By Aditi Pangrekar and Barry Viloria
Chatty musician and businessman Christopher Catral, more popularly known by his alias Manila Money (MNL$), finds himself right smack in the middle of a colorful journey. Born and raised in California and having traveled around Asia and the US, he has had quite a fairly successful music career in Korea. Yet, the radio jock-sounding, tattoed hunk is back home in Manila hoping to start again.
“There’s this big gap between the (Filipino) upper middle class and the lower class," he spaces out of our conversation about his musical roots, hoping to answer our question about why he even bothered to break free from his then-growing fame. "(Through music), I wanted to be able to impact the lower-class Filipinos because they’re in this category for all their life.”
When talking about his music and career in general, Chris has always been this enthusiastic and, in a lot of ways, idealistic. And why not? It was these exact traits that led him to literally fly out of his parents' shelter and start the adventure of his life.
Chris' journey, of course, began in music. He grew up loving soul, R&B, and hip hop tunes—the music videos, he would record on VHS for him to play again. "The cassette tapes had little holes on top and I used to put pieces of paper to fill the holes. That way, you could record onto the cassette tapes. I would just do these things, cause I wanted to learn all of the songs I was vibin’ out with."
Chris eventually developed the knack to perform. “I was in choir growing up and people said I had a nice voice, a rich deep baritone voice so whenever I said words, people would listen not necessarily for the things I had to say but because of the sound of my voice," he recalls. Chris then paints a vivid picture of the house parties he attended growing up—how, along with his cousin, he would participate in impromptu rap battles. He saw how these candid moments made himself acknowledge his own talent and potential.
“I would also call voicemails and the girls that were waiting for the song didn’t pick up on purpose so this voicemail would start running and then I would sing on their voicemails,” he laughs.
Back to music, Chris specifically listened to a lot of Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, and then, “the gangster rap phase kind of came in so Snoop Dogg, Dr.Dre, Eazy E, Ice Cube. I mean I’m 35 now so…I definitely caught onto the music at a really good period." Chris would flesh out more of his artistic self, looking at music more than just a hobby. He really wanted to be a performer, wanting to be able to channel his passion through art. “It was this feeling that I had inside when I would get on stage and to feel the audience and all the eyes on me and to be able to really showcase my talent and really let out the things that I was feeling at the moment.”
Chris' mind in music was so set, he also considered building around it in even back in college. He eventually took up Philosophy at the San Jose State University in California, saying "the reason I stuck with that was because I wanted to study the greatest minds that ever walked on this planet and I was thinking about rapping and creating music.” He saw this choice complementing his ambitions of working in the music industry as a rapper. Unlike other, say, more practical students, he wasn’t too concerned about whether or not this degree would yield any money in the end. He was aiming for something more fulfilling.
Chris later took on various jobs—being a personal trainer at a fitness club and an after-school program coordinator. Mix in the lack of stability in juggling two jobs and the deafening pressure from his dad to find a better moneymaker, Chris thought he would rather resign and go for something else. Then at 23, he stumbled upon an ad on Craigslist which offered the opportunity to “teach in a foreign country.” The next thing he knew, he was packing his bags.
“When I was going to Korea, I always had intentions to continue doing my music and I just figured, I would leave the United States to find a different energy to keep me going and hopefully, I could be the best I could be.”
With his energy, skillz, and distinctive voice, Chris had all the makings of an artist. He was in Korea for a teaching job, but decided to quit finding an opportunity to finally start his music career. “I wasn’t the best teacher so on the side, I created a band and won some competitions. I was recording music and I eventually made such a big name in the underground scene because I was only doing English music in a country that doesn’t speak English as a first language.” Chris was a rising star in Korea, contributing to the K-Pop world by writing English hit songs for Korean artists. He also found work as a dubber, and an ambassador for brands such as Beats by Dr.Dre, Nike, and North Face. He loved it. He thought it was "crazy," the good kind, the really great kind, which somehow became otherwise later on for the worst reasons. He breathes out in honesty, "I got sucked into the three evils: the sex, drugs, and money."
Chris thought it was time to go "home."
“That was in 2012, I had this spiritual epiphany where I felt really connected to my life, my roots, my blood relatives, the culture. During that time, I thought I wanted to live here (the Philippines) someday,” he says.
Chris then moved to the Philippines in 2016, hoping to pursue his passion here with his countrymen as his audience. But he had a renewed perspective, putting his past mistakes behind but not without learning from it. In the past months, Chris has partnered up with Playhouse Studio for his own digital show called On This Island. He says, "the show focuses on“the Philippines, influencers, and the creative culture that exists in this country.” He also has a merchandise line coming out called My New Love Story. Yet, he wants to do more.
It's a new journey altogether for Chris, but the big dream remains the same.
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Produced by Barry Viloria & Mels Timan | Cinematography by Jana Jimenez | Photography by Vyn Radovan | Grooming by Iris Tolentino of J.Cat Beauty | Styling by Barry Viloria | Clothes by The Athlete's Foot
Shot on location at FUCT MNL (Unit 7, La Fuerza Building, Chino Roces Avenue, Makati City)
Special thanks to Mae Bello and Dennis Gonzales of Fuct MNL and Will Hsu and Kelly Grace Oliveros of Monster Centaur PR