To infinity and beyond
MANILA, Philippines - Kiana Valenciano has a voice that welcomes you in. This first comes to mind during the interview, though it’s been hinted early on — during phone calls between hair and makeup seshes, some quips here and there. It’s a surprisingly calm presence, stripped of any manufactured authority or intimidating elocution.
The same could be said of Mito Fabie — a.k.a. Curtismith — who arrives late with a sheepish and apologetic “I’m sorry!” Far from the tough persona imbibed by his raps, his is a playful, well-meaning presence; not unlike that college buddy you hang out with between classes.
“College buddy,” as a matter of fact, could very well describe the pair’s camaraderie. Easygoing, at times a little sabaw, their interactions contain a warmth that’s easily contagious. It’s this sort of ease, after all, that runs a common thread through the truly admirable.
Although familiarity alone isn’t enough to garner recognition, it definitely opens a door. Consider this: the two are definitely no strangers to the millennial compulsion for multi-tasking and creativity.Renaissance Woman
Beyond family fame, Kiana is a woman of many pursuits. This is apparent when you scroll through her blog (kianavee.com), an avenue for her creative reckonings. Photos, videos, commentary — all delivered in a tone that’s crisp, lively, and never self-indulgent. It’s the perfect balance of curation and accessibility, in a way only Kiana V could accomplish.
Among all these, it’s her lookbooks that get the most exposure, and that’s no surprise. Aside from work with Mega and Preview, Kiana has two fashion courses under her belt — one finished here, the other, in London. (A noteworthy blog post is dedicated to a class with Ian Scott Kelley.) Perhaps in another life, she would’ve taken up a career in Fashion. And with a penchant for classic styles taken against European landscapes, there’s no doubt about it — she’s got an eye. “I was into fashion. I still am into fashion… that’s really where I thought my career was going,” she says.
It was music that won out, however. While studying in London, she would hang and jam with her landlord’s son for fun. “Funny, yeah, ‘cause I was doing fashion, but my love for music production and writing started there as well,” she recounts. It was Circles, her first original single, that sealed the deal. But despite being raised in a musical household, having a career in music wasn’t her initial goal. “I’ve always loved music… my parents said that I was singing before I started talking,” she says. “It’s always been a part of me. I think it was just (so) way up in my face that I didn’t realize it was something I wanted to do.”
Nonetheless, it’s a choice she’s held fast to, with an EP in the works and a sound she’s made her own. “Everybody got used to me doing the soft ballad… but, I mean, that’s not the type of music that I listen to,” she says. “And so I thought, I wanna release music that I want to listen to, (that) I would be proud of.”
On the flipside, there is Mito, who enjoys a moderate degree of success. But “moderate” is an understatement. Mention “Curtismith,” and it’s his work in hip-hop that reigns prominent. From collabs with other local artists, to his own body of work — he has one mixtape and three EPs under his belt — his tunes are raw and poignant, precisely because he has lived them.
The themes in his songs have changed throughout the years. His newest EP, “Soully, Yours,” is noticeably more personal. “I wasn’t focusing on music at all when I was writing my first project,” he shares. “All of a sudden, music is my whole life — for the next two years, or three years — and so I was like, what is something I can express honestly, still?”
To innovate, sometimes you have to step back and get back to your roots. And this is what Mito plans to do. “It’s actually the most recent project that I realized, ‘I gotta take a step back, realign with why I started this in the first place,’” he notes. “I realized that I hold a certain responsibility, there’s a certain following. And it should be more than just pabebe tracks… I feel like if I don’t take this break, I’ll be like one of those artists (who don’t innovate).”
But music isn’t the only thing that keeps him busy. When asked how he’d like to be viewed, it’s not so much for his rap. “Actions speak louder than words. I wanna do stuff more than just rapping,” he says. “I really just want to employ people… give livelihood and proper wages (to them).”
Before diving into music full-time, he was planning to move to Bulacan to work on a farm. When he was a kid, he wanted to get into business — “I was, like, ‘Money can buy me happiness,’” he jokes — before realizing the flaws in it. So he learned more about agriculture, with hopes of creating “quality Filipino products” that could compete with the global market. Bamboo would have been his medium. It was only after a slew of gigs that came shortly before his scheduled move that he decided to see the whole music thing through.Birds of a Feather
Sharing only their seemingly unlikely music paths, it’s almost cathartic to see the two join forces. The product, Does She Know, is a cool R&B/hip-hop tune that’s easy on the ears, and reminiscent of early-2000 collaborations. This time, however, “cool” goes beyond the music they make. If anything, the art is an extension of the artist.
But what makes “cool,” exactly? It all depends, really. Sometimes it’s image, sometimes it’s glamour. But in this day and age, you can reckon there’s far more to it. To be cool asks something of you — to be familiar, yet to go beyond.
“Cool,” in the case of Kiana and Mito, could mean a number of things. To exude warmth even with a reputation that precedes you, to be light enough to accept change, to be open enough to let others in. But, most importantly, it’s to be brave enough to chase your passion — and to inspire people in the process.
Now, that’s cool.
Photos by RALPH MENDOZA
Styled by MJ BENITEZ
Kiana’s make-up by ELAINE DE SILVA of BYS
Kiana’s by Charlie Manapat
Mito’s grooming by NICOLE CEBALLOS
Stylist assisted by FED PUA and ANDREA MOJICA
Produced by MAINE MANALANSAN
and INA JACOBE
Sittings by FIEL ESTRELLA
Shot on location at THE NATIONAL PLANETARIUM