Why don’t we go? Amid noise and worries, UMI reminds us we are loved

Michelle Abad

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Why don’t we go? Amid noise and worries, UMI reminds us we are loved

MANILA TOUR. UMI performs in Manila for her Talking to the Wind Tour on April 11, 2024.

Michelle Abad/Rappler

In her second time in Manila in less than a year, Japanese-American R&B artist UMI emanates joy and warmth to her Filipino fans through a healing soul connection

MANILA, Philippines – At 6 pm on a Thursday evening, R&B and neo-soul artist UMI invited her fans to meditate.

April 11 was the evening of the Manila leg of her Talking to the Wind Tour. But before that, a much more intimate, exclusive affair for VIP ticket holders. UMI asked us to sit in a circle on the floor with her and be still for a moment. For around 40 minutes, she guided us on a journey into our souls through breathing exercises. Breathe in: stomach, heart, and breathe out.

Why don’t we go? Amid noise and worries, UMI reminds us we are loved

“Just make sure you make a little time for yourself everyday. Tomorrow, the next day, even if it’s one minute, five minutes, just keep a little self-love going,” she said.

UMI, known for her artistic style of healing and human connection through music, set the tone of the evening with her reminder. The young, likely Gen Z and millennial audience that steadily filled up 12 Monkeys Music Hall in Pasig, kept on their phones before the show – it was not the time yet to go off grid or turn off work notifications. It was, after all, a Thursday.

Herself a Gen Z, UMI opened with “why dont we go,” an upbeat ode to a carefree love on her newest EP and tour namesake, talking to the wind. UMI was greeted by a full crowd in the intimate space, with the kids’ phones now used to capture the moment.

“Mama said I should know better to fall in love with a stranger, but you feel so familiar. I’m not scared to feel close to you,” UMI sang. By this point, the crowd had taken up her invitation to “go,” wherever it is she wanted to bring us. 

She brought us to her roots with “Sukidakara.” The track comes from the Japanese-American’s 2019 EP Love Language, and this is when she taught us that sukidakara means “because I like you” in Japanese. You have a crush? Tell them “sukidakara,” she said.

And then, fan favorite “Love Affair.” Energy picked up with the song’s distinct electronic introduction, with probably everyone in the room singing and dancing to the opening lyric, beer bottles in the air, “You and I, baby!”

It was an invitation to trust and fall deeper in the moment we had with her: “Don’t overthink, this is love.”

IN HER ELEMENT. UMI serenades the crowd in the Manila leg of her “Talking to the Wind” Tour. Photo by Michelle Abad/Rappler
Nothing but good vibes

This was UMI’s second visit to Manila in less than a year. Just last August, she performed at the Samsung Hall in SM Aura to a larger, but still intimate audience. Even if she was back so soon, it was important to her to get to know who came out for her. She picked a few from the crowd – front, center, and back – and called out to ask what their names were, along with a few questions.

“What’s your favorite color?”
“What’s your favorite food?”
“What makes you happy?”

All of the questions she asked relate back to comforting thoughts and safe places. When was the last time we did something for ourselves, or spent time on something that made us happy?

On the topic of food, UMI asked us where she should eat. An expectedly Filipino answer came up – Jollibee – but UMI went further and asked what she should order from the menu. “Chickenjoy” was the loudest I heard from my part of the crowd, but what she picked up immediately, like it was already in her vocabulary, was “C3.” (She indeed went out for some C3 in a Jollibee after the show.)

UMI brought us to another new romantic talking to the wind track, “happy im.” The music video for this song is an intimate compilation of mostly point-of-view-style clips of UMI and her partner and producer, V-Ron, who played her music behind her on stage. The smile UMI had that evening as she sang it was a special kind of genuine, because it just happened to be V-Ron’s birthday.

We sang “Happy Birthday” to V-Ron several times that night – UMI never let us forget it. One of those times, the crowd shouted, “Kiss!” And they obliged.

“Every time I come to Manila, I kiss her onstage. It’s like a thing,” UMI said. It really is – you should see us yell the same thing at Filipino weddings, at the most random times.

She continued, “Happy Pride, by the way,” and was met with cheers. It was another indication that tonight, 12 Monkeys was a safe space, to be who you wanted to be, and love who you wanted to love.

More favorites, and a cover that hit different

A bit after UMI serenaded us with my personal favorite, “Down to Earth,” two bar stools were brought on stage, and V-Ron emerged from behind. It was an acoustic session, and V-Ron was now holding a guitar.

“Do you know ‘Snooze’ by SZA?” she asked. Of course we did. Musical algorithms would have brought UMI listeners to SZA, and SZA listeners to UMI, one way or another. 

Challenging us to beat the “karaoke high score” of her audience in Seoul, her last show from the other day, UMI and V-Ron covered “Snooze.” The melody fit UMI’s voice and range perfectly. She did her own impromptu riffs and octave changes, and let us sing parts of it too, with complete trust we memorized SZA’s lyrics.

Off the stool again, UMI hit us with her variety in sounds, with the club-vibe “say im ur luv” and bedroom beat “not necessarily.” And in the most participation she asked from us, she invited five volunteers to go up on stage and freestyle with a beat provided by V-Ron.

Even with the least time to think, the first volunteer effortlessly sang improvised lyrics: “UMI’s here tonight / She’s brought so much love.” Everyone vibed with it instantly, and sang along with her too.

UMI continued with “wherever u r,” shouting out to V of South Korean boy band BTS, who duets the single with her in the original track. She didn’t have to worry that V wasn’t there – we sang the second verse with her in his place.

Long-awaited hits “Butterfly” and “Remember Me,” which honestly helped me keep sane during the pandemic, were among the closing songs in the setlist. 

But UMI did not want to end with the melancholy lyrics of “Remember Me” addressed to a fondly reminisced person from the past. She picked up the pace with “SHOW ME OUT” before ending, like she started, with some gratitude, affirmations, and a welcome to the “UMI world,” now that we were “connected with each other.”

UMI left the stage, but the lights had not turned on. The audience had begun to move, but still asked for an encore. It was around five minutes until we felt a shift in the energy that perhaps she was going to come back.

“UMI, labas (come out)!” someone shouted. And labas she did.

“Okay. One more song,” she said, and now really finished after giving us “wish that i could.”

A gig with a friend

The way the Talking to the Wind Tour in Manila was designed was uniquely UMI. How many singers begin a show with a guided meditation, and a reminder to set intentions, appreciate your senses, and affirm yourself?

As the 25-year-old was close in age with many of us in the audience, the anxieties of young adulthood was likely a common experience among everyone in the room. Falling in love, healing from hurt, and self-discovery were all experiences young adults had to balance with the hustle of building a career.

In introducing us to the meditation, she said that it was one of the things that kept her grounded as she worked. An artist sharing something as personal as this, and inviting us to her own practice, is not something you see all the time.

The entire experience – from the fact that it was a Thursday night concert, and the questions she asked about the things that made us happy – was a reminder to make time for self-love. If we did that, “it would make UMI really happy.”

“Thank you everybody, I love you all so much,” she said.

POST-MEDITATION. UMI takes a selfie with fans who availed the VIP package that included a guided meditation and a fan meet. Photo from UMI’s Discord server

I would like to believe that the intimate venue, perfect for local bands who wanted to invite their friends to see them perform, was an artistic choice. I had never felt so connected with an artist I watched perform live, especially one with millions of listeners. And it wasn’t just because of the physical proximity I had with her – it was a soul connection filled with care and joy she brought to Manila, to each and every one of us. –

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Michelle Abad

Michelle Abad is a multimedia reporter at Rappler. She covers the rights of women and children, migrant Filipinos, and labor.