3 Filipino singers triumph in different singing tilts in Europe
One of the things singers Jay Kent, Rachel Gabreza and Micah Baybay have realized from joining—and winning—in different singing competitions in Europe last year is that, contrary to what many Filipinos believe, being able to belt, or birit, isn’t the sole measure of being a good singer.
“I can’t belt, and I don’t even try,” stressed Jay, who performed an original composition, “Infinity,” en route to winning the grand prix at the 2018 Euro Pop Singing Contest in Berlin, Germany. “I just write or perform songs in a way that makes people feel how I feel.”
“That’s how I wish to distinguish myself [from other singers],” added the 17-year-old artist, whose sound leans more toward pop. “But I don’t want to box myself in a specific genre, especially since I’m still young. I want to switch it up and experiment.”
Rachel, the grand champion at the 2018 Stars of the Albion in London, United Kingdom, performs “diva or birit” songs herself. But facing a largely European audience, she learned that musical taste varies around the world.
“When they see or hear someone good, they really show their appreciation—regardless of whether that person can belt or not,” she said. “I actually have some background in classical singing, but I do birit pieces in contests. But there are already a lot of divas out there. I want to be successful, but in my own way.”
Micah, on the other hand, adds soulful inflections to her singing. “I have always been musically inclined and exposed to different artists. I find that my voice is better-suited for soul, so I try to go that route,” said Micah, who won the grand prix at the 2018 Arpeggio International Singing Competition in Malta.
She also continues to hone her guitar playing and songwriting skills, which she believes will help her in the long run, as she pursues a career on the local music scene.
“I can play the guitar, but I still need more polishing; I need to be more confident,” Micah said in a pocket interview organized by Vega Entertainment Productions, which screens and sends local representatives to the said European tilts. “I usually compose my songs in acoustic, but I can expand it for a full band. Then, I infuse electronic sounds and other elements into it.”
While the idea of entering international competitions was initially daunting for the three singers, their worries were eventually replaced by pride after emerging triumphant.
“It feels good, but nerve-wracking at the same time, because you’re not just representing yourself, but the country,” related Jay, who admitted that she felt “a lot of pressure.” “But I just worked on my minus one, produced the music. And I practiced, practiced and practiced even more.”
Micah was once on the verge of quitting music to help run her family’s business. Luckily, this opportunity presented itself.
“I couldn’t believe it. I kept asking myself, ‘Do I deserve this? Am I the right person to be here?’ There was pressure, but I enjoyed the competition. It’s surreal—this was a dream come true. And to think I was this close to giving up on it,” she said.
Rachel, who was also an eight-time defending champion in the first season of “Tawag ng Tanghalan,” said she was, at first, intimidated by the European contestants. “I know that they have a rich music culture. And when I heard some of them singing classical music, I thought, ‘Kaya ko ba ’to?’” she recalled. “But it was a big privilege for the three of us,” Rachel added, “to be able to carry our flag in Europe.”
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