Music 

KZ Tandingan on Performing Disney's First-Ever Filipino Song for 'Raya and the Last Dragon'

We talk to the singer about the history-making moment.

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Raya and the Last Dragon marks a major step forward for Disney — on top of introducing the studio’s first Southeast Asian princess Raya (voiced by Kelly Marie Tran, the first Southeast Asian actor to lead a Disney animated film), the fantasy adventure movie also features Disney’s first-ever Filipino song. Titled “Gabay,” the track is the Filipino-language version of the movie’s theme song “Lead the Way,” performed by Jhené Aiko.

A history-making moment, Disney tapped the Philippines‘ very own KZ Tandingan as the singer for “Gabay.” Recollecting how she felt when she first received the invitation, Tandingan tells HYPEBAE: “I didn’t think I’d get that kind of opportunity, especially from Disney because I don’t sound like the singers who are often chosen to sing Disney songs, but I am thrilled that they saw something in me and that they believe in what I do as an artist.”

A powerhouse songstress and talented rapper, Tandingan rose to fame when she won The X Factor Philippines Season 1 back in 2012. Since then, the artist has been honing her craft and has dropped multiple hits, topping local charts with songs like “Darating Din,” “Mahal Ko o Mahal Ako” and “Two Less Lonely People in the World.” By 2018, Tandingan joined a singing contest called Singer in China, which expanded her international presence. While she was eventually eliminated, Tandingan had the opportunity to perform with Jessie J during the show’s grand finals.

Below, we talk to Tandingan about achieving this milestone in her career, the translation of “Gabay,” Disney’s inclusivity efforts and more. Read on for our interview.

 

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A post shared by KZ (@kztandingan)

How did the opportunity with Disney come to be?

I actually don’t know the specific details, but I think it was late last year when I got a call from my management telling me that I was chosen to sing the first Disney song in Filipino.

What was your initial reaction when you found out you would be singing the first-ever Filipino song for Disney?

I was super surprised. I didn’t think I’d get that kind of opportunity, especially from Disney because I don’t sound like the singers who are often chosen to sing Disney songs, but I am thrilled that they saw something in me and that they believe in what I do as an artist.

Do you know if there were other artists Disney was considering for the song?

I actually don’t know, I didn’t ask. However, the bottom line is I am grateful that they chose me, and that’s all I care about.

disney raya and the last dragon kz tandingan gabay filipino song artist singer performer musician southeast asian movie soundtrack

Did you take part in the translation process from English to Filipino?

No, it was already in Filipino when I learned it. The translator actually did an excellent job because it doesn’t sound like a song that was initially in a different language. I mean, if you listen to the track, it sounds like it is meant to be in Filipino because of the other arrangement elements, which are very close to our culture. So I’m super, super proud of the translation. It was actually easier to sing it because of how the translator considered the phrasing and the music element of the translation.

For those who don’t understand Filipino, are there certain terms or phrases in “Gabay” that somewhat differ from the original English version?

I don’t think that all the words were directly translated, but I think what the translator focused on was to capture the story and core of the song. There can never be a direct translation, but I think what the translator did was he made sure the Filipino version captured the heart of Jhené Aiko’s version.

disney raya and the last dragon kz tandingan gabay filipino song artist singer performer musician southeast asian movie soundtrack

In what ways do you relate to “Gabay” on a personal level?

This song is very timely. In a world where it is so hard to trust people, mainly because of the pandemic, it reminds us that the only way for us to get through this situation is to learn, work together and be there for each other. I am reminded every day that the reason why I continuously wear my mask, practice social distancing and wash my hands regularly is not only for my safety, but for the protection of the people around me.

How do you think Raya and the Last Dragon did a good job in terms of Southeast Asian representation? Is there more that could have been done?

I think Disney did a fantastic job when it comes to incorporating Southeast Asian cultures into the movie. I just hope in the future that they would incorporate Southeast Asian languages in the movie. It doesn’t have to be the whole movie, but some parts of it would do.

What do you hope to see more of from Disney in the future?

I hope that Raya and the Last Dragon is only the beginning of more movies from Disney that show off the beauty of Southeast Asia and its people.

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