Private Playlist: Xinxin’s Janize Ablaza spins a soundtrack for space travel

Xinxin. Photo by Anthony Singh

Private Playlist is a listening session with Southern California’s most notable musical figures in their private creative environments.

Singer and multi-instrumentalist Janize Ablaza formed the expansive pop group Xinxin in 2016. Xinxin’s sound grabs freely from any nearby genre, from trip-hop to samba to ‘90s indie rock. But the beating heart of Xinxin is Ablaza’s lyrical explorations of childhood, solitude, and emotional memory. The group’s Bandcamp page describes them as “mMusic for the pain body,” and her deep lyrical catharsis is balanced by the group’s idiosyncratic and highly expressive music. Initially a trio with Stephen Reed (drums) and Carlos Elias (bass), the group later expanded to include keyboardist Jonah Huang. They released their self-titled debut album in November 2020.

For this edition of Private Playlist, Janize Ablaza reaches across the galaxy to welcome KCRW listeners to Xinxin Planet, with a set including Herbie Hancock and Cibo Matto.

JANIZE ABLAZA: We are about to land on Xinxin Planet. Please fasten your seatbelts, look outside the window, and enjoy the beautiful colors of the mountains that you'll soon be stepping on with your shiny little boots. Here's some music to send you on your way and calm your nerves as we enter this new dimension.


The first song that will come on is "Peculiar Machine/Fourth Dimension" by Salami Rose Joe Lewis. And as soon as you put your boots on the soil, let's imagine you're stepping into the soil of your boots, and the whole time you didn't realize that you've just been seeing in black and white. And as soon as [the sounds from] her piano or her keyboard wave through and expand, you see more colors and realize there's so much more to see than what you've been looking at. 


You zoom in on a new character coming off the spaceship. He's looking at a mirage -- or at first he thinks it's a mirage, but he realizes it's real. There's a small pond with a palm tree next to it, and he's staring at it, thinking about somebody he left back on Earth. "Island Letter" by Shuggie Otis comes on: another euphoric experience of missing somebody, but being okay with having had time with them. 

I moved here from the Philippines almost 20 years ago. The last three years in the Philippines, we lived in a place called Baguio. And Baguio at the time was very rural. There were a lot of plantations and greenery, and we basically lived next to a farm. I was the youngest of four [children], and nobody really wanted to play with me, so I spent my time doing things by myself. I didn't really have much emotion, because I don't think I was aware of emotion, but there was the enjoyment of being alone and finding things and looking at things. And a lot of the music I love always comes back to that feeling of being curious and taking things in, without any expectation of feedback or emotion.


I used to really love this song, and I found it again recently because Anthony Valadez played some new Van Hunt material. Then I had this whole moment, while I was cleaning, where I was blasting Van Hunt and realizing how good of a songwriter he is. After writing a record and going through the mountains of despair of trying to get things done, I'm just like, "Damn, Van Hunt is so solid."


Cibo Matto is your typical [example of the] "little sister digging into big sister's music playlists and CDs." I think it was the summer of Nelly, and my sister Joyce had "Moonchild" in her Winamp. And I think, even then, this song brought me to this same exact planet. It was one of the first songs I ever listened to that made me imagine there's somebody out there who feels how I feel. I was in middle school and dreaming about this person who would understand me.


Sleep is very important, so I'm going to say it's time to go to bed. The moon is up -- there is a moon for this planet —-- and "Tell Me A Bedtime Story" by Herbie Hancock comes on. I have a few tarot decks and one oracle deck, and it's a Kuan Yin oracle deck. Her guidance is weighted in strength and patience and kindness. But recently, I flipped this card encouraging me to pay more attention to my body and how my body feels. And I had an immediate body response to "Tell Me A Bedtime Story." It just felt right. A lot of the songs I picked today were [ones where] my whole body is saying, "Yes, absolutely, this is it." And when I hear this music, I can't help but feel that.

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