Rap music conjures images of scantily clad girls, vices and profanity. These titillating visuals do not exactly sit well with many Filipinos. So when rapper Tadjack Tikaz dared to show them in a music video for his song, “Filipino is the Best,” he naturally earned a lot of flak from the Filipino community in Rome. But the 23-year-old musician, whose real name is Jack Roman Tena, remained unperturbed. He believes criticism is part of being an artist. He needs to evolve with his critiques.
“When I was starting, I didn’t have many critiques. It was nice to create my own music and just put it out there. But when my wholesome style changed to a more modern type, the comments of some Filipinos hurt me. But I see this as another challenge to better my craft,” says Tena.
His lyrics talk about the Philippines and its cultures, pride in his roots and the lives of Filipino expats. They also criticise the oppressing political system in the Philippines and advocate change.
His talent has won him the Best Foreign Artist Award in the 2013 Premio Baicco, an annual event that celebrates residents in Rome who have succeeded in different fields including the arts, engineering, music and science and technology. He is the second Filipino, and the youngest, to be given this recognition.
Tena has been featured in Rome’s local media including Grazie magazine. Italian producers are currently filming a documentary of his life to be screened next year.
“When the award was offered to me a year before, I refused to accept it because I felt that I was not worthy of it yet. A year later, when I was already getting regular gigs and being paid to sing even outside Rome, the award was still given to me. It was only that time that I knew it was meant for me,” narrates Tena.
Despite his growing popularity, Tena remained humble and guided by the values instilled in him by his mom. He still uses “po” and “opo” when addressing elders and strangers and diligently goes to work at a newsstand in Via Farnesina.
“As a musician, it is very important to me that I am respected everywhere I go not only because I have talent but also because I am honest and respectful to my listeners,” says Tena.
Tena was born in Italy but he and his siblings grew up in Balayan, Batangas. At age 12, they all went back to Rome to be with their parents.
During the interview, he talked about his mother and her battle with a kidney disease that eventually led to her death last year. He is still dealing with the loss of his mom, which he says has helped him to be more creative with his music and thus, be recognized as an artist.
“So now whenever I have a blessing, a recognition or an accomplishment, I put it in a special box and put it beside my mother’s ashes so she can also see the success that I am getting,” he lovingly narrates.
Starting out as a rapper had not been easy. He would write his lyrics while sitting on a bus on the way home or at work when there was time to kill. Tena used to sing in almost all birthday parties in Rome so that people would hear his music.
Belief in his talent and hard work helped him get through to people.
“If I sing at an event and one person in a crowd appreciates my music, I am already very happy with that. I consider that as an accomplishment because since the beginning I’ve been trying to convince my fellow Filipinos to listen to and respect rap music.”
BALANCING MUSIC AND FAMILY
Being the eldest, Tena continues to take care of his family, doing household chores just like what his mom used to do. In between work and home, he makes music videos, promotes his music on Youtube and Facebook and negotiates for gigs and performances. Nowadays, he gets help from friend Rafi Santos, who shoots and edits his music videos, and his brother Christian, who edits his lyrics.
The rapper believes that his hard work is finally paying off. “There are a lot of Filipino rappers here and many of them are very good. But only a few work hard for their music and only a few have the courage to perform before a large audience.”
Tena hopes to find a producer. He believes that Filipino rap music could compete well with their foreign counterparts. Whether that happens sooner or later, he is determined to strive on.
“Once I have written my lyrics, whether it is pleasing or not, I will sing and I will get my message across. Whenever I perform on stage and I know that people believe in me and listen to my music, I will never be insecure about what I do,” ends Tadjack.
Tadjack Tikaz recently released his new single called Mahal Kong Bayan at the Philippine Independence Day celebration in Rome.