There’s a reason why many people gravitate towards records that trace one’s journey towards overcoming trauma and healing. Music, as entertainment journalist Jayson Greene once pointed out, has a “profound salutary effect” on listeners, enabling them to access parts of their lives that they deem empowering and hopeful. Sometimes, it also doubles as a source of strength even when the task of surmounting the odds feels impossible at hand.

Singer-songwriter syd hartha’s debut EP, gabay (guide) fits into this category. It’s one of those albums that tackles the difficult path to self-love and recovery, all while trying to connect more instinctively with one’s emotional vulnerability. While the folk-pop artist’s brand of gloomy confessionals often showcase attempts to confront her personal demons to uncomfortable lengths, there’s something admirable about gabay in its bid to emerge triumphant towards reclaiming one’s sense of self.

As syd describes her 5-track release, “it is a compilation of different stories from my adventures and misadventures as a young woman. The EP mainly talks about healing and taking control over your own destiny, letting go of the past, and getting to know yourself again.”

Syd Hartha Interview

Courtesy of Sony Music Philippines

Songwriting-wise, syd has drastically improved, especially in moments when she just lets her guard down and does not care about what people think of her. Here, she comes to terms with resilience and healing and unapologetically reassesses her choices in life with newfound wisdom. 

“My songwriting style, especially when it comes to the lyrics, really depends on my mood,” she reveals. “Most of the time, though, it always starts with my experience, followed by how other people may relate. When writing, as much as possible, I make sure that I make it relatable in a way since I don’t make music just for myself anymore.”

The Kiyo-assisted “3:15,” “pakay” (purpose) and “kung nag-aatubili” (if you’re reluctant) were some of the songs that she penned during the darkest moments of her life, while “gabay” and “lipad” (fly) were conceived during the height of the pandemic. All these soul-baring tunes reflect the pessimism and angst of someone who struggles to find meaning in existence, but what makes it more emotionally compelling is how syd eventually realizes that brokenness doesn’t necessarily mean defeat. Her EP crushes her worries away with answers that comfort her in times of quiet reflection and self-doubt. It’s a compass that helped her get through the waves of pain, a self-actualization that allows her to embrace her emotions and live with it and by its rules, more compassionately. 

Outside of gabay, syd has immensely found her footing in the local music industry as one of its promising new muses. Just recently, the Awit Award-winning act has performed in several music festivals and high-profile shows, and even bagged several collaborations with international artists, including Japanese producer Yutaka Takanami and American singer-songwriter Sarah Barrios.

Syd Hartha Interview

Courtesy of Sony Music Philippines

She has also nabbed opportunities to work with top brands. As an in-demand ambassador, syd maintains a balance between being “real” as it gets and being able to command influence in a positive way, especially to the younger demographic that relates so much about her life. “I always remember to keep it authentic by just talking to my listeners like I’d normally talk to my loved ones, keeping in mind the power my words have,” shares syd, who seems more comfortable than ever sharing her learnings through the years.

Aside from working on new music, the “tila tala” (like a star) singer-songwriter also sets her sights on returning to school and exploring the world beyond her like every normal teenager would. “I want to be able to get through the next semester in school smoothly while still being able to balance my love for play, specifically learning new longboard tricks, and traveling — be it discovering different surf spots or visiting countries to know more about their culture,” she said.

With everything going well for syd hartha, it’s inspiring to witness how she managed to step out of someone else’s shadows and reap the benefits of patiently taking the long way to enlightenment and healing. As the lyrics to her song “pag-asa” sum it all up, “Darating din ang umagang magbibigay sa ‘tin ng pag-asa / Sinusubok lang tayo ng panahon” (The morning that gives us hope will come / We are just being tested by time).

A version of this story appeared on Billboard Philippines’ Acoustic and Folk Issue, dated February 15.

Ben&Ben Billboard Philippines Folk/Acoustic Issue

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