For a while, Manila seemed content to march mindlessly to the foreign beat. Top DJs were dropping in from all over, slowly turning our city into a clubbing capital. All well and good, but when it came to original Pinoy dance music, that stuff seemed to have retired from the party long ago.
To move forward, however, local dance music had to look back a little. Electronic figures Madz Abukabar (aka DJ Abdel Aziz) and Cyril Sorongon (aka silverfilter) banded together to lay get-down grooves out with a throwback feel, the sounds further sweetened by the fresh attitude in singer Jessica Connelly’s vocals. Even better were Jess’s lyrics: love and laws on attraction by the coolest girl on your block. Like the old-school theater the band plucks its name from, SINYMA offers live electronic music as an experience. Feeling the bass, soaking in lights, and watching the divine Ms. Connelly fan her fingers out with flourish as she does in the video for “About It,” you realize that the blockbuster effect of dance music is apparent when the soul’s in it.
Following gigs that have rendered audiences their wind-up toys, SINYMA talks to B/BLOG about their upcoming EP, playing for the gays, and a performance so electric, they all nearly got electrocuted.
The guys were already playing together before you came in, Jess. How did you pop in?
Jess Connelly: When they were looking for a singer, I had also messaged Madz to produce a track for me. I sent my friend an acoustic cover that I had done, he wanted to send it to them. I guess I passed. When we met up, they asked me if I’d be interested. We started performing properly in the start of 2014.
How did the music change when she came in?
Madz Abukabar: Okay naman siya, umikot naman upuan namin (laughs). It’s different in the sense that medyo leaning towards world-slash-house. She introduced soul—catchy lyrics, that R&B feel. We realized it was a good fit.
What was Sinyma prior—and where did the name come from?
Madz: We had to consider SEO: Search Engine Optimization (laughs). Nobody has that kind of name. If you type in “cinema,” a lot of things will come out. At the same time, we’re looking at an audio-visual experience sort of thing. Right now, we’re on the audio part. The visual part is still in the works.
Cyril Sorongon: That time, I think the plan was to make an electronic group that played music that people can dance to na live.
Jess: I think our forte is our live performances. It’s an experience when you watch it.
What was it like at the start and you were doing your first few gigs?
Jess: They definitely had to groom me to be a frontwoman. I would be very scared. Singing is okay with me and as long as I hit every note, it’s okay, but there’s more to that, especially with live performance. I had to adjust for my own good. Now, when we do parties, it’s a lot more fun.
Can you recall one especially awkward moment onstage?
Jess: Ah, our first gig. I just didn’t talk throughout the whole thing. In Route 196, there’s a completely mirrored wall at the side of the stage, so after I sang the first song, I just turned to the mirror. They were like, “Would our new lead singer like to introduce herself?” I was like (in a mousy voice), “Hi, I’m Jess.” I was really shy. And they as well just threw the gig on me to test me. “Write to this, we’re performing in three days.” I was like, “Okay!” I thought that because I wrote the songs, that I was good.
Madz: Yeah, but in fairness to Jessica, this is actually her first band. I’d say for something that’s a first, in the span of less than a year, she was able to cope and pick herself up. She’s a very quick learner.
What have been some really memorable gigs recently?
Madz: Soul Surf.
Jess: We almost died.
Cyril: We were supposed to play around eight songs, then halfway through the first song, it started to rain
Jess: Yeah, I thought it was me. Is it my voice?
Cyril: My laptop was drenched. The people were really digging it, but the rain was so bad. I pulled the plug when I started getting electrocuted while playing my guitar.
Jess: As it started pouring, everyone ran to the stage. Then I started getting really scared ‘cause there were electrical things on the ground. I did feel something shock me on my foot. People told me that because I was wearing rubber slides, I stayed alive. We sang three songs. We closed the show for that night.
Do the gays come up to you at gigs and give thanks that there’s finally some great local dance music?
Madz: Of course! A good example would be Brian Cua, a really good DJ-producer. Part owner of BED. When he tells us, “Hey, I like your music!” it means a lot because he’s one of the seniors in music production.
Cyril: Usually, when we gig out, they’re the ones who are really having fun.
Jess: A lot of lesbians approach me all the time and my boyfriend just laughs in the background. He’s like, “Go, go take care of them.”
You have a lesbian following, how amazing!
Jess: I don’t want to say that ‘cause it’s yabang if I say it but I get told, “My friend, she has a crush on you.” I think Mike [Concepcion, her boyfriend] loves it. But if it’s dudes, he’s like, “That’s my girl.”
You’ve got a single out. What are some ways people out there can hear your music?
Madz: We’ve got our single out, “About It.” You can get it at Bandcamp. You can also check it out on our Soundcloud. All the other music is gonna come out soon.
Cyril: Over summer.
Madz: It’s 80 or 90 percent done. If you want to hear some of it, we’d really appreciate if people caught our gigs just to see how things work live.
Are you thinking of throwing something crazy in—maybe a curveball for listeners?
Jess: I think we do that more when we gig. It’s a better way for people to hear you versus “Check out this link.” It’s more with live stuff, we say, “Hey, maybe we could turn this into that.
Cyril: Yeah, especially when we pull off the visual element in the live set.
Jess: We do that when it’s the appropriate venue. We did that with Kimbra. When the stage can handle it.
It’s interesting you mention the visual element. I saw the video for “About It” and I haven’t seen anything that slick locally in a while. Who was behind the concept?
Madz: Basically, we got a bunch of talented folks to work with us on that one. We wanted to do a play on shadows and light. When we got together, that’s what they were also thinking.
How important is style to you guys?
Jess: If you’re a builder, you have a uniform so someone knows you’re a builder. How we present ourselves every day is important. I don’t try to make the guys look like something. It’s more I just like to share that when you put thought into it, it’s way more effective. When you’re an artist, you are a brand ‘cause that’s what you have to sell.
Madz: Music is at a point where it’s disposable, so it’s a way for you to really separate yourself from the others. Whenever they see you, “Ah, that’s Sinyma.”
Jess: It’s fun. I do get excitement off of “Okay, what should I wear for this gig?” When they see us live, I might be wearing a sports bra as a top and if we have a good stage and awesome light, it really wows people.
And details speak a lot about who you are. The way you dance in “About It”—was that premeditated?
Madz: She went on a pilgrimage for two months…
(Laughs) Just the way you move your hands…
Jess: Oh, the hands thing was fine ‘cause I do that. Sometimes I catch my friends mocking me when I’m onstage. But the dancing—that whole day, they were like, “Okay, more pa. (snaps fingers) More, more!” It looks really chill in the video but I was so over it, to be honest.
Madz: I’d say dancing in sync with the beat is overrated, so do it offbeat (laughs).