I was born in San Francisco, CA to parents who were both born and raised in the Philippines. Per the norm with Filipino families, music was a huge part of our everyday lives.
We had a large family living relatively close by alongside an even larger Filipino community which came with a plethora of adopted aunties and uncles. Every family party had sing-alongs, performances by the various family members, and, as is common with most Asian families, a very typical “let me show you how talented my child is” mentality. On top of that, my dad’s dream was to be a musician, so our house was full of guitars and basses. My dad would often have our neighbors over to jam in our garage and he was always playing music around the house. He loved OPM, original Filipino music, and classic rock.
Although I didn’t necessarily choose music for myself, I gravitated towards it like white on rice, pun intended. My dad swears he heard me banging on the wall when I was eight, so he got me a Costco drum kit. From there I taught myself guitar, then keys, then started learning production by watching YouTube videos, and songwriting by studying my favorite artists. Remember those family gatherings? I spent most of them, drum sticks in hand, singing for the adults while my siblings were allowed to play with all my cousins. When my siblings and I were old enough, my dad had us in a family band. I also started playing out with a bunch of local bands. I recall being 15 and 16 years old, waiting outside the bar for our set to begin. I’d head in, play with the adults, and then have to leave. I basically gigged my way through both middle school and high school. Those years my dad was a bit of a dad-ager, carting around our gear, setting up my drum kit, running our sound system and the like. It would seem as though my path was set from a young age, as if I was born and bred to be a musician. However, as additionally common with Filipino families, music wasn’t actually a worthy career. So, instead of pursuing my passion, I found myself, rather unwillingly, in college on track for pre-law.
Honestly, I didn’t think music would happen for me, either. Growing up, I loved artists like Coldplay, Nirvana, Dave Grohl and John Bonham. But the reality was, those artists didn’t look like me at all. When I thought about it, I didn’t see a lot of artists who looked like me “making it.”
Now, finally, slowly but surely, it feels like there is a change happening. The world is blending. I see Asian actors leading films. There are more artists with Asian backgrounds breaking out. Artists like H.E.R. and Olivia Rodrigo. There are also K-pop stars making it big in the US, and I hear conversations from labels about how countries like the Philippines are great markets to crack because of their mass music consumption.
For a while, I strayed away from my culture. I felt smothered by it all. I didn’t want to be surrounded by family all the time. I wanted friends outside of my community. I felt disconnected to the Tagalog songs my parents loved. I longed for pizza dinners instead of the homemade pancit my dad would prepare. I didn’t want to be a “Filipino-American” artist. I shied away from Filipino press thinking I could get pigeon-holed and that it could affect what I wanted to achieve in the mainstream market. Remember those Filipino-family parties and how I was always the entertainment? Remember the constant gigging every weekend through my formative years? As incredible as it was at developing my ability to perform in front of people no matter the circumstance, it also gave me social anxiety, something I became known for when I first entered the music scene. I had to figure out, and am still figuring out, how to hang at a party when I’m not performing. How can I be out and about without “contributing something” to every event? Who am I without a guitar or drum sticks in my hand? Who am I without my parents and my grandparents dictating my every move? And how could I make music a career even though everyone in my family insists I find a backup plan (read “going back to school to get a nursing or law degree”) for when it didn’t work out?
I moved to LA hoping to move away from it all–my family, my culture, all of it–but what the distance actually did, was bring me back to my culture. Although I was starting to find myself through my independence, I started missing my dad’s homemade cooking and found myself asking him to send me his recipes. Now I have introduced Filipino food and restaurants to all of my new friends and my team.
When I sat alone in my apartment in LA watching the news of attacks on Asians, I felt immensely sad, thinking about my parents and grandparents, how that could have been any of them. And yet, they were incredible people who did what they could to better their lives and their families. I’ll admit I fell into a bit of a depression over the cruelty I was seeing in the world.
I started thinking people didn’t like me and weren’t going to like me because of the color of my skin—and that I wouldn’t make it because my parents were born in the Philippines. I had skin-bleaching soaps growing up because fair skin is more beautiful, and I needed to keep my skin light, so I bought some more. I even found myself avoiding the sun, wearing big sweatshirts in the searing summer heat of LA to avoid the darkened caramel color I would turn into after a few moments of direct sunlight. But after a while I started to see the support I did have from my friends, my family, my team, and, most importantly, from my fans, many of whom were Asian. I saw communities coming together sticking up for the AAPI family against such unjustified hate, and I started feeling a surge of pride in being Filipino.
Recently I was asked to go to the Philippines to perform at the Miss Universe Philippines competition. It was my first time ever going there and I fell in love with the country. I loved being able to speak Tagalog to people. I loved being able to connect with my Filipino fans, many of whom have been with me since Day One, and it’s made me want to do more to embrace my roots.
Don’t get me wrong, I still struggle with my background at times. When I look around most of the writing rooms I’m in, I don’t see many people who look like me. I’ve actually done a few writing trips to Nashville and, while I love the community there, it’s really hard not to feel like an outsider in almost every room I walk into. I’m on an incredible roster with some amazing artists, but I am the only person of color on that roster.
There aren’t many Asians on the major playlists and most of the ones I do see making it tend to be half-Asian. However, I think, and I choose to believe it’s all changing, and that it can change.
I also realized it’s up to me to start making that change. So, I started asking my team to put me in rooms with more ethnic communities. Now I jump at the opportunity to be a part of events such as the recent ASCAP AAPI writing camp, and I love finding and collaborating with Asian artists. I can’t wait to tour more in Asian countries and get back to the Philippines. I may not have always loved being in a marginalized community, but now that I’ve stood on stage looking out on a sea of faces singing my songs back to me, many of which faces resemble mine, and as I’ve experienced the support of the AAPI community, especially during AAPI month, I’ve come to realize how special my background is. I’ve realized how connected I am to such an incredible and resilient community.
And, perhaps most importantly, I’ve realized how much the world needs to try some of my homemade adobo.
Francisco Martin’s new EP ‘Manic’ will be released on August 26th via 19 Recordings. Check out the video for his latest single “hate you to love myself.”