Blending voices and styles, Leanne and Naara brings a feeling of home to audiences

Photos by Kitkat Pajaro

People often mistake Leanne Mamonong as the stricter and more serious one, compared to her musical partner Naara Acueza. Working on their thesis just a year ago, Leanne shares that her role was mostly writing “behind-the-scenes” while Naara, “the more outgoing” one did most of the fieldwork and interviews.

The musical influences and tastes of the two singers also hint at this contrast: Leanne draws from the music of her elders such as balladeers like Ella Fitzgerald and Nat King Cole while Naara gravitates to more familiar acts like Coldplay, Jack Johnson, and Paramore.

Their first two singles Again and New York and Back, respectively released in 2016 and early 2017, have garnered a total of 9.5 million plays on Spotify, topping regional and national charts in areas such as Taiwan, Spain, and Mexico. Last May, they released a third single Run Run and played in the Acoustic Stage of this year’s Fete de la Musique.

Darling duo: Leanne and Naara’s first two singles Again and New York and Back have garnered a total of 9.5 million plays on Spotify.

Owing to their first two singles and a rendition of the classic ballad Somewhere Over the Rainbow, the duo is noted for reviving a jazzy, easy listening sound akin to what artists like Amy Winehouse and Jamie Cullum sometimes create. They started out playing at school events after hitting the notes off the bat at their first day of freshman year. Guitar on lap and egg shaker on-hand, recess and lunch jams were a daily affair. Come senior year, Leanne was discovered by a friend connected to Warner Music Philippines. And yet when she showed up with Naara for the audition, the executives in Leanne’s words, “saw that we were a duo.”

Leanne concedes that despite initial impressions by audiences, Naara is “the more serious one.”Leanne shares that the dynamic of working as individuals coming together and setting aside personal preferences is one that “doesn’t have as much freedom […] but it’s also liberating in that you get to explore something new.”

The duo’s goal as artists could best be described as an endeavor to marry old-school inspirations and present-day sensibilities, taking elements from across eras and making new blends, ultimately creating a distinct groove, at once familiar and fresh.

Truly, both girls can be serious — it’s just a matter of what one’s serious about. With their rising music career, Leanne presently does most of the songwriting. Naara meanwhile makes “60% of the [professional] decisions” for the duo, as Leanne puts it. They are navigating their way around Manila’s gig scene to reach a growing fanbase, which includes both people from older generations and younger audiences looking for an alternative to the often electronic-driven scapes of today’s music scene. Leanne shares that after gigs, “Older people come up to us and say they love our music.”

As this duo’s harmony strengthens their music, the challenge now is to break free from the unsaid genre-slash-label placed on their act owing to the first two singles’ sound. Their third single and personal favorite plays a more contemporary, up tempo melody. “We like Run Run more,” Leanne reveals. “Ironically, ‘di ganun karami ‘yung streams niya. Compared to Again and New York and Back, which sound more alike.”

The duo’s goal as artists could best be described as an endeavor to marry old-school inspirations and present-day sensibilities, taking elements from across eras and making new blends, ultimately creating a distinct groove, at once familiar and fresh. But their friendship-meets-work relationship dynamic may just be the fulcrum that strikes this balance: different musical tastes, complementing personalities and quirks, and a shared love for making music.

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