“Bilang artist, marami [pa] akong gustong gawin eh. And hindi lang sa music yun.”
“Saan,” sings Unique, “Darating ang mga salita?” The crowd cheers as the country’s then-newly minted solo musician begins his acoustic version of “Mundo.” Roaring and screaming, the audience renders the intro of the track virtually inaudible. They eventually settle down and sing along instead.
Unique, the elusive young man known to be pensive, is all smiles this time. And why wouldn’t he be? This is his first solo concert and the whole Kia Theatre is singing––to his music, to his lyrics, to him.
Big picture: here is an 18-year-old standing in front of some 2,500 people three months after deciding to go solo and only a month after the release of his debut album. It’s irrefutable, too, that the success of his first concert is one of those career-affirming moments; it shows that he’s already made it.
In reality, however, UNIQUE has only just begun. 2019 has proven to be fruitful. 2020, just as promising.
There are a lot of milestones people chalk up to age. Moving on, moving up and paying your dues are usually measured in years…or so society dictates, at least. So when former vocalist and guitarist of IV of Spades Unique Salonga left his band with no prior warning, it raised plenty of eyebrows. The foursome was only beginning to gain momentum. “Why now?” people asked.
What’s more, Unique, who quickly signed on with new management O/C Records in the aftermath of his departure, wasted no time. His first single “Midnight Sky” hit airwaves on June 13, 2018, along with a music video, to boot. A month later, he announced the details of his first solo concert, a move regarded as premature by his critics. On August 13, he dropped his 10-track album, Grandma, which he named his concert after.
“What do you have to say to those who think it’s too soon for a solo concert? Some are saying maaga pa masyado,” we ask. “Eh…maaga talaga. [Laughs] Wala na akong magagawa ‘dun,” jokes Unique, timidly.
Grandma takes up only a part of this quiet Thursday afternoon. Unique has taken a break from promoting the much talked about concert to meet with Wonder for coffee. (The Grandma Tour, at the time of writing, was on the horizon––two weeks, give or take––and this was the calm before the storm.)
Between chats about current favorites like Tame Impala and Matt Corby and early inspirations (he loves The Beatles and Michael Jackson), he sips on his Cà Phê Espresso. “I Wanna Be Your Man,” he shares, was the very first song he made a point to master to near perfection. He recalls his mother blasting the upbeat track by the Beatles on her mobile phone when he was much younger. “Kaso, natabig ng tatay ko yung phone,” shares Unique. “So, umiyak ako. [Laughs]”
Every bit of his youth seems to have come together to create a gateway to a music career. It all seems inevitable. He started young and was already writing music at 14 years old. This early start, we reckon, is part of the reason why he, today, is so laser-focused about who he is as an artist and about what he wants.
Indeed, Unique isn’t interested in feigning modesty to appease people. Even so, it is evident in the charming, extremely endearing manner with which he carries himself that he has both feet on the ground. He is unobtrusive. He genuinely just wants to create.
Don’t get him wrong, though: he does understand why his career move in 2018 may have been shrouded in controversy. He merely considers it an inevitable part of growth. Simply put: “Bilang artist, marami [pa] akong gustong gawin eh,” he says. “And hindi lang sa music yun.” So for parts of his career that are now closed chapters in his book, whether painful, controversial or uncomfortable, he remains grateful.
Everything has since been quite a ride. “Masaya. Mahirap. Nakakapagod,” he describes it, aptly, but later reveals that it’s all worth it when you create something authentically you. For Unique, this means blending together various points of inspiration and leaving them to incubate in his mind. He alludes to his fascination with film, scriptwriting, painting and photography. He allows himself to get lost in French New Wave films, all things David Lynch and getting experimental.
There is no use putting an artist like UNIQUE in a box when he only proves to be an outlier time and again. It’s in his vision, his sound, his artistry. Heck, it’s in his name.
Featured Image Colin Dancel
Art Matthew Ian Fetalver