Isabelle De Leon
1. What is your name and your profession(s)? Isabelle De Leon, professional drummer, drum instructor, composer/producer
2. What is your ethnic background and what is your citizenship (US native or naturalized etc.)? My parents are from the Philippines, I’m a first generation Filipina American, born here.
3. Are either/both of your parents musicians or somehow involved in the music industry? My dad is not a professional musician but I wouldn't call him an amateur either. He grew up taking piano lessons, playing clarinet in concert band, and electric bass in jazz band; he also plays guitar and very basic drums. He never sought out to become a professional musician, being a software engineer full-time, but felt called to use his musical talents primarily to serve in music ministry at our church. He taught me and all my siblings how to play our instruments in the beginning, how to play together in a group, and managed/produced my sister band most of our career. Being the tech guy he is, he also built a recording studio in our basement where we recorded all our albums.
4. Please tell us a little bit about your experience, either growing up as an AAPI in America, or as a person of Asian descent who immigrated to America, whichever applies. My parents immigrated here from the Philippines in the 80s, and my siblings and I were all born here - my older sister in San Francisco, the rest of us in Maryland where we grew up. We first lived in Germantown, a very diverse suburb about 45 minutes outside of Washington, DC, then eventually moved 10 minutes further up the main road into a more rural-suburban, predominantly white neighborhood closer to a town called Damascus. I went to private Catholic schools from kindergarten through high school, both which were predominantly white as well. We had no family nearby, so we spent most of our time with church and school friends, where we were many times the only Filipinos, until we started playing music and performing at Filipino-American community events. Funnily enough, it was through music, primarily through performing at these events, that I really began to learn about Filipino culture - the traditions, diversity, nuances of the people and culture, and its widely shared love of music and entertainment; however, I always felt like there was a separation between my school and music circles, and it wasn’t until I was much older that I realized my parents were trying to assimilate us more into American culture, less so into Filipino culture. I think the mentality of a lot of immigrants looking for bigger opportunities in America, are to try and blend in as much as possible. Growing up, I never felt like I was treated differently because of how I looked, but reflecting back I always wonder if that was more so because I was unaware. I felt like I identified more with an American identity than I did a Filipina one, and therefore assumed people would see me as such. I was exposed to a lot more diversity when I went to college (University of Maryland) and began to think more about my identity, which is something I continue to explore to this day.
5. How connected do you feel to your heritage/culture(s)? I feel more connected now than I did growing up, yet in learning more about the Filipino culture, I realize how much more there is to learn. Though I understand Tagalog (main language) pretty well, I wish to speak it more fluently. As an artist/musician, I wish to dig deeper into Filipino music and themes but don’t even know where to begin. With a lot more recent dialogues on race happening, I’ve seen several people in the Fil-Am community talk about decolonizing our history, and trying to figure out who we really were before the influence of Spanish traditions. I’ve visited many times with my family, mostly to Manila, Cebu, Boracay and Palawan, but there are several thousand islands that comprise the Philippines - I can’t even fathom visiting them all one day, but I’d like to see as much as I can!
6. 6a.) How did you get into music? Did you major in music in college? Where did you attend college/university (and grad school(s), if applicable) and in what subjects did you get your degree(s)? As I mentioned above, my dad taught me and my siblings how to play from a young age. I was 4 when I started piano lessons, 7 when I picked up the drums, and around the same age when he also showed me basic guitar and bass guitar. There was always music playing in the house, whether on CDs, radio, or concert DVDs which we’d watch like movies or have playing in the background. I really began to develop a passion for it when I was 13 and started writing my own music, which is when I also decided I wanted music to become a serious part of my life. I went to the University of Maryland where I earned a Bachelor of Music in jazz performance, completed a pre-medicine track simultaneously, and was a designated College Park Arts Scholar.
6b.) When and how did you decide you were going to pursue music professionally? What were your parents’ reactions to you deciding to pursue music? Do they support your music career now? I was 13 when I decided I wanted to pursue music seriously, 18 when I really started to work towards making that happen. My parents were always supportive of, if not pushing us to do music growing up, because we did it together as a family. But at 22 when my sisters’ band decided to break up, I knew I still wanted to pursue my dreams and began freelancing, and for the first time my parents began expressing concern about me pursuing it full time. They encouraged me to maintain a side profession so I could support myself financially, so I always had a job that provided some flexibility for gigging and touring. When I quit my marketing job about 3 years ago, and decided to commit more into performing and teaching, I think they at first panicked, but I also realized that part of the concern came from not understanding what goes into a full time music career. With more transparent communication they were able to understand my work better. It probably also helped that I started getting a lot more reputable gigs and international tours. In the end, they always supported me pursuing my dreams whatever they were, and like good parents, just wanted to ensure I would be ok.
7. What are a few of your (music) projects of which you are the proudest? What were your roles on those projects? Beyond those projects, please feel free to name some of your other credits as well as any brands/companies you officially endorse. Some of my proudest moments include touring with Oprah Winfrey last year on her 2020 Vision Tour (percussionist for opening act, Daybreaker), touring in Russia 2 years in a row as a cultural ambassador for the US State Department (drummer with Elijah Jamal Balbed), and starting my own group to perform songs I had written and produced over the years (IZA FLO). I’m also a member of Prinze George (play and record drums and keys, co-write and produce), and tour with artists I love including Madame Gandhi and Paperwhite. In 2019 I really started to hone in on my music directing skills, which I had been doing unofficially over the years with a lot of the projects I’d been involved with, and officially began music directing for up and coming artist, Anjali Taneja.
Before my sister band (Ivy Rose) disbanded, we released 2 full length albums, toured the Philippines and many colleges, and made it to quarter final rounds in Las Vegas on America’s Got Talent.
I’m a recipient of the Washington Post Music & Dance Scholarship Award and the DIVA Jazz Orchestra’s Stanley Kay Scholarship, and was a Strathmore Artist-in-Residence from 2012-2013. I won the Washington Women in Jazz Festival’s youth talent competition in 2013, and most recently was selected as a finalist for the Hit Like A Girl international drum competition. My memberships include Jammcard (current), voting member of The Recording Academy (current), and Arts Education in Maryland Schools Advisory Committee (previously).
· Daybreaker: https://www.daybreaker.com
· Elijah Jamal Balbed: https://ejbjazz.com
· IZA FLO: https://www.facebook.com/izafloband/
· Prinze George: https://www.prinzegeorge.com
· Madame Gandhi: https://www.prinzegeorge.com
· Paperwhite: http://www.paperwhitemusic.com
· Anjali Taneja: https://linktr.ee/anjalimusic
Other artists I’ve recorded for: Lauren Calve (Americana/Folk/country), Owen Danoff (singer/songwriter who appeared on The Voice), Chris Urquiaiga (R&B/Latin Pop), Unique Sounds of Love (Gospel)
Other artists I’ve performed/toured with: Lionize, Ruby Velle, The Speaks, Kentucky Ave, HEROINE, Shannon Gunn & The Bullettes, Billy Mayfield, Bill Danoff
8. Describe to me your dream project. One of my longest dreams has been to be in Beyonce’s band. There are many artists who I’d love to tour with internationally. As far as dream project, I’ve started working on it (at least the music)! It involves fully producing my own music, collaborating with many different artists I love, and a live show that includes a full production--drums, percussion, bass, guitar, keys/synth, backup chorus of singers, multiple lead singers, string group, horn section. I want to be able to perform with this supergroup, but also solo as a DJ with a small drum/percussion rig. Quarantine during covid gave me some time to work on the music component, and since live shows aren’t happening at the full capacity as they were before, I’ll have time to get my dream live set together.
9. What are some obstacles you have encountered (if any) being an AAPI in the music world? What are some obstacles you have encountered (if any) as an AAPI in general (non-music)? Conversely, has being an AAPI ever helped you in the music industry? [unanswered]
10. 10a.) Who are some AAPI musicians/composers/producers who have previously inspired and currently inspire you (if any)? Why? Madame Gandhi is an incredible activist and artist who started out as a drummer like me, but currently produces her own music, on which she sings, raps, and drums. We actually met at an AAPI performance we both performed at, in Washington, DC that was organized by Mayor Vince Gray, and from that point on I watched in awe as she went through Harvard business school, and her music career took off. I was so honored when she called me to be her drummer, and I’m lucky now to call her a dear friend. She inspires me because she was able to transition from the musician to artist role very fluidly, and in a way that is one with her identity as a person. As an activist she brings light to gender and social equality issues all over the world, but especially in India where her family is from. She infuses world rhythms and beats into her music. She films music videos and manufactures her merch in India, often empowering female owned businesses. She knows her identity and she is confident in it. Her live show is part dance party, part masterclass, part meditation. She also hustles every hour of every day. She is a model of an artist that I aspire to be.
10b.) What are your hopes for the AAPI music community and your hopes for AAPIs in general? My hopes are that the AAPI music community can find ways to work together more, and be recognized regularly instead of just in May.
11. If you could give advice now to your younger teenage self, what would you tell her/him/they? Stay confident, stay practicing, it’s ok to lose inspiration every now and then, but remember why you started in the first place. Don’t set limits or deadlines by certain ages - lol. You will face a lot of challenges but you will also have some of the most incredible experiences of your life. So trust the process, no matter how long it takes, and know consistent work always pays off.
12. Do you have any upcoming projects for which you are excited and about which you are allowed to share? Is there anything non-music-related on the horizon about which you would like to share? I just moved to Miami and started a job as Director of Operations at a tech firm!
13. Name one or two non-music-related things/subjects about which you are also passionate. I’m passionate about baking (Great British Bake Off is one of my favorite shows) and making macrame crafts. I actually started my own jewelry company last December, and am planning to incorporate some home decoration like wall hangings and plant hangers! https://www.etsy.com/shop/AnakAndCo?ref=search_shop_redirect
Facebook: Isabelle De Leon Music
YouTube: Isabelle De Leon Music
Jammcard: Isabelle De Leon
Photo provided by Isabelle De Leon