"What we want to do is evolve": Multicultural Duo WAPEA Talks New Music, Cardi B Inspiration + More

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Jovany Barreto and Tat Tong are a true dream team, and they’re breathing new life into the music industry with a vivacious dose of sonic diversity. Not to mention lots of positive energy.

After a serendipitous meeting on Facebook, the pair quickly became friends and over the past five years has worked as producer-songwriter collective The Swaggernautz, producing over 60 Top 20 hits for international artists, including 20 No. 1 hits worldwide and ten certified platinum singles.

Now Barreto and Tong are entering a new phase in their careers by stepping out from behind the scenes and into the spotlight as a new multicultural performing duo: WAPEA.

Having written and produced for so many other artists during their time in the industry, it wasn’t a matter of if, but when the two superstar creatives would make such a move, and 2019 is proving to be their year. “While we were working with all these artists we always had the urge to present the music we create ourselves,” Tong revealed. Fortified with the knowledge they gained as The Swaggernautz, they are using those experiences to inform their work as WAPEA while enjoying the process of embarking on a new journey and appreciating the territory that comes along with being proper artists, like creating live shows and building their own fan base. “We’ve seen so many artists—some of whom have become really dear, close friends—through their journey and the ups and downs,” he said. “So that perspective is valuable, but at the same time every artist’s journey is different. I feel like we’re just learning every day as we go.”

Two components that make WAPEA, well, WAPEA, are evolution and truth, concepts that brilliantly shine through in the double meaning of their name. “In Spanish, WAPEA is mostly translated to ‘hustle,’ like ‘go get it,’” Barreto explained. “We wanted to stick to that for our sound, which is why it made sense for us to call ourselves WAPEA, because we want to be us. We want to be true to ourselves. It took us some time to figure that part out, but also we made another meaning for WAPEA: When. Are. People. Evolving. Again., and what we want to do is evolve. We want to evolve the sound, we want to evolve with people, we want to evolve over time with our sound.”

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The amount of thought that went into the development of this project is heartening, the innovation stunning, and, along with the inspiring passion they have for their craft, Barreto and Tong’s spirited celebration of their multicultural roots is what makes them truly stand out in a sea of homogeneity.

Indeed, WAPEA speaks to the complex but wonderful diversity that makes life worth living. While Barreto brings the dynamic inspiration of his Cuban-American upbringing in Louisiana to the project, Tong adds the stimulating flavor of Singapore along with the depth of his Chinese heritage. By making the conscious decision to blend the unique influences from their backgrounds, the two are introducing listeners to a new kind of fusion, one unquestionably created for the 21st century, that is not only a testament to the constant state of progression that the world is in, but that also celebrates its potential, obliterating barriers of all types in the process.

WAPEA’s self-titled debut single is the Los Angeles-based duo’s first official proclamation to the world, seamlessly combining the musical richness of multiple cultures together into one natural cohesive sound. A bilingual track inspired by and written about Cardi B, “WAPEA” is a head-bobbing feel-good anthem featuring the expressive, infectious rhythms of the Caribbean while also ingeniously incorporating a line from the iconic Chinese folk tune “Horse Racing” played on a Chinese 2-string fiddle called the erhu, throughout. “Cardi B is super inspirational for us because of the way she is,” Barreto said. “She’s unapologetically her in the most confident way, and it’s brilliant. It’s amazing. Why not be exactly who you are? That’s the premise behind the whole thing, so the lyrics talk about that: just do you, just be you. WAPEA.”

“WAPEA” was released along with a distinctly original music video that employs the use of stop-motion 2D animation and vibrant sets. Directed by Benji Estrada (Carla Morrison, Natalia Lafourcade), it maintains the color and good vibes that the duo set forth in the track. “Everything is different about us, right? So we said we’re not going to do an average music video,” Barreto revealed. “We’re just not going to do that. Everything is going to be different, it’s always going to be different, and that’s how we like it. We’re different, and so the music video is a mixture of a lot of things.”

As a much appreciated added bonus, the video also breaks away from the typical treatment seen in so many reggaeton videos. “All respect to all of our reggaeton counterparts, we respect the genre, we respect what people want to deliver, because people have different tastes. But for ours we wanted to kind of give more of an empowerment to women,” Barreto continued. “We didn’t want to objectify them. Women feeling sexy and being powerful, that’s great. We wanted to support that…but at the same time we didn’t want to do a music video where there’s just a boat or the beach and a bunch of naked girls…That was definitely the objective, and then we just wanted to have fun with it.”

After making their debut earlier this month, as WAPEA looks to the year that lies ahead, they are excited to continue creating new music and to continue to show the world what they’re made of. “We’re still working on more and more music, and we just hope to be able to push a lot of really different and cool singles in 2019 and bridge the cultural gaps and make people fall in love, hopefully,” Tong noted.

“Yeah, for both of us, I speak for Tat when I say this, we really want to use this medium of music and the visual arts to shed a light on where we’re from,” Barreto added. “For example, we’re going to do a music video in Singapore, and we’re going to really highlight the Singaporean culture. I’m from New Orleans, so we really want to capture that second line, that Mardi Gras feel. Po-boys and Frenchmen Street. We want to do that whole thing and just really use our medium to say hey, here’s where we’re from, here’s what we like, here’s what we love…I think the next couple of singles are going to express that.”

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