How Pinoy vocal quintet blazes trail for a cappella singing
The a cappella vocal group Acapellago is currently on a roll in the international circuit, having won six of the seven contests it had entered in the past few years. And every time it sets foot on foreign land to compete, it sees to it that it includes a Filipino song in its repertoire to share a piece of our country’s musical heritage with the rest of the world.
For instance, in the five-piece group’s most recent triumphs—in Russia in April and Japan last month—Michelle Pascual (soprano), Almond Bolante (countertenor), Joshua Cadeliña (tenor), Bogart Laderas (vocal percussion) and Happy Laderas (bass) performed Ryan Cayabyab’s “Da Coconut Nut,” which was ecstatically received by their audiences.
“We did it first in Russia and the reaction was amazing. That gave us the confidence to sing it again in our next competition in Japan, which was, coincidentally, attended by Mr. C. Whenever we sing that song, people would freak out the moment we do our first (dance) position,” Bogart said in a recent interview arranged by Viva Records.
“As we went on, the crowd eventually learned all the steps,” Almond said of their experience in the Moscow Spring A Cappella Festival in Russia, where they placed first in the medium vocal ensemble category; and in the Asian Cup A Cappella Competition in Takamatsu, where they were hailed grand champion.
“Seeing that kind of reaction from viewers was such a proud moment for us, because we do consider ourselves advocates for OPM,” he added.
Even when they perform their English staples, like Gloria Estefan’s “Conga” or a medley from the film “Burlesque,” the group’s arranger, Happy, makes sure to put a “Pinoy twist” into them.
“We, Filipinos, love belting and a lot of our singers excel at it. We don’t see a lot of foreign groups incorporating this kind of style in their pieces, so we take advantage of that,” Happy said. “That’s one of our strengths, we can go higher with the arrangements, or give them wider range.”
Perhaps more importantly, they try not to think that they’re competing—they simply enjoy themselves and perform as if they were in their own concert.
“We treat it like a show. We sing and dance. Singing without any accompaniment is hard enough. What more if you dance at the same time? I think that’s what people in the other countries find most impressive,” Happy said.
“May pusong Pinoy pa rin. We sing with our hearts,” Bogart added. “Other groups are very technical with perfect intonation. But singing with that feeling is something I believe
they can learn from us. In turn, they inspire us to polish our technicals … We learn from each other.”
The five members, who all hail from Bulacan, banded together in 2012 and started entering contests in their home province shortly after. Two years later, they won the Akapela Open—one of the biggest nationwide a cappella-singing tilts. Before long, they were facing off with the world’s finest.
“We didn’t expect to win in these festivals, especially the one in Russia, which is the most prestigious,” Almond related. “There were some 90 participants. Those were the best of the best.”
For Happy, carrying the flag in such events is a privilege, but also a huge responsibility. “Representing the country is really nerve-wracking—that can’t be helped. We have also observed that the field’s skill level rises every year. Everyone keeps getting better and better. And that adds to the pressure,” he pointed out.
Acapellago still plans to join music festivals and competitions in the future and might consider defending its title in Russia. But for now, the quintet is looking forward to an upcoming tour in the United States, and is hoping to come up with a follow-up to its 2017 debut album “Peroplano.”
“One of our advocacies is to help the local contemporary a cappella scene grow, then introduce our music to the rest of world,” Joshua said. “And I believe that it can be done.”
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