They say, some things you have to see to believe and that may be the case in point here, when three local music icons shared the Music Museum stage last Saturday night, Dec 10. Normally, these celebrated alt-rock goddesses perform in solo fashion but this special one-off concert event put a twist on things. Teaming them up for the first time, in a sold out show called Secrets: a night with Aia, Barbie and Kitchie.
Individually, each possesses a musical prowess not often witnessed in Original Pilipino Music, never mind the powerhouse potential in a combined act. They’ve made their mark with skilfully created sound, dedication and captivating performances, constantly executed over numerous years. Reaching out to crowds on a regular basis, it’s no longer a secret, that the combination of these three artists provided a thrilling experience for all in attendance.
And in case you’ve been living under a rock, or not familiar with the music scene in the Philippines, a short synopsis of each of their careers may be in order here. The three have a great deal in common, mainly female singer/songwriters, similar alt-folk rock styles, about the same age and all beginning their careers with an iconic OPM band then embarking on solo track.
Aia de Leon started her musical journey back in 1997, as vocalist of the well-known rock band ‘Imago’. Racking up miles on stage, widely recognised with various awards, and a healthy track-record, perhaps performing at every music venue in Metro Manila that has ever existed, many times over. Heaps of on-stage time with Imago have garnering her a well deserved fan-base that would make any musical act envious. A few years back she left the band to venture on a solo path, maybe most recognised as the voice behind the smash hit song, “Tartalets”, off of Imago’s third album, “Blush”.
Barbie Almalbis the darling of alt-rock, formerly the lead singer of the bands Hungry Young Poets and Barbie’s Cradle, pursued a solo career in 2005. With a list of accolades, collaborations, commercial representations and recordings too long to mention here, suffice it to say this born again Christian, wife and mother of two, now has the where-with-all to make her quirky rock style pay off. Gifted with a wonderfully soulful voice, a knack with synthesizers and some sick guitar skills, she stands out on stage, just as much when it’s her turn off the mic.
Kitchie Nadal, the recently married singer/songwirter, formerly the lead vocalist of Mojofly. Beginning her solo career in 2003, she has churned out self-penned classics with a richness in her voice that you don’t come across often. Again, a long list of awards, records and collaborations, she has worked with Barbie on previous occasions but this is a first for all three of them have appeared together onstage. Something indescribable and uncanny, in the way that she’s able to almost magically harmonise with almost any voice, connecting with them on a deeper level.
Combine their total years in the music industry, and it’s surprisingly impressive, roughly a combined effort of 57 years or so. They are friends, as many of the local folks in the music biz are, so joining forces seems like a no-brainer but it hasn’t happened up until now. Secrets is produced by Vandals on the Wall and Gabi Na Naman Productions, the same folks responsible for the recent, hugely successful events called ‘Dama and Dama’, a series of concerts featuring acclaimed singer-songwriters Johnoy Danao, Ebe Dancel, and Bullet Dumas. Somewhat of an anomaly, this was the female version of that concept, simply genius really and certainly an interesting concept for such seasoned performers to come together and make history.
The event began with a set from each of them, a justified concert performance in itself, each taking on about nine songs for about forty minutes or so. Starting with Aia, then followed with Barbie, trailing up with Kitchie, wisely kept in alphabetical order. And hand it to the crew, they did well with a smooth transition from one band to the next, the time between sets was nearly unnoticeable. The venues sound quality was fantastic, maybe a bit cramped in the spacious department but visually not a bad seat in the house.
Aia with a solid set to open, began with a smartly produced video as an introduction, with just the right amount of energy to get the crowds attention. The standout moment here was when she climbed down off the stage with her acoustic guitar in tow and stood amist the crowd singing without a microphone, smooth as butter. Gifted with an uncanny sense of melody, she can sing with a staccato like flavour, which is a tricky endeavour for most vocalists.
Barbie was up next, I’ve photographed her previously and she certainly lived up to her standards tonight. Her presence on-stage was hypnotising, maintaining the attentiveness of the crowd and I also appreciated the fact the she sang a Christmas song. Keeping the fans engaged with a bit of banter in between tracks, even keeping her cool, like a pro, when technical difficulties came along. Blessed with the ability to sit peacefully, in more of a singer/songwriter acoustic folk rock style with a fragile whisper to touch the listeners hearts. Then moments later, crank up the volume with high energy, with heart stoping vocal declarations while whaling on the guitar in rock star fashion. Reminded me a bit of Joan Jett navigating across the stage, most performers generally stay in one mode, switching gears successfully in such a manner is uncommon and rarely encountered.
Kitchie was up next, performing as well as you would expect, possessing an enchanting stage presence. Her portion of the show included a special treat towards the end of the set, performing with three musically inclined grade school children calling themselves ‘Roar Kids’. They beatboxed and rapped the lyrics as Kitchie kept the flow going with the chorus, something akin you might hear today over the radio waves, on a top 40 station. Not commonly known, Kitchie and her husband are active volunteering at charitable organisations and working with these talented, yet less fortunate kids is one of her callings. She explained after the event, that she has worked with Rap Rap, JM an Boboy through one of her Christian ministries called Roar, established back in 2009. “So if they like to sing, most of us teachers were also musicians,” she added, “we try to develop it, we train them, coach them.” Certainly a memorable track and during the middle of the performance, the audience laughed as the youngest directed the elder, as he was off his stage mark, they did well.
Before beginning the collaboration portion of the show, each of them addressed the crowd in a sincere, humble and thoughtful fashion. With Kitchie providing much of the comic relief when the touching nature of the monologs began to bring tears to the eyes of many. Each of them shined on their own, of course no surprise there, and the crowd responded as expected, maybe a bit more mellow initailly than I would have thought. Kitchie finished her set whirling copies of her most recent CD, Malaya, into the audience, always a crowd pleaser, everyone likes some free swag. But the atmosphere rapidly changed as she invited Aia and Barbie to join her onstage, a physical change was apparent as fans sat up in their chairs, leaned forward, and everyone was engrossed, moving to the beat and singing along.
Together, they performed three covers, a heart felt edition of “Hallelujah”, while images of the recently passed Leonard Cohen appeared on the video screen. “Dreams”, a song by an Irish rock band, the Cranberries which did not disappoint, their vocals blended seamlessly and the crowd was loving it. Finally, a cover of Nirvana, “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, a risky choice, if not done well it can quickly morph into a flop, fortunately for all it was to the contrary and they knocked it out of the park, one of the more impressive versions I’ve ever heard. They ended the show with a mash-up of each of their respective greatest hits, “Firewomen”, “Same Ground” and “Taralets”. Left me wanting more, would have loved a few other select covers and a couple of Christmas songs or dare I ask, an original song or two.
I can’t say enough about these ladies, they’re the cream of the crop in the canon of contemporary Filipino music. Not only did their voices harmonise perfectly, but like kindred spirits, they were one with the crowd and each other. Overall a fantastic night of music with a sense of intimacy and connection not often experienced at larger scale events. A gathering like no other, hopefully they’ll do it again, word on the street is there’s already a repeat in the mix, so keep an eye out for them in 2017.