Of Dreams, Forgotten and Set Aside Yet Unexpectedly Fulfilled

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One beautiful afternoon back in 2014, I sought career mentorship with an equally beautiful person, my wedding Ninang, Mrs. Annabelle Regalado-Borja. Over a sumptuous spread, with a big smile on my face and with matching outstretched hands, I declared my musical dreams to her: to be one of the premier bossa nova artists in the whole world! To go to Brazil, the country where bossa nova was born, to perform there, collaborate with local artists, to even record an album which I will release here in the Philippines. This has always been a cherished dream, one that at that point in my life I was more than wiling to save up and work hard for. I have always felt that I had to give back to this genre that has gifted me with so much, and that by all means necessary I must find my way to sing by Rio de Janeiro’s shore, paying homage to the very waves that have inspired this beautiful music which I have built a life upon.

I went home that day feeling reignited with my awakened purpose, my mind listing down all the steps I must take to make that dream a reality.

But then a month later, Joey proposed, and all thoughts of singing and recording in Brazil were replaced by wedding planning. The dream resurfaced again a few months after when we were looking for honeymoon destinations. But after much research, I presented Joey with projected expenses and even I knew it would cost so much more than we can afford. Tearfully, I gave the dream up again, buried it, looked away and started focusing on more practical matters.

With my Ninang Ms. A at Ice’s wedding in 2015. I miss you!

With my Ninang Ms. A at Ice’s wedding in 2015. I miss you!

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The year was 2002. I was an unknown lounge singer who scored a “raket” fronting for Vina Morales’ concert at Trace College in Santa Rosa, Laguna. As I and my fellow singers watched at the sidelines, in awe of Vina Morales’ dancing, singing, and entertaining prowess, I thought to myself, “how I would like to be like her, entertaining all of those people”. I went home a little richer from that night’s talent fee, but the dream I dreamed became lost in the morning as I prepared for school and other “life” matters.

In October 2005, a few months after I graduated from UP with a degree that until now I have not truly been able to put to good use (save for mentioning it in interviews, hehe: B.S. Business Economics), I recorded my first album in a day. Months passed and we didn’t hear anything from my then recording label, Warner Music Philippines. By the time January of the following year rolled around, my then manager Garrie Trinidad and I were convinced that the album was shelved and would never really see the light of day. We shrugged it off and just continued with my other engagements.

But then, Misters Ricky Ilacad and Neil Gregorio suddenly called and invited us to dinner where they talked about their launch plans. In April of that same year, 2006, Café Bossa was released. A series of promo tours, mall shows, bar gigs and concerts followed, and I was suddenly thrust into the limelight - this girl who just loved singing bossa nova, who couldn’t believe that she actually had an album out in record stores, was now singing, dancing, and entertaining scores of people, just like Vina Morales.

It didn’t really hit me immediately that a once farfetched dream had come true; I got caught up in the busyness of things. But when it did, probably months after, how thankful I was to be given the opportunity to do what I do.

Writing this entry has made me reminisce all my jazz festival participations even in our country. This was my first ever for Philippine International Jazz Festival, 2007, Harbour Square. Photo taken by the incomparable jazz ballad great himself, Arthur Manuntag.

Writing this entry has made me reminisce all my jazz festival participations even in our country. This was my first ever for Philippine International Jazz Festival, 2007, Harbour Square. Photo taken by the incomparable jazz ballad great himself, Arthur Manuntag.

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When I found bossa nova in 2003, it felt like coming home. It felt like sinking into the most luxurious, comfortable bed with surprise, tickling springs that made me feel warm, light, and giddy all at the same time. It was, and still is, a joy to sing. What wasn’t was all the negative criticism I received, particularly from our very own jazz community, and young as I was, I took them all hard. 

I was bashed so badly in forums, criticised for both the way I sing (apparently I was incredibly nasal; am I still?) and my inexperience in a genre that other more senior performers have spent years performing and perfecting (why was I the one with the hit album? Why was I the one who got all those awards?). I surmise that the clincher came when Warner Music Philippines christened me with a label - the Queen of Bossa Nova - as part of their marketing plan for my Sitti Live! album. Imagine all the eyebrows that must have raised, all the tongues that wagged, the furious typing on their keyboards at the blasphemy of it all..   

I’ve spent many years singing under the pressure of not being good enough for the local jazz community, many years of trying to be accepted by them. That is the scourge of the artist - you suffer not just from your own self-inflicted criticisms (which are incredibly harsh already, to be honest) but also the (perceived) judgment of your peers as well. Add to that the burgeoning, outspoken world of social media where everyone thinks they are experts at everything - I found it hard to navigate by. But I continued on, took voice lessons now and then as schedule permitted and sought the advice of friendly “senyors”. But I think it wasn’t really until a near decade after Café Bossa was released did I truly stop giving a care what other people think, may they be from the jazz community or not. And my goodness, how good it felt to my soul to finally reach that stage. How freeing it was, how light I felt then, how much happier I feel now.

My first time to perform with an all-Japanese jazz band. I was so nervous then but remember being in musical heaven after. Jazz just gives me a different kind of musical high.

My first time to perform with an all-Japanese jazz band. I was so nervous then but remember being in musical heaven after. Jazz just gives me a different kind of musical high.

I don’t remember exactly when I wrote it down, this dream of being invited to perform at an international jazz festival. But I know it’s immortalised somewhere, maybe in a scrap of paper I’ve inserted in a random book or at the first page of a songwriting notebook or journal that’s now sitting on our upper bedroom cabinet. But I remember it clearly - that prayer request is definitely there alongside petitions for the healing of some family members and friends. What I do know for sure is that I dreamt it before I got married in 2015, maybe even before Joey’s and my engagement in 2014 haha, and certainly waaaay before we got pregnant in 2018. (Marriage, babies, they just really change you and your prayer/dream priorities, haha.) Wherever it is now, it was dreamt, written, then forgotten.

My first jazz festival participation in another country - Tokyo, Japan, for Tokyo-Manila Jazz and Arts Festival, May 2012. I had so many self-doubts then though, not feeling I was “legit” enough and maybe it showed in my performance.

My first jazz festival participation in another country - Tokyo, Japan, for Tokyo-Manila Jazz and Arts Festival, May 2012. I had so many self-doubts then though, not feeling I was “legit” enough and maybe it showed in my performance.

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Imagine my surprise when I received a call from my road manager, Jonathan Valdez, early this year, 2019. I was being invited to perform at the Kuching Waterfront Jazz Festival in Malaysia! At first, I was like, “Totoo ba? Seryoso?”, and then incredulity became humble amazement, “Wow naman! Dream come true! Thank You, Lord!!”, which led to thoughtful pondering, “this year of all years pa, kung kelan hindi ko priority yung career as I wanted to focus on taking care of my nearly-11-month old baby girl, Lilibubs.”, and ended in the powerful reinforcement of two truths that time and again I have seen proven, over and over, in this life: that God is faithful in giving us our heart’s desires if we put Him first, and that His timing, perfect for reasons known only to Him, is unlike ours. 

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And so, today’s the day, show day, the night when we are given 40 minutes to perform alongside other artists the KWJF committee has invited this year. There are musicians from the US, UK, Australia, Singapore, Indonesia, and of course, Malaysia. I have met some of them and they are all nice and I am excited to hear their music. But most of all I am grateful for this chance to perform music that I love with the band I love performing with, singing to a mostly Malaysian audience, trusting that our common love for jazz will bridge whatever language or cultural barrier there may be. My inner nega critic has been saying not to make a big deal out of it, that it’s not like I was invited to perform at the Blue Note in New York. But I tune him out, and fix my eyes on the fact that this is a chance to share music with a foreign audience, and that at this particular point in time this may be the only opportunity for some of them to get to listen live to a Filipino jazz and bossa nova group perform, and so, being representatives of our country, it is our duty to perform well, to the best that we can. Even more importantly, it is our duty to God to multiply the talents He has gifted us with, to give all the glory back to Him on that stage.  

And also, it’s about time I stopped asking the question, “why me?”, and to instead embrace my current reality with a heartfelt, “Thank You oh Lord, for making it me.” <3

I started this entry with my dream of singing in Brazil. Perhaps, prayerfully and hopefully, the day will come when I will edit this post with an update of it being fulfilled. :)  

Keep on dreaming. Dream new dreams. Write them down. Earn your 10,000 hours. Pray, and above all, surrender it all to our Almighty Dream Creator, Catcher and Fulfiller.

Thank you for reading! God bless you.

Bossa love,

Sitti

At soundcheck earlier. Praying that my voice will come out tonight. Been sick the past few days.  Si  Lord  na bahala .

At soundcheck earlier. Praying that my voice will come out tonight. Been sick the past few days. Si Lord na bahala.

Sitti Navarro-RamirezComment