Music Is: Zack Tabudlo and James TW on cross-continental collaboration ‘Binibini (Last Day On Earth)’

After Zack Tabudlo’s ‘Binibini’ topped charts across digital streaming platforms in March, the Filipino alternative pop and R&B artist is set to take on the world, with an English rewrite of the song, in collaboration with British singer-songwriter James TW.

The new English single has been retitled ‘Binibini (Last Day on Earth)’, and tells of being there with the one you love until the end of time, cherishing your love for each other for the rest of your life. Both Zack and James worked on rewriting the lyrics while Zack produced the final song.

“The original song was written about a girl I’d dated previously, and there’s a lot of symbolism in there about dancing under the rain, where the rain represents the problems encountered,” says Zack, in a press conference.

“Binibini roughly translates to ‘lady’, so we sort of wanted it to be like Shawn Mendes’ Senorita and really pull people in. And because the original was written for a Filipino audience, we wanted to give the English version a more international feel, and use it to deepen the meaning for listeners.”

– Zack Tabudlo

In Spotify alone, the original hit Tagalog song peaked at Number 1 for six consecutive weeks in the Philippines, and four weeks on the Global Viral 50. It has also broken a record on Spotify as the longest-running number 1 local track by a Filipino RADAR artist on the Philippines Top 50 Chart this year.

The original Tagalog ‘Binibini’

It stands to reason then, that Zack wanted to expand its reach even more, with the unlikely opportunity arising in April. when James covered the original version of ‘Binibini’ on Instagram. According to the platinum-selling UK-based musician, this was a song that he picked up organically from the wide virality of TikTok songs.

“When I first heard the original version, I tried to cover it even without knowing what the lyrics were saying,” says James. “When we worked on the English version, it really played to who I was as a person, and our voices worked well together, like a match made in heaven.”

“The first time I heard James cover the song, I was thinking ‘wow he must be half-Filipino’, because of the way he pronounced the lyrics.”

– Zack Tabudlo, on James TW’s cover of the original ‘Binibini’

But could this unexpected cross-continental, cross-cultural collaboration work? “It was such an experience working with James,” shares Zack. “I love the energy and edge he gave to the song when he sent me his vocals. I’m really happy with how it all turned out after the mastering process. Incorporating the word “Binibini” is such a big thing for me and giving pride to my fellow Filipinos, especially releasing the track internationally.”

Perhaps it also helps that both artists are big fans of acoustic guitar music, and share similar influences, with a love for Ed Sheeran, and artists such as John Mayer, Shawn Mendes and Harry Styles. “I think singing the right harmonies in the right moments of the song is what made our vocal gel together the way they do. I love Zack’s voice and I think we complement each other. This is my first feature on a song ever so I’m very happy with how it came out,” adds James.

“Working with Zack has been an absolute pleasure. He always respects my opinion, and during the process, sent me several versions and asked which one I liked best. The process itself was essentially us exchanging and sending each other vocals, and the end product just sounded so good. I’m so impressed by Zack, and how he can sing, write and produce, like a triple threat of music!”

– James TW, on working together with Zack Tabudlo

On the concept behind this version of the song, James shares his thoughts and how he and Zack went through several discussions. “I liked the concept of how it imagined what you would do on your last day on earth. Zack and I talked about it before, and we discussed how love is the most important thing in my eyes. I’ve been in long relationships, and there’s been some tough times, and the song recognises that being with someone for along time doesn’t mean we will be together forever.”

“Plus, as a guitar player, I was very impressed by how Zack could play all these jazzy sounding chords in a modern pop way, and so effortlessly too,” adds James. “There’s a lot I have to learn from Zack, like how when I try to sound soulful, I feel like I sound a bit dated, compared to how his voice sounds!”

On advice they have for younger musicians, Zack only has this to say: “There’s this thing producers always say, and that’s to work with whatever you have, because it starts to snowball from there.”

Meanwhile, James’ advice comes from bestselling pop artist Shawn Mendes himself, when James was supporting him on his European tour. “I kept worrying about telling the crowd what to do, like singing and clapping, and he reassured me that everyone was just here to have fun, and that they enjoyed getting involved. Ever since hearing that, it really boosted my confidence onstage,” he says.

Over the course of the pandemic, both artists have also taken the time to reflect on what really matters to them. For Zack, it’s been focusing on his music, with the promise of even more material soon to come. “Music has been keeping me sane during the pandemic, as it’s my way of expressing my feelings during these times,” he says.

James on the other hand, has taken the time to do more self-reflection during the pandemic. “The pandemic has really made us take a step back, and I’ve decided that this year, I’m going to do a lot of things that make me feel good,” he says.

“Whether this song does commercially well or not, well, I’m one of those artists out there who write songs because they want to out of passion, so commercial success comes secondary,” he continues. “Even if I wasn’t doing this full time, I think I’d still be writing songs for the rest of my life. But for now, I’m just looking forward to when the pandemic ends, and I can come play songs for all of you in Southeast Asia again soon.”

Listen to Binibini (Last Day On Earth) here

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