LOW LEAF: LIGHT UP WITHIN YOURSELF
photo by alexandra a. brown
Low Leaf is an alchemist. By synthesizing analog instruments and digital programming, Angelica Lopez has been creating powerful and ambitious music since 2011. She dares to be heartfelt and direct in a landscape saturated by irony. Her music speaks of love not as a romantic notion between individuals but as a crucial connecting force in the universe. Born in Los Angeles to Filipino immigrants, Low Leaf spent her early years learning classical piano before teaching herself guitar and harp. Her curiosity eventually led her to samplers and software. Her first releases were wild beat meditations with splashes of classical instrumentation that caught the attention of luminaries like Flying Lotus. Her live performances began to incorporate these analog and digital elements until Low Leaf split her time between a compact digital controller and a massive harp at gigs. She’s already toured a healthy cross-section of the world and performed with artists like Mark de Clive-Lowe and Robert Glasper. It seems Low Leaf is just beginning to hit her stride. Her latest album, AKASHAALAY, released on digital and tape through Fresh Selects, is a spiritual offering to the Philippines. In our interview, Low Leaf speaks on the album and her increasingly vibrant connection to her motherland while also drawing connecting lines between colonialism, food access and spiritual enlightenment. She plays Sat., Aug. 16 at the Mayan. This interview by sweeney kovar.
Tell me about the new album. Is it supposed to play out like a story?
‘Akasha’ in Sanskrit means ‘ether.’ ‘Pag-alay’ in Tagalog means ‘offering.’ The album is a spiritual offering to the Philippines. The first song, ‘Umaga,’ translates into ‘morning.’ The story, I suppose, is the awakening of the people. All of the songs are messages to the Filipino psyche of today as well as me trying to call upon my ancestors as a vessel. Not having access to the ancient traditional folk songs that have long been forgotten—I wanted to know what the unheard songs were. We’re all alive because of our ancestors and I wanted their frequencies to pass through my filter so people could wake up and realize that we’re creating the culture today. Even though the wounds of so many years of colonization are still very much apparent in today’s society, they can be healed through music and creation. It’s up to us to reawaken that which they could have never taken from us—our spirit. Once we alkalize the spirit, then we can let it show through our art and music.
I think it’s really interesting that you bring up resisting against the heritage of colonialism but you acknowledge that some part of it is in us—especially living as people of color in America. Before you reconnected to your heritage, did you feel like you had a double consciousness growing up?
Oh yeah! Growing up I had such a confused identity. My parents migrated to America to pursue the American dream, I guess. My dad is a doctor and within our household we had all the Filipino traditions. But when I stepped out of the house I had no idea what Filipinos were in American society. There were no Filipinos in music or in the media at all. I didn’t have anyone to identify with. In many ways I was resentful and I didn’t understand why I was born Filipino. In searching for an identity I found myself gravitating to different genres of music because that made sense to me. As I was trying to find myself, the music drew out these heavy questions: ‘What is my sound?’ ‘Where do I come from?’ ‘What is my ultimate heritage?’ So I just started looking up the history and trying to find songs on YouTube. I found this instrument with gongs in different tones and the sound immediately resonated with me. I started researching Filipino myths that made so much sense to me—more sense than Catholicism, which was brought to the Philippines from the Spanish. I was like, ‘OK, before Catholicism the Philippines had their own gods!’ They were almost like pagans in a way. I got all these books like The Way of the Ancient Healer, which talks about healing and sacred teachings of the Filipino ancestral traditions. I found that Filipino shamans did healing rituals with music and nature for ages, which inspired me so much. When I make music, I have my own rituals with lighting sage and candles and always making sure that before I enter the music-making process, I acknowledge that these are not my songs. I try to make it as sacred and honest of a process as possible. I also realized that this whole time I had been tapping into my ancestors without even knowing it, for I am a living ancestor too and my intentions with music are to—ultimately—try to heal and uplift the consciousness of people. It’s very exciting to be alive in this point and time because we have access to all this information from the past as well as the technology to create anything that we want. If you can conceive of a sound, it exists. It’s up to you to pull it out and manifest it. I think in a lot of ways it works to my advantage having grown up without an identity. My entire life has been a journey to discover what that identity is and it inevitably affects the music. The music is just a documentation of where I am in my spiritual evolution.
How have you strengthened that connection to your heritage?
For the album, I was sampling a lot of sounds from traditional Filipino instruments. I was really musing my return to the Philippines. I hadn’t been there since 2012, when I had this really beautiful experience in this mystical mountain where I actually saw spirits. It really validated a lot of the feelings I’ve had my entire life. I was never the same after that. Every single song I made after that was for the Philippines in a way and these are ten songs that made most sense together. The album’s done and now when I’m writing things I feel that ultimately, no matter what, me being Filipino will always give its own flavor to the music. But now, I’m really interested in the tribespeople of the entire world, because we all have a shared heritage, which is of the cosmos.
What you’re saying reminds me of something I’ve heard recurring in your music. You make reference to ‘hearts becoming one’ several times.
I feel that the only way we are going to collectively shift our consciousness is if we truly become one with compassion. Once you see yourself in the other—that is when we will be able to really come together and create the world that is meant to be. We are moving in that direction already, and it’s been written that we are going to wake up as we are in this transition phase. Compassion is so important to me because once I felt that for myself I began to see my face in every single human that I met. Growing up in American society you are conditioned at an early age to see separation by clothing or by class. You want to be an individual and make your own identity. I’ve always felt like such a fuckin’ outcast. I couldn’t fit in with anyone and I tried to for so long and really compromised who I was so I could have a group of friends. It wasn’t until I woke up and was like, ‘Fuck it, I don’t care anymore if I don’t fit in. I gotta be true to who I am even if I stand alone.’ It was then that I started to gravitate towards like-minds and I realized that what we had in common wasn’t on the surface—it was this particular vibration that I found in all sorts of people no matter the race or type of person. I could find it in someone at the bus stop in San Francisco. I could find it in someone at the grocery store. It was a vibration. I realized that that vibration is in everyone, although sometimes it is harder to find because some people haven’t accessed it within themselves yet. I found that if you immediately address your highest self, then all the illusory bullshit you may be hiding behind dissolves and you can meet each other on a higher plane. That happens when you see the unity, but it has to light up within yourself first.
In the song ‘Slaveless Master’ you mention purifying your body as a way to help you connect or transcend. Can you talk about that?
Well, the body is ultimately your vessel and your spaceship through which you can access higher realms and have that higher conversation. The purification process takes such a long time because there is so much reprogramming of thoughts—it begins with your thoughts and your belief system of yourself and who you are in relation to the entire universe. I found myself having these recurring thoughts that would send me down these negative cycles and I started paying attention to these indicators. I’d find myself maybe feeling like shit one day and I’d have to reach into my mind and look into my thoughts objectively and see what was the seed and pattern so that I could purify my thoughts and have a healthier state of mind in general. It took a lot of meditation. Meditation is so difficult at first because you have to sit there with yourself. That’s the hardest fucking thing! Thoughts can be so fucking heavy but you have to sit through that because you want to see behind the veil and learn what’s really there. That was a big part of the purification process and it’s still happening. I think when I actually wrote that song I was in one of my higher states. It fluctuates. Sometimes I even come back to that song to remind myself. Anyway, there is also purification of your physical body with the things that you eat. I started to take notice of—holy shit. I’m sorry I just got a text from my friend about purification. This is crazy! My friend is a fucking visionary. We’ll have these crazy-ass dreams where we will meet each other in the dream world, she’ll give me a scroll and then I’ll read it and I’ll wake up and be like, ‘Yo, Ivey, I dreamt that this and this and this happened.’ She’ll tell me, ‘Yeah, it happened. I gave you the scroll and it was written in blue ink.’
She’s on a soul fast so she is telling me about purification and its power. Anyway, so the food that you eat is either highly alkaline or acidic. Alkaline food is alive like vegetables, leafy greens, fruits and anything that grows from the earth. The further down you go towards acidity you go down to food that is not made of natural grains, meat, alcohol and all that shit. I went on this alkaline fast for a long time and I was vegan for a long time too. It shifted the way I saw nutrition and saw the process of eating food as actually eating energy. I would eat food and acknowledge that it came from the ground and all the processes that went into the food before I ingested it. It became a sacred thing. I have to take from the earth so I can give back. I’m no longer vegan because I started getting kind of sick. I’m a small girl, I realized that even though I would prefer to be vegan and have this certain lifestyle I need to pay attention to my body and what it wants. I’ve found my own balance with eating a little bit from the entire spectrum but just being aware of what I am eating so I am consciously making decisions. Every single choice you make is going to affect the earth, and reflect your internal person, the things you buy, the things you eat and the things you think.
Food and food access as a global issue is really receiving more and more attention lately. Is this an integral part of the collective consciousness you were talking about?
Oh my god, yes! Yeah, man—I mean you are what you eat and I think once we get the food on point—to even get to that point there needs to be a respect for the earth, we will evolve. The ways in which we get our food through agriculture and spraying it with pesticides and chemicals … it’s all about money. It’s not about truly nourishing and feeding the people. I think once we are able to fix these issues slowly and gear them more towards sustainable farming and living, that’s going to drastically change the lifestyle of the people as a whole family. The U.S. has enough money to feed the entire world. It’s going to take a really long time. It’s already happening though, on a smaller level with people that have their own farms and grow their own food. Whenever you meet these people, they’re always fucking happy. It’s like they know something you don’t—it’s that connection. We are on this planet borrowing resources so we might as well build that relationship with the earth, that’s the way it was meant to be. More and more people are waking up and people need to continue talking about it so it can spread. Maybe it will have to become a fad before people think it’s cool but shit—as long as the outcome’s positive, then that’s fine.
Can you tell me about the song ‘Bahay Kubo’? It’s a Filipino folk song.
That song is about vegetables. It’s a children’s folk song that you learn growing up as a Filipino child. It describes their simple way of life—living in a nipa hut and eating vegetables. I chose that song because I thought that maybe subconsciously I could plant that seed in there, you know? I’ve never done a cover song before and Filipinos are known for doing covers of American songs in English, so I thought I would cover a Filipino song in Tagalog. ‘Bahay Kubo’ was cute, so I made it really silly and electronic. Whenever I perform it in the Philippines, all the grandmas and grandpas all of a sudden start paying attention. Looking at it now it kind of ties into everything.
KCRW PRESENTS LOW LEAF WITH MR. SCRUFF, JEREMY SOLE AND MORE ON SAT., AUG. 16, AT THE LIFT AT THE MAYAN, 1038 S. HILL ST., LOS ANGELES. 8 PM / $20 / 21+. GET TICKETS HERE! LOW LEAF’S ALBUM AKASHAALAY IS AVAILABLE NOW FROM FRESH SELECTS AT FRESHSELECTS.BANDCAMP.COM. VISIT LOW LEAF AT CREATORDIY.COM.