Growing up stateside, the only music from the Philippines I knew was my Grandmother’s lullabies. But digging through my Dad’s records one summer I came across a gem: The Soul Jugglers. Made up of local musicians and African-American US troops stationed in Subic, these dudes had so muchswag. An undeniably smooth Pinoy funk band, if it wasn’t for their Tagalog lyrics, The Soul Jugglers could pass for Motown proper. They strung together the kind of sound only Shaft could walk out to if he was a perm-haired manong in 1970s Metro Manila.
That record helped crack a history and heritage that wasn’t really talked about at home. The Soul Jugglers were among other Philippine bands that found creating music as respite during Ferdinand Marcos’ martial law. They defined the music eras through experimentation and surged into new sonic territories. There was joy to be found on those stages and studios, even when the world outside was deprived of it.
Jennifer Lee is best known as the eclectic, storytelling beat producer and performer, TOKiMONSTA. Though her latest effort, through her Young Art Records imprint, reinforces the LA artist as a benevolent music lover and curator at her core. Much like a TOKiMONSTA composition, the Young Art Sound II comp is an all-inclusive reflection of the rich diversity emerging throughout electronic music, from B. Lewis’ fuzzy, R&B-tinged trap, to the festival-friendly, EDM-lite of Blackbird Blackbird. Even in a seemingly saturated electro market, Lee believes, there are genuine gems to be unearthed.
One of these jewels is New Orleans singer Ambré, featured on “Strange Froot,” one of the two tracks TOKi herself produces on the 16-track comp. On the first TOKiMONSTA music released since 2017’s Grammy-nominated album Lune Rouge, Lee foregoes lushness for simplicity, and places her collaborator (and Kehlani’s 2015 tour opener!) at the song’s forefront. Ambré’s airy lead vocal floats over sparse, calming drums and elegant strings give way to dreamy, layered guitars for a blissful, romantic moment. As Ambré’s own moonlit ruminations fade, “Strange Froot” leaves room to ponder on what sonic tales Lee’s TOKiMONSTA has left to tell, waiting to be uncovered.
TOKiMONSTA takes Young Art Sound II on tour, starting on June 7. Peep “Strange Froot” below.