Celebrated by The New York Times as “a gifted vocalist” and by The Los Angeles Times as “one of the important and original new jazz singers of the decade,” Filipino-American recording artist and cultural trailblazer Charmaine Clamor has earned her Queen of Jazzipino crown. Honored and recognition as one of the 100 Most Influential Filipinas in the United States, her music and cultural impact can not be ignored. We are very fortunate to have had the opportunity to sit down with Charmaine and discuss a variety of topics. Read below for the full Q&A…
For those unfamiliar with ‘Jazzpino’, tell us a bit about how your heritage has influenced your music and how the evolution has taken shape.
Charmaine: Jazzipino is a reflection of my identity: a Filipino-American. I was born and raised in the Philippines but have been living most of my adulthood in America, so I can consider myself both a Filipino and an American. This is what “Jazzipino” is. It’s the combination of jazz, a uniquely American musical art form, with Filipino languages, melodies and instruments.
There is obviously a void to fill in terms of the rise of Filipino musicians. JazzPhil-USA looks to focus on that aspect. How important is it to support jazz musicians with Filipino roots? Is there a neglect in the industry?
Charmaine: From my experience, it’s key to receive the support of the Filipino-American community, especially when starting out. That’s one of the missions of JazzPhilUSA: to support, nurture and promote jazz artists of Filipino descent. I don’t think we’re neglected. There are two different types of Fil-Am jazz artists in the U.S.: the immigrants and those who were born here. Most of the time, the immigrants stay within the Fil-Am community and don’t reach the mainstream. JazzPhil-USA has been getting more and more successful in bridging the cultural gap.
At any point do you feel like being recognized as jazz vocalist without so much emphasis on your nationality, or is it important for you to introduce authentic Filipino musical culture to mainstream?
Charmaine: My music, my art is a reflection of me. I am a Filipino-American and I am proud to have introduced a different musical form in the jazz conversation. It’s something unplanned. My music is an organic expression of my identity and it continues to evolve as I evolve as a human being. I know my music will have Filipino and American influences, but it will also will include influences from different parts of the world. I call it a true global sound!
You were picked to headline The 18th Annual World Music Village in Finland. Over 105,000 people attended last year. The festival offers world views and music, so this must be a big deal for you. What can we expect from your performance? Any surprises?
Charmaine: The Maalima Kylassa World Village Festival is the hippest and biggest festival I’ve been involved with. This year’s theme is human rights, with many discussions and art that focused on this theme. It’s run by volunteers, and this year it featured artists from Southeast Asia. The Festival has recycling centers and had a spirited panel discussion on Water. For all these reasons, it was a huge honor to close this amazing festival. Our music focused on human rights and introduced Filipino and jazzipino to the Finnish audience. I sang in four languages. Our surprise gift at the end was a Finnish translation of my most popular jazzipino song, one of the most beloved Filipino kundiman, “Dahil Sa’Yo.” It was a lovefest.
You have been described as one of the most ‘listenable’ voices in jazz. How do you achieve a balance of self expression, while remaining imaginative and accessible to your fans and jazz aficionados alike?
Charmaine: I used to think about this very question during my soul-searching phase. This is not something that I’m consciously aware now when I choose my repertoire or when I sing a song. My intention is to tell the story of the song in a way that feels real to me. I find that when someone is genuine, people are touched in a most profound way!
Do you have any favorite Asian films?
Charmaine: I still continue to catch Filipino films especially the romantic ones like those of John Lloyd Cruz, Sarah Geronimo, Toni Gonzaga. Outside the Philippines, I am a big fan of kung fu movies.
You were the only jazz musician signs to Viva at the time of your first signing. Did you experience any type of pressure or demand? How were you able to create a niche in that market for yourself?
Charmaine: I didn’t feel any pressure or demand – except to keep being myself. I felt proud to have been the first jazz artist on the biggest Philippine pop label.
If you could remake one Ella Fitzgerald song, which would it be?
Charmaine: I’ve included in my repertoire a famous Ella Fitzgerald song, “In a Mellow Tone,” in which I transcribed her scat solo. I have so much fun singing it.
After your tours wrap up in 2013, can we expect another album on the horizon?
Charmaine: Yes, we are now in the pre-production phase for a new album. Some very heavy cats are going to be involved. I am so excited!
Lastly, any advice for struggling musicians or vocalists?
Charmaine: Embrace your uniqueness and use this to inspire your musical direction. I think all vocalists should not only take vocal technique classes but also learn how to play an instrument. It will make them a more fulfilled musician and performer. Practice, practice, practice. The journey is inward. All the praises and critiques are only noises. Go forcefully and yet gracefully on your path and master it. This is the key. Master your instrument and your repertoire.
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