Re-shaping the outlook of the next generation of of Asian-Canadians and the need for cultural representation

Teodoro Alcuitas

Editor, Philippine Canadian news.Com

“The Grey is where we create the music. The Grey is Vancouver. They Grey is where Soliven and I completely express what we’ve learned growing up in a different country. ‘Manila’ is just showing love to our roots and where we came from.” – Neeko (complex.ca)

Photography by JP Talapian

A Vancouver R&B duo is capturing the imagination of the music world with their highly successful cross-Canada and international tours that include sold-out crowds in Hongkong and the Philippines.

Known only by their stage names ‘Neeko’ and ‘Soliven’, the duo were 13 when they first met through friends in the Vancouver suburb of Richmond where they live. Both were making music on their own and decided to collaborate, later linking with Azel North, their current in-house producer.

According to InqPop, the duo has garnered over 50 million streams across Spotify and YouTube in just 2 years. “ MANILA GREY is recognized as one of the leading lights from the new wave of hip-hop and R&B acts that have emerged from the Canadian west coast. The duo broke onto the scene with hits ‘Timezones’ and ‘Silver Skies’, building on their now-signature high-speed nightrider world. Since their inception, the duo have received support from the likes of music tastemakers Complex who named them as ‘2020 Ones To Watch’, Hypebeast, RESPECT Mag, Lyrical Lemonade and Hot 97.”

As children of Filipino immigrants, both struggled through their youth, holding two to three jobs at a time, jobs like casino workers and barbering.

“Those jobs really taught us patience and that there’s a whole process,” both agree in an interview with Hypebeast.

Their success speaks to the need of cultural representation, but with Manila Grey specifically, the identity is more direct, more in-your-face. They sing and rap about their lives as Filipino-Canadians because they are Filipino-Canadians. That’s something we can’t take away from them.

Soliven. (Photo:JP Talapian, Scout)

“It’s always been about creating the best music we can for everyone, but growing up barely having any Asian-American or Asian-Canadian influences to look up and relate to is also a big driving force on why we do this,” Neeko explains. “Y’all should see all the hard-working people behind the scenes, too,” Soliven adds. “We didn’t even realize how many Asian artists, graphic designers, art directors, stylists, managers, video directors, curators, etc. who are so essential in driving the business and creative process of the music industry. That makes us so happy.” 

According to Scout, Manila Grey “leans toward elements of what it means to be a Filipino because deep inside they still want to be in touch with their roots, “ even as they represent the Filipino Canadian diaspora.

That is why Soliven, the art director, injects Filipino elements to their overall brand identity and uses Baybayin in their visuals. 

Asked why the name Manila Grey, Neeko told Scout “the Grey is where we create the music. The Grey is Vancouver. They Grey is where Soliven and I completely express what we’ve learned growing up in a different country. ‘Manila’ is just showing love to our roots and where we came from.”

(Photo:JP Talapian, Scout)

“Call their music at its worst: basic, with lyrics that are built in for Instagram captions. But they’re no villains. It’s valid for them to find a way to connect themselves to their Filipino identity through what they’re familiar with. To use their identity as their branding is no different from us looking for the tiniest half of Filipino blood in successful athletes and celebrities across the world. To declare themselves as Filipino is literal music to our ears,” says Scout.

Photography by JP Talapian