"Racella" is an article featured in ISSUE 05 of SUSPEND Magazine available to purchase here themed "Strong Women." Written and photographed by Diane Abapo.
With my camera in-hand, I was accompanied into the rented studio by Ryan Rodriguez, Racella’s dedicated manager. I had previously met with Racella over handrolls at Downtown Los Angeles’ Kazu Nori a few weeks before where we instantly bonded over our Filipino heritage and exchanged stories on typical happenings at Filipino family parties (abundance of food, aunties incessantly talking, having a plethora of cousins, etc.). That initial meeting over lunch led us to instantly becoming friends. She played a few demo tracks for me back at my loft and that was the first time I heard Racella’s soulful (and heavy-hitting) voice through my less-than-impressive speakers. Citing her musical inspirations as Beyonce, Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey and her all-time favorite Freddie Mercury, I was astonished by the voice I was listening to in comparison to the jovial, smiling character sitting right next to me. As with any artist who is a bit shy to discuss his or her craft, Racella was all-too-humble about her sound. Her voice is reminiscent of a sultry Ella Fitzgerald but then creeps into a few shades of Alicia Keyes, especially with the slower heart-wrenching songs she shared with me that first day we met.
Inside Kelly’s studio, Racella transformed. I was now meeting her at her turf, her place called home: the studio. She quickly showed me around and gave me a walking tour of the common integral components of a music recording studio. (We both squealed when she showed me the actual microphone Kelly had used hours before to record her verses.) We finally got a chance to sit down when Ryan walked in, with a frazzled look on his face, telling us that Racella had to be driven to another studio – this time at Interscope’s headquarters in Santa Monica – to rewrite a second verse for another artist, Jasmine V. Without flinching, Racella agreed and seconds later I was in the backseat of Ryan’s car with Racella, on our way to another last-minute songwriting session. In the car, Racella was already mentally preparing herself for the verse she would have to re-write. I asked her if writing for different artists was difficult, and she said that it wasn’t – it’s more like wearing different hats and knowing what sound each artist was going for, and writing for them accordingly.
Once we arrived at Interscope, Ryan ushered us into the studio which was less cozy than Kelly’s, but more equipment-heavy. I shook hands with Jasmine V’s manager and entourage, as well as Jasmine V herself. This is the moment that I enjoy retelling to friends when they ask me who Racella is: I tell them that Racella is someone who, in 15 to 20 minutes, was able to re-write and re-record an entire eight-bar verse, and who without taking any breaks or moving from her seat, was able to to write lyrics, a new melody, and give direction to an artist all in under an hour. As a solo songwriter, Racella had no one but herself to bounce ideas off of and she did it in such a matter-of-fact way that afterwards, she just looked at me and smiled and asked, “Are you okay?” probably because I was just sitting in awe (and also nervous for her) since the artist she was writing for was sitting just inches away from her, waiting for Racella to deliver the goods. It was phenomenal to watch and a high note in my career as a journalistic photographer observing mostly friends in different creative environments.
After a little over an hour and a relieved look on all our faces, Ryan, Racella, and myself walked back to Ryan’s car at the Interscope parking lot and basked in the songwriting magic that just happened. Ryan spoke to Racella more as a supportive friend, telling her that this was what she was meant to do. I sat in the backseat mostly quiet, enjoying the moment between the two of self-satisfaction and confidence in what they just had accomplished. Nearing 2am, we drove back to Kelly’s studio where producer Dem Jointz wanted to share with Racella a beat he was able to produce in the short amount of time we were gone. Racella, shifting gears instantaneously, started grooving at the dance-heavy energetic beat Dem Jointz was sharing with her. At the end of the long night, Racella and I finally took a break together outside of Kelly Rowland’s studio compound and talked to each other on the balcony, overlooking Los Angeles’ majestic views. I find out that Racella is above all, a family-person rooted in her faith. She is the eldest of two younger brothers and a sister. She never once took any formal vocal lessons but instead was trained and taught by her mother, who instilled in her the importance of constant practice. Racella’s audience growing up was her family and at every gathering, her and her siblings would perform and put on shows.
Over the next few months since that hectic night in October, Racella will continue to write for Kelly Rowland as well as other big-name artists in Los Angeles. Her song “Walk Away” whose second verse she wrote that night at Interscope’s studio will debut on Jasmine V’s That’s Me Right There EP in November 2014. She will be featured on the track “A1 Day1” on Warm Brew’s full-length album, Ghetto Beach Boyz. And before we depart close to 3am at Kelly’s studio, I will always remember Racella’s words foreshadowing her fruitful and still ongoing musical career: “God is good.”
To view the article in its entirety with more exclusive photographs of Racella in the studio, purchase ISSUE 05 here.