Exploring the far-reaching impact of music

Annie Liu

Staff Writer

Opener: We hear it everywhere: from the earbuds that are always with us to the loud, upbeat music that unites people at a concert, music is a powerful entity that impacts people in many different ways throughout everyday life. For senior Jamilla (Jam) Ebuen, music is a medium through which she is able to understand her emotions, express herself, and form meaningful bonds with others. Ebuen runs a YouTube account (Jazelle West) on which she posts covers of popular songs as well as music videos for her own original songs. Her channel also features collaborations with her friends.

An avid listener of music, Ebuen draws inspiration from many of her favorite singers. “I feel like I get a lot of inspiration from other top artists that you don’t usually hear from the radio,” she explains, clarifying that “obviously, there’s Ariana Grande—she’s good—but there’s also John Mayer, Billie Eilish, and Chelsea Cutler.” She also looks up to her favorite artists for the ways they express themselves through music. “I love Billie Eilish because she puts a lot of soul in her music,” she explains. “Most people don’t know, but she’s depressed, and through her music, I feel like she can express that, which is very touching to me.” Ebuen learns from watching her favorite artists and applies that to her own music: “I love all their music, and I kind of take inspiration from them,” she states, “but I also do my own thing as well.”

Though she began with covering other artists’ songs, Ebuen has started writing her own songs in recent years. “Usually, it’s after something that happened to me, because it’s hard for me to talk to people about my feelings—I kind of just sit alone in my room,” Ebuen describes. “I don’t know…I cry a lot. I went through this breakup, and that’s how I wrote about it.” She explains that writing about her experiences helps her overcome her struggles: “I feel like the more I listen to it—the more I listen to my own song—the more I get over that, because I feel like I translated it into a song, and it’s no longer part of me. I separated it from me.”

“Jamilla sings with raw emotion, and that’s evident in the songs she has covered, written, and performed over the past few years,” describes Anjana Sriram (11), who has worked with Ebuen before on multiple occasions. “The songs that she writes seem to be very meaningful and come across as emotional, yet put-together. She is a very mature musician and songwriter, and it’s amazing how she is able to express her inner thoughts through very well-developed songs and lyrics.” Andrew Chen (12), who has collaborated on a cover with Ebuen before, further confirms this. “Her original lyrics, melodies, and instrumentals are crafted perfectly together to form a production level product. Because she can make her own songs, her creativity can go in any direction she wants, allowing her to express herself without any restrictions,” he explains. “This intangible skill is what sets her light-years beyond others.”

Through songwriting, Ebuen explores an intimate side of herself, broaching topics that are close to her. “Before, [my songs were] about heartbreak, but recently, I’ve been writing a lot about myself,” she explains, giving an example: “There’s a song called ‘Breathe’ [that] I feel like is just a reflection of my life: how I deal with growing up…and since I’m a senior, it’s kind of hard to let go of high school. I also kind of want to leave high school, and I’m excited for college, but it’s hard to go through that transition. So mostly, [my songs are] about self-reflection.” In a more general context, she describes a sentiment that many songwriters can attest to: “Whenever I’m writing, I don’t really think at all; it’s basically [that] I’m just letting out all my feelings. [When writing a song], you’re not talking to someone. It’s like you’re talking to yourself. I feel like that’s very important: to have time for yourself.”

Ebuen’s songwriting process leans more on spontaneity instead of a rigid, steadfast approach. “Usually, [songwriting] just kind of comes up,” she says. “I never sit down and say, ‘oh, I’m gonna write a song now.’ Anywhere, I usually think of a melody, and I’m like, ‘oh, that sounds nice.’ I’ll record it on my [voice] memo [on my phone]. Or, I think of a lyric or a line that I came up with that I really like, and I’m like, ‘wow, that really touched me.’” Her friend Devin Hill (12) affirms that Ebuen turns to music as a way of self-expression whenever the need arises, rather than setting aside designated blocks of time for her craft. “I think Jam uses music to say what she feels. When she’s sad, she plays the piano and posts something on her music account,” Hill describes. “When she’s happy, she’ll pick up her guitar.”

Courtesy of Jamilla Ebuen

Ebuen comes from a very musical family, and the spontaneity in her approach towards music is something that her family shares as well. “My mom sings, and my dad plays the piano, so it’s kind of like a full circle experience,” she explains of her musical background. “Usually we’d jam at our studio—my dad would be like, ‘oh, here, let’s play,’ and my mom would just randomly start playing a beat on the drums or something, and then my dad [would] join in.” In addition, Ebuen is in a band with her parents, and they often perform for audiences at restaurants and hotels. For them, music is a way in which they can create deep emotional connections. “I’m always with [my parents] and I practice [music] with my dad a lot, so it’s kind of a bonding feeling, because we bond with our music,” describes Ebuen. Ebuen’s mother echoes these sentiments, describing how music has the ability to bring them together. “It’s fun and endearing, because you get to do what you love with your loved ones,” she states. “Your daughter is the bass player, and your husband is the piano player; it’s very motivating and it inspires me more to sing.”  

Courtesy of Jamilla Ebuen

Ebuen has also experienced a journey of becoming more confident in her abilities over the years. “Before, she didn’t like singing because she was shy and timid, [but] she started becoming less shy when she joined our band,” recalls Ms. West, Ebuen’s mother. “I think [performing in the band] made her come out of her shell more.” Ebuen has grown to embrace performing, explaining, “I don’t really get nervous anymore. I used to when I was a kid. I started when I was around 12, and now I’m 18, so I don’t really get nervous that much, because I love what I do. If anything, it’s a rewarding feeling to be playing.”

It is clear through Ebuen’s experiences as well as the experiences of those around her that music’s impact is far-reaching. James Lacdao, who recently recorded a cover of “White Christmas” together with Ebuen, explains, “The feeling of performing music is like no other. It’s such an honor and pleasure to go out and just entertain people with music…Overall, it’s just an amazing feeling to put smiles on faces and to put a smile on my own face too.” He elaborates further, saying, “Music means everything to me. I have a wide variety of genres [of] music that I love to listen to, and I listen to music every day. Music always helps me get through the day, whether it’s when I work out, when I want to relax, when I want to sleep, or when I just want to jam out. Most importantly, music is a way to express yourself towards the world.”

The impact of music is something that many can attest to, and yet it also provides a unique experience for every artist. Personally, Ebuen explains, “I feel like it made me happier. Without it, I feel like I can never fully express me, you know? For some people it’d be sports, drawing, or art, but I feel like for me, it’s a hobby and my life kind of centers around it. It helps me get through reality.” In regards to a larger context, perhaps she sums it up perfectly when she states, “Life without music would be weird; it would be strange. I just feel like it’s self-expression. Anyone can make music, and I’m pretty sure everyone likes music, no matter what the genre is.”

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