Every Festive Season, we hire musicians, either a solo singer or acoustic duo, to create a festive vibe, making the evenings more alive.
Last year (Festive Season 2020-2021), we brought my friend Jenny, and she played on both of our islands every alternate night.
This Festive Season (2021-2022), we thought of bringing Jenny’s sister and her husband. They were supposed to arrive on the 22nd of December but they could not. The Philippine immigration stopped them because they didn’t have all the documents needed by OFWs (such as Overseas Employment Certificate) even though they had a 3-month business visa and an entertainment agreement, unlike what OFWs usually have – employment contract and work permit. The immigration still insisted they should follow all the processes that OFWs follow, which generally takes weeks or months, and unfortunately, they would not be able to make it for Christmas and New Year if they’d do that.
And because of this unfortunate issue, I had to fill in for them. So I was the emergency backup plan.
Our Festive program started on the 22nd of December, and so, my sudden singing career was born on that day.
Usually, we have three acoustic sets per night – sunset, dinner, and late night. But since I wasn’t the actual singer and had other jobs to do, I was told to do at least two sets, one at sunset and one late at night.
I asked my colleague to help me during sunsets, and so on the evening of the 22nd, we did our first acoustic set. We were happy that just three tables were occupied at the bar when we started playing. But, unfortunately (for my acoustic partner and me), the bar filled up after thirty minutes. And the ten songs we prepared were not enough. So we had to check ultimateguitar on the spot, then added some Christmas songs we were supposed to sing on Christmas Eve to fill in the next thirty minutes of the set. We were so nervous.
Later that night, I played by myself and was happy to have a few tables occupied in the bar. I did a one-hour set and was glad to finish without hiccups; however, my wrists and fingers were painful after an hour of non-stop playing.
On the 23rd, we played on the other island (we have two islands), so we did the same set of songs, and it was pretty easier than our first day. My partner, I call him 1.25 (because we decided to call our little band – 2.5), played during the sunset and left me alone for the late-night set. There were few tables that night. A couple was directly facing me who left halfway through my performance; another elder couple was sitting a bit far from me. In the beginning, I was nervous. But by the time I realized nobody seemed to care about me (and my singing), I started feeling a bit at ease. I had an hour to complete, so I kept looking at the time. Finally, when my time was almost up, I happily said, ‘thank you, everyone, this will be my last song for tonight.’ The elderly couple asked for their bill and signed. When I finished my last song and said thanks and good night, the couple stood up and walked towards me, smiled, and said good night. That made me happy amidst the nerves and the painful wrists.
The following days, I was on my own as my 1.25 was busy with other things. I was pretty upset one sunset because the person who fixed the speakers didn’t care about the sound. Halfway through my 2nd song, I realized the echo was too much. I could not hear my voice, and I bet more than half of the songs I sang were out of tune. I was desperate for help and caught someone passing by and asked him to check the echo, and as I suspected, it was on full blast. He adjusted it, but he could only do little since he wasn’t a technician; the echo was still there. A family who was sitting outside clapped when I sang Stuck On You, and the Italian couple applauded my version of Time After Time, but I wasn’t even sure if they clapped because I sang it nicely or because out of all the songs, those two were the only songs I sang in tune.
As days went by, the pressure was on me to sing new songs because I couldn’t keep repeating the same song every night with the same audience listening. The point is that whenever I sang, nobody reacted, so I didn’t know what the audience wanted. So, I have a collection of songs from old to new (from Shania Twain to Britney and the Corrs, from Lionel Richie to 3 Doors Down, and from the Calling to Ed Sheeran), thinking mixing the songs is better for the mixed audience. Another point is, there are songs that I like to sing but just can’t.
Once, a Russian lady came to me and asked to sing together. She looked at my song list and chose Don’t Speak by No Doubt. I have been keeping this song as a backup. I thought it was too loud to sing against the still vibe and thought of singing it only when I ran out of songs. This song, apparently, is a Russian national anthem; everyone in Russia just knew it. I felt happy yet doubtful at that time. Maybe this guest was so sick of the same songs I was singing she decided to sing on her own.
Sometimes I had problems (other than technical); there were songs that I could sing nicely in my room but ended messing them up during the live set. Sometimes I felt like I was becoming a nuisance to some guests like that old lady who just kept reading a book throughout my performance.
Our program’s last live music schedule is on the 30th of December. So with that, I drank a glass of sparkling wine after singing my last song to celebrate my victory and all the wrist and finger pain and ‘kalyo.’
On the morning of the 31st of December, my boss came to me and said that 2.5 needs to play during the New Year’s Eve sunset cocktail. I wanted to take back my previous night’s celebration.
The issue with me and 1.25 is that there are just a few songs that I can sing and he can play. We have different music preferences. He won’t know some of the songs I know how to sing, and I won’t know how to sing some of the songs he can play. And we both don’t have time to practice together.
Luckily, 1.25 was a talented guitarist. So we agreed to use two guitars. He plays our usual sunset songs, and when we run out of songs, I sing and play my songs, and he can do adlibs.
There were about 200 people at that cocktail party, but surprisingly, I wasn’t nervous – maybe because we have been playing the same songs already for days, I was comfortable enough to sing them.
So we went on our usual playlist, More Than Words, Can’t Help Falling In Love, What A Wonderful World, Can’t Take My Eyes off You, Leaving on a Jetplane, Perfect, All of Me so on.
We practiced Wonderful Tonight on the spot, and it was like a very long intro to the song. But, luckily, 1.25 is very talented that we pulled it off.
Surprisingly, the audience clapped when I sang Superman by Five For Fighting, the only new song we added again on the spot because it was an easy, four-chord song. But the crowd favorite is Ed Sheeran’s Perfect.
The last sunset of the year was truly stunning. The horizon was a kaleidoscope – dark velvet sea, raging orange, mild pink, pretty purple, midnight blue, twinkling stars.
It was one of the best moments of my life, a rare one that I’d like to bottle up and freeze and lock away forever. I want time to be frozen at that time and place.
It was like a rare perfect moment, cinematic, one that made me feel there was nothing more I’d ask for and that nothing could ever go wrong. The sunset was excellent, the silhouettes of some couples were dancing to our music, I (almost) hit all the notes, and I felt like I was living the dream, living in a dream, or dreaming awake. Yet, everything was still, and I thought that the world succumbed into silence to hear my voice. I could only hear my voice and our guitar strings at that time.
When I knew I was moving to the Maldives, I had this funny idea in my mind that maybe when I live and work in the Maldives, I’d be able to pursue my dreams of becoming a musician, a singer, or guitarist because I’ll have time to practice on the island. Funnily enough, too, I imagined that maybe an Indonesian guy (I was particular with the nationality, too, lol) could be my acoustic partner. I imagined walking by the beach, singing with a blank-faced guy under a palm tree.
I met my 1.25 in 2016 already. Coincidentally, he’s from Indonesia. He left the company for a short period and returned in 2019. Although, he is now going for good and is just counting his days. I never thought he’d be part of a dream that I had forgotten already.
When Jenny’s sister and husband could not come, Jenny told me that maybe it was my time to shine. I didn’t even think about that because I just wanted to get through the program. Gusto ko lang maitawid.
But, later on, I realized it was my time. Everything has its own time. We don’t usually get what we want when we want them. We get them in due time.
When I was in my teenage years, I wanted to be a singer/guitarist because it looked cool, it’s so maangas, and because of other unimportant reasons. But, singing isn’t about that.
During my few days of singing, I felt a high seeing those beautiful moments unfold before me.
It was about that old lady who was reading a book in the bar when I came and was still reading until I finished singing, thinking she might get annoyed and disturbed by my music, but she came back for my next performance bringing her husband with her. So I sang while both of them read their books.
It was about this tiny blonde girl with green eyes wearing a tutu, carrying her doll, standing close to me, staring at me and my guitar.
It was about this naughty teen boy who passed by quickly and said, you are good.
It was about that old couple who waited until I finished my last song.
It was this mom and her two daughters who sat in front of me and stared at me and swayed their heads as I sang.
Those small spontaneous moments made the pain on my wrist and finger, the sleepless nights thinking about not messing up, and the extra hours I spent practicing all worthy.