Joyo Velarde: A Guide to Love and Understanding

Pump up the volume with Dolce & Gabbana's chic headgear from their Fall 2010 collection.

 

Track 1: “When Did You Fall In Love With Hip-Hop?”  

Some of my fondest childhood recollections consist of memories as a little girl, making mix tapes of old school hip-hop party and slow jams on my now-ancient Emerson alarm clock and tape deck. Bedtime was at 9, but I’d stay up until the wee hours of the night, on a mission to record that elusive R&B song, forever captured on my 80-minute tape cassette. When the baritone overtures of DJ Victor Saragosa caressed the airwaves, my ears perked up and my finger poised at attention over the “record” button.  

I took my mix tapes very seriously. I even made tape cassette sleeves with an eye-catching cover on one side and details of the songs and artists on the inside. They’re stashed away in shoeboxes now, taking up residence in different corners of my parents’ house.  

But I’m still a child of the late 80’s and 90’s hip-hop and R&B era, when Zapp & Roger’s technological foresight predicted Computer Love way before MySpace, Facebook and Eharmony did; when I grew Weak in the knees with SWV; when I went Back n Forth with Aaliyah; when Crazy was still with Sexy and Cool; when I nursed a little crush on Krayzie Bone from Bone Thugs n Harmony, gossiped about their supposed deal with the Devil and tried to spit rhymes as quick as they did whenever Crossroads crossed the radio airwaves.  

Aside from taking on years of piano lessons, skipping merrily through years and years of middle school and high school band competitions, watching my own father happily pick out melodies on his beat-up guitar, music has always been a part of my life. I’ve always loved music until this very day. The only problem is that, nowadays, good music is hard to come by. And my standards have risen.  

With all the education I’m saturated with about cultural awareness, I’ve been hungering for more representations of Asians in music. And not Jin or One Voice or any artist that attempts to mimic mainstream media.  

Track 2: The Joyo of Quannum Physics  

The first time I saw Quannum Projects perform can only be described as enlightenment. Something new, something meaningful, something impressive, something fun. Lyrics Born, who is my hip-hop hero of the moment, deserves his own post, but this entry is about his wife, Joyo Velarde.  

When Joyo came out on that stage and belted out Sweet Angels, I was mesmerized. The men of Quannum backed away to give her space; a Filipina — with wild hair and was as brown as they come– was singing. Center stage. Music and culture collided and became an evolution in music, but there was no one outside those club walls to witness it.  

I quickly learned that Joyo was Lyrics Born’s biggest fan. They are a travelling duo, boosting LB’s fame in the underground hip-hop world with his clever rhymes, brilliantly self-produced albums and Joyo singing hooks to nearly every song. KFK and I attended as many LB shows as we could. While our fanaticism for LB grew exponentially, my awe and admiration for Joyo also tripled each time I saw the duo hit the stage.  

On February 16, 2010, Joyo released her debut album, Love and Understanding. It has been a long time coming. No joke. That amazing night at the DNA Lounge when we had first seen Quannum was probably in the early 2000’s, maybe 2003, 2004. And we had first heard talks about Joyo’s debut album two or three years ago. Shortly thereafter, Joyo did a small test run on some songs she was considering for the album at the Jazz Fog Festival in San Francisco. When we went to greet her after the show (as we always do after a LB show), she asked us, eager for feedback, “What’d you guys think! Did you like it?” All I could think of us was, Wow! She wants to know what we think?? So of course I’m like, “Oh, yeah! That was awesome! I loved it!” when in reality, I can’t even really remember what songs she performed…  

Last year, she released a five song EP available only online and only a few tracks caught my ears, one of them being I Need You Boy, a song with a bouncy reggae vibe that I had no problem with bumping in my car. I was a little skeptical at first because there were a couple tracks that sounded so elevator. But I gave her the benefit of the doubt knowing that it was her first album and I’m assuming, ’tis the process of an artist to experiment with different sounds. Regardless, I made it a point to support the heck out of this Filipina Diva even if the EP sounded a little sketch.  

Track 3: Love and Understanding  

Back in my car again, it’s a couple days after KFK and I received Love and Understanding in our mailbox and the album has made its way into my CD player.  

Let me preface this review by saying that I’m a fan and critical consumer of pop culture, not a music critic, meaning that I don’t intend to spout out an intellectual monologue spattered with musical jargon and whatnot. If anything, I just want to capture the essence of what I perceive Love and Understanding to be about for me. Not for Joyo, not for the audience, but for me and how it made me feel as I was soaking up the vibes while driving to work that morning.  

I’ll be honest. A few days before the album was released, her first single, Certain Special Way, was available free to the public. KFK downloaded it and let me tell you…I loved it. Maybe I’m biased and I’ve developed a certain standard and expectation of Quannum albums, but it had everything that made me fall in love in with Quannum in the first place: mixing new with the old, blending of genres, genius production, groovy beats and mysterious dream sequences.  

But to get back to Certain Special Way, KFK and I were debating as to which artist the song reminded us of. The seductive bass line immediately reminded me of Aaliyah’s Rock the Boat, while KFK stuck to his postulation that the song boasted En Vogue influences. I was so proud to see a video clip of her doing an interview with Chuy Gomez of the Bay Area’s hip-hop radio station, KMEL.  

I grew up listening to KMEL. Hell, aside from Wild 94.9, that’s the station I tuned into to make all my mix tapes! The fact that it’s a mainstream radio station goes to show how more underground, independent labels are garnering wider acceptance. And that’s one of the things I love about Certain Special Way; while it teeters on the border between alternative and popular R&B, I feel that it’s the groovy bass line that really makes it “acceptable” by mainstream standards.  

Love and Understanding is expertly produced by folks like LB, Jake One, Tommy Guerrero and Headnodic. However, I did notice some interesting characteristics of the album. It starts out with a a heavily LB influenced hip-hop track, Mama’s Got A Brand New Swag, then weaves seamlessly into Build This World, translating Ghandi’s “Be the change you want to see in this world” into an R&B call-to-arms.  

The rest of the album is a R&B-rich tribute to throwback greats such as Minnie Riperton and Deniece Williams, and neo-soul pioneers like Amel Larrieux, Angie Stone ¹ and Aaliyah of the Four Page Letter variety.  She later breaks up the smoothness with an upbeat disco track, With Feeling, reminiscent of  Tavares’ Heaven Must Be Missing An Angel, a funky club track, Take You Home and a jiggy lounge number, The Way We Are. What’s amazing is that she injects these classics with her own twist, showcasing her opera skills from when she was training in Italy. This is the mixing of genres I was referring to before, and Joyo’s successful attempts at bridging R&B, hip-hop, disco, funk and opera sound deliciously effortless.  

As with many albums, I do have my qualms about Love and Understanding. And, to be fair, they’re more of a personal taste issue than a matter of skill or execution, cuz homegirl executes her vocal skills to a T! There are a couple tracks –specifically Lower Deck and On and On that allude to that “elevator,” “easy-listening” vibe that I was skeptical about earlier. Not that there’s anything wrong with that type of music per se, but it almost feels out of place. There is an incessant groove permeating throughout the album interspersed with these random Vanessa Williams-like tunes and it interrupts my flow! I try to sit back and let it sink in for a minute, but it never sticks and I have to make the effort to skip to the next track. Also, I think my unease about these two tracks is that they don’t exhibit the same experimental feel that the rest of the album does. On the plus side, the lack of an experimental arrangement really brings her voice to the forefront of the song and the listener can really experience that distinct opera voice of hers.  

Track 4: Verdict Says…! and More Joyo Goodies  

That being said, I am so glad she took the time to complete her first project! Even with the more critical feedback I had to offer, the album was still awesome. If she ever had a chance to read this, girl, you make everyone proud! I saw a Youtube clip of her performing at her record release party at Yoshi’s in San Francisco and I was so bummed cuz if I was still in the Bay, I would’ve been there to rock out with her!  

It’s KFK’s and my new mission to attend her show when she goes on tour. Nothing but love for ya, Diva!  

Here are more links to enjoyo (haha):  

Peace!  

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