Manila-based R&B artist Jess Connelly knows firsthand the importance of community, and she often credits her move from Australia to Manila for shaping her into the artist she is. Growing up Filipina-Australian, she’s always kept her roots close—singing karaoke, absorbing music like Britney Spears and Biggie, and showing off her entertainer chops at many a Filipino function. It wasn’t until Jess’s parents sent her to Manila after high school that she found the thriving underground creative scene that would define the catchy, electronic style she has today.

“The mainstream entertainment industry wouldn't let me sing, so I met a bunch of producers, DJs, and saw this lane I could create for myself,” Jess says. “Six years ago, it wasn’t normal to put out music as an independent artist. So when the Internet came out, I was like, I’m gonna make my own channel, perform at my friends’ parties, and make it a thing.” Since finding her niche, the Philippines has become home for Jess. She always looks forward to coming back, hitting up her homies, and writing with them the minute she’s off the plane. 

Despite wanting to stay in Manila, Jess is acutely aware of the global struggles around Asian representation in entertainment. As someone who’s half white, she knows how colorism in Asian communities can impact how people see and support her. But instead of relying on privileges that come with lighter skin, Jess works constantly to improve her craft so that her music can stand independent of her appearance. Now, Jess is drawing inspiration from artists like Raveena to weave more cultural stories into her work with a simple philosophy: “Embrace what you’re really from. Feeling comfortable in your roots is an easier way to stand out than trying to conform to whatever is going on. It’s a lot more memorable.”

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