What is art if not an expression of one’s soul? What is an artist if not someone who shares his or her essence?
Joaquin Serrano, referred to in the music scene as Serro, is bringing to light how he plans to redefine the music industry in Manila. Born and raised in Quezon City, he was an unassuming kid, and his journey to becoming a budding musician tells the story of choosing between the path of least resistance and the road less travelled.
Music was not always in the cards for Serro. Growing up in the Philippines, a country whose conservative views are being challenged by a new generation of liberals, left him with very little choice on what career path was right for him. Being a lawyer, a doctor, or a nurse is usually on the list of jobs deemed acceptable by society. But an artist?
“Manila is a place for winners,” he says. “This is the perfect city to come to when you’re done with your journey, when you can easily put food on the table. I don’t think it’s a place where you can afford to be a struggling artist and expect to still make ends meet.”
It goes without saying that the economy in the Philippines does not give much leg room for artists to monetize their craft. It does not help that a whole generation of people who came before you look down on a profession that does not traditionally make much money.
But the rising music scene in Manila threatens the age-old idea of practicality before desire. It is a movement that was sparked by other Asian countries like South Korea and Japan, fighting for their place at the table, proving they also deserve to be recognized for their music, just as the United States is.
In his own act of patriotism and love for his country, Serro has made it his mission to erase the image Filipino society has painted of what it means to be an artist. And to do so, he would like to showcase his music on the world stage.
“I want to plant my roots here first,” he says. His ambition was evident as he talked about his initial stepping stones towards global recognition. “I want to have a loyal fanbase here, with people who truly appreciate my craft. Because every song has a piece of me in it.”
Serro made it clear throughout our interview that he identifies himself as an artist, more than anything else. Music just happens to be his main medium. But that does not stop him from exploring other ways to express himself.
“I love directing, and doing my own graphic art and design. I love film because most of my inspiration comes from Asian films. I appreciate vintage clothing and repurposing it to show my interpretation of its design. The possibilities are endless.”
Indeed, the sky is the limit for an artist who values authenticity just as much as he does his craft. Serro’s ambition transcends his love for music, and bleeds into the way he chooses to share parts of himself with whoever feels connected to it. He reminds me a little of Kanye West, minus the controversial tweets and photos of him urinating on his music contract. In fact, West is one of his main inspirations.
‘I don’t want to be just one thing in life’
“I look up to Kanye. My sound is not similar to his, but I really do respect the way he innovated in the music industry. His sound broke through many barriers for people, and the way he decided to go above music itself is something I also want to do in my career. I don’t want to be just one thing in life. If I ever am, then I have not done my job.”
I have been following Serro’s music since the beginning of his career, and I can attest to what he says—he does not sound like Kanye West. His music is very much in the R&B genre, laced with Lofi and lots of punk rock influence. It is right up my alley and resonates with every Gen Z’s adolescent playlist.
Looking forward, Serro plans to release more and more music (he does the guitar, piano, and produces music on the computer). But he has made it clear that he does not do it for fame nor fortune. Of course, that would be most welcome, but overall, he is making music for himself. His newest EP, Games for Two, is a collection of songs that is a result of his own experience of a heartbreak. He conceptualized an idea of a robot that desperately tries to be human to experience what it is like to feel love. Kind of like Pinocchio, but a more adult version of the cartoon. He translated this into his music and thus, an EP was born.
‘I got heartbroken around this time last year ….I was a robot….’
“My inspiration came from personal experience. I got heartbroken around this time last year after what felt like such a dry spell for me. I was a robot, doing nothing but working and producing music for other people. Till I met her and got my heart broken, I suddenly wanted to go back to feeling nothing. That’s when I got the idea for Game for Two.”
The manner in which he was able to interpret his feelings into such a creative concept, to say the least, surprised me. It showed me how the mind of an artist differs incredibly from that of a pure academic. He was able to link two opposite feelings, indifference and pain—something I doubt a lot of people can do.
Serro is undeniably one of the local music scene’s hidden gems. This interview left me wondering why and how he is not at the top of the charts yet. It got me questioning why the industry in Manila loves to glorify those with scandals and controversies instead of an artist who could potentially put us on the map.
The interview left me in between emotions: excited yet frustrated, inspired yet disappointed. But even if my anger at Filipino society engulfed me for a good time after speaking to Serro, I knew one thing was for sure: he would make it far.