John Roa: When music and heart are in the right place

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Now with Viva Records, the former member of the hiphop collective Ex-Battalion shows how proud he is of his Cebu roots, aptly using “Amgo” (Cebuano word for realization) as title for his five-track EP (extended play) record.

He is all of 19 years old with barely four years in the national entertainment scene and a few hits to his name, and already, fast-rising Cebuano singer-songwriter John Roa knows exactly where he wants to take his music and his audiences along with it.

“When I was creating the project, daghan kaayo kong realizations nga ako lang gibutang into the songs. Ako syang gi write in general form–that it could be for love or for someone but it was actually my whole perspective for my emotions, sa family nako, and people around me,” Roa told Cebu’s entertainment press and bloggers in a recent intimate gathering at Quest Hotel and Conference Center.

“I wanted it to be more personal mao ng gihimo nako nga Bisaya ang word nga realization,” he said of the choice for the EP’s title. Prior to releasing the EP, Roa already produced hits such as “Di Ako F*ckboy” and “Oks Lang,” which was part of the soundtrack of the hit movie, “Never Not Love You.”

Thrust into the limelight and the pressure that came with it, John (who went by the moniker JRoa during his Ex-Battalion days) revealed that making the EP was his outlet for the struggle that he went through when he had to deal with severe depression and panic attacks, something that he candidly talks about.

The EP has five songs—Lagi, Muli, Andiyan, Natatangi and Itutuloy—each mirroring the young artist’s emotional state and ways of coping during the dark times, with the aim to reach out to anyone who might be in similar situations.

He said that “Lagi” could be interpreted as about being in a toxic relationship that one wants to get out of. But he actually wrote it to Anxiety, addressing it as if it were a person.

“Ayaw na kita sa buhay ko. Lagi nalang akong kinakabahan, lagi nalang akong natatakot,” Roa said, referring to what the lyrics of the song wants to convey.

“Muli,” on the other hand, is about “creating new memories, starting over.”

“As a teenager, there were things that I regret doing. This song shows that it’s okay to make mistakes, it’s normal to have regrets but that doesn’t mean you can’t start over,” Roa said.

The third track, “Andiyan” is pretty special for Roa since he considers it his comfort song.

“I want it to be other people’s comfort song, too,” he said. “I wrote it for God. It’s a spiritual song but I realized that it could also be for family, friends, your partner or yourself. I wanted it to convey the message that every time you feel down, just appreciate the things that you have and the people around you.”

“Natatangi” could be for someone you took for granted, the singer-songwriter said.

He added that people always want more from life, finding happiness in other things.

“What we don’t realize that we already have things that are simple but very special to us,” he added.

In the last cut “Itutuloy,” Roa showcases his rapping skills to share his story as a musician, his roots, how proud he is of being Cebuano.

“It is also about how I look at the industry and the journey that I am in, that whatever happens I will never give up on this.”

Indeed, quitting is something the young musician is not bent on doing anytime soon.

He said that being part of Ex-Battalion is an experience he would always be grateful for since he considered his fellow members his older brothers in the industry. He also learned a lot from them, including writing in Tagalog.

And although he’s slowly making a name for himself as a solo artist, Roa confessed that he is still in the middle of the transition.

“When I left the group, it was me searching for my direction jud. I wanted to go solo. I knew that he was meant for another type of music.”

Breaking way from the group meant he would be able to pursue what he always wanted.

“In the middle of everything, the fame … I felt that there was something more for me. Hindi sa gusto ko silang lamangan. May gustong ipagawa si Lord sa akin na different, music pa rin pero with a different purpose.”

One of his strongest realizations, he said, is that he still has a lot of things to learn, a lot of mistakes and struggles to go through “before I would reach the point where I’ll be very, very proud of what I have.”

Roa, who counts Justin Bieber, Daniel Caesar and Frank Sinatra among his many musical influences, is determined to do two things down the road: help fellow young musicians who want to break into the industry as well as collaborate with the likes of rap artists Gloc 9 and Loonie on a patriotic song.

And while he is grateful that his music is being warmly received by listeners, racking up millions of streams on Spotify and views on his YouTube channel, Roa has not lost sight of what is truly important. “Hindi na nagma-matter sa akin ‘yung numbers and ‘yung level of success as a musician. Ang goal ko na ngayon is ano ‘yung mas tatatak sa tao, ano ‘yung makakatulong sa kanila personally through my songs,” he said.

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