definitely inspired lyrically by music of the ’40s and ’50s. When they express something, whether it be love, angst, anger, happiness—it’s just (ugh!) so beautiful I want to cry.
Favorite female artist?
Sara Bareilles! She wrote her hit-single “Love Song” as a sort of fuck-you to the recording companies because they only wanted her to sing love songs.
3 favorite songs of all time?
- You Belong to Me by The Duprees
- Black Hole Sun by Soundgarden
- Fooled Around and Fell In Love by Elvin Bishop
Describe your music in 3 words.
What do you think about celebrities who have albums simply because they’re celebrities?
I must tip the cap off to them for trying. I think sometimes people are so quick to judge but at times, decisions to venture out into different artistic genres might not necessarily be their decision but rather the managements. I’m willing to bet that some of them are aware that they can’t really sing but if they are under contract with a big company, what do you think the company would pushing more for? What their client can or cannot do or the aspect of money?
Keep struggling. Keep fighting tooth and nail. What we do for music, your love for music, cannot be left with laziness in the driver seat. Even on days where you’re not inspired to write or play, get on a habit where you force yourself to even just write random stuff for 30 mins or play random songs for 1 hour. Keep struggling. You will go through hell, but guess what? You’re only GOING THROUGH. Head and held high, push on forward fiercely.
THIS OR THAT?
Red or nude lipstick?
Lately it’s been more on the nude vibes! But gigs I’m normally in red.
Coffee or tea?
Coffeeeeee black no sugar. Unless it’s bubble tea. Wow that wasn’t helpful at all.
Breakfast or dinner?
Breakfast for dinner.
Black or white?
White. Although my clothes say black.
Tattoos or piercings?
Tattoos. Although I have both.
Beer or wine?
City trip or nature trip?
What’s your favorite tattoo of yours and what does it mean?
My favorite one is the pinnacle of the rest of my tattoos. The one on my back which is the tattoo of all the countries and cities I’ve lived in. It’s a tattoo packed with memories and my childhood, despite the fact that I’m the only one who can’t see it. Hahaha!
What’s your mantra when you’re feeling critical about yourself?
When I get critical, I tell myself “you’re not a child abuser!” Remember those crappy drawings you drew as a child and you would parade it around to your mom and dad like you just beat Monet and Picasso? Remember how proud you were when you finished said crappy drawing? I think when we’re being too critical of our work to the point where there’s no more room for it to breathe, it’s like your telling your Creativity, your inner child, that what you did is not good enough. Don’t be a child abuser!
It is hard to accept yourself when most of the time you look into the mirror and you’re not seeing the same sort of body you see on the TV or magazines. It. Is. Hard. Nevertheless, don’t ever forget that beauty comes in ALL shapes and sizes. By all means don’t go demeaning people who have thinner frames, that does not promote body image properly either. It isn’t that you used to be beautiful or that you will be beautiful, you are BEAUTIFUL right here, right now. So stop looking back and stop looking far ahead, you might just miss the amazing person that’s standing right in front of you in the mirror.
About the Author
Elora Picson is today’s normal 20something-year-old. She’s on her gadgets a lot, her social media accounts don’t ask for her passwords anymore, and pizza or sushi or ramen is always on the menu. It’s taken her awhile to get here, but she’s owned up to being that fat girl you never expected her to be. Oh, and she writes some, takes photos plenty, and then posts them a lot on Instagram, @elorapicson.