Archive for philippine jazz

into her own groove

Posted in culture, lifestyle, people with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 7, 2010 by mijodo

from IQ Magazine

In this country where every other person sings until his or her tonsils give out, and where every other singing competition is a venue for shouting matches or for tortured vocal calisthenics, it is a breath of fresh air to hear and understand Sofia Mozo and her kind of music.

Sofia radiates in her easy, breezy world music performances, devoid of the usual strong emotional punches that most Filipinos would gravitate to. Instead, she sings to relate a story, to tickle the senses with subtle tropical lilts and rhythms.

At the start of the photo shoot where an interview was also held, Sofia came off almost tentative in her poses and projection, but with a hint of a smile, and some glint from her eyes. It took some coaxing from the photographer for Sofia to come into her own, to relax a little bit, and enjoy the trappings of becoming a known music celeb. It was apparent that Sofia needed to embrace this part of her career – the glamour and glitz.

She might not exactly be as comfortable as the others in hogging the cameras, yet this lady is no greenhorn when it comes to the music business. After three local cd recordings, several music videos, and appearances in intimate gigs in bars and malls, Sofia now catapulted herself on a higher plane, testing the waters of international recording. This time, a major Japanese recording label employed her voice to create light samba and jazzy tempos which broaden her musical repertoire that comes mostly from bossa nova tunes.

The cd tracks would be mostly in English. Two tracks would have popular original Japanese melodies, containing English lyrics. She got to perform her original composition in the same album too. The cd recording will be distributed in Singapore and Japan where sales for jazz and blues record albums truly thrive.

No Name, No Face. For some, having an album created by a foreign label can spell dizzying success, but for Sofia, she takes success in stride, just embracing what the heavens have in store for her. She seems not to be a strong believer in planning out her career in music. There seem to be other natural forces that have been pushing her musical artistry to greater heights. There had been no iota of a preparation to embark on becoming a professional singer, much less developing herself as a bossa nova talent. Sofia just stumbled into it and just saw herself singing Portuguese world music in a recording studio, after college.

In fact soon after finishing a course in Medical Technology (a choice brought about by her highschool fixation on the sci-fi TV series, X-Files) at University of Santo Tomas, she was supposed to take higher learning on Hematology (studies in blood diseases) through a scholarship in Japan. Her ultimate goal then was to become a doctor. But somehow her fate made an abrupt left turn that took her to celebrityhood instead.

In the interview, Sofia related, “When bossa nova became popular here (in 2006), the people from Ivory Records were looking for a singer to create a concept album. They had the set list of songs.  Someone from Ivory knew that I was into bossa nova so I gave them some books, my cds. I had some materials. I was just their research person. I was not even into singing (professionally). They wanted to get a sample of a song. They asked me if I could sing that song in the studio. They could not find the lyrics of “Desafinado.” And I knew the lyrics. And I recorded it. And then they liked it.  (And the executives said,) “Why don’t we get her (Sofia) instead of another singer.” I recorded some of the tracks. And we agreed that it would still be a concept album, meaning that they won’t release my name. It would be about the songs, and not the singer. They even had a duet there and an instrumental. It was not a featured artist album.”

Apparently, the tracks that Sofia recorded made an impression. Radio stations were already looking for her, after her songs had made way to the fm airwaves. “Who is this girl, where can we see her, where does she play?” Sofia narrated the questions of radio jocks trying to find information on the voice that Ivory Records had wanted anonymous. The craving of the radio audience for more guaranteed a second album – this time with her face and name on the front cover of the album package.

 Slightly Out of Tune. Sofia as she was recording her debut album had no prior professional experience as a singer. She had no singing gigs nor public engagements to work her way up to. There were no customary voice lessons during her childhood to hone her vocal skills. There was even no prodding from her parents who somehow ironically have worked in the musical recording industry, to take up singing or music as an interest.

But when she had recorded “Desafinado,” in the original Portuguese language, some people found her delivery as flawless, with the right diction and intonation although she never took Portuguese language classes at all.

She had to follow voice techniques prevalent in Bossa Nova singing such as minimal vocal tremolo, just like the way the Queen of Bossa Nova, Astrud Gilberto, would do.

Probably, it must be the gods of music that led her to be involved in songs which are not exactly popular staples during her highschool years, back in St. Theresa’s College, Quezon City. Instead of going gaga on popsongs sung by Backstreet Boys and Spice Girls, Sofia’s unconventional song genres were rock (Sepultura, Wolfgang, Razorback), folk (Pinikpikan, India Arie, Erykah Badu) and world music, such as bossa nova (Jobim).  Even as early as first year highschool, Sofia had the ear for the eclectic music of bossa nova.

“I was into world music. I was not listening to pop that time. Early on, I was introduced to bossa nova ever since in highschool. Basically I was amazed by the genre, not because it was foreign to me. It was not even the beat, but the composition of the story (in the lyrics). Before bossa nova became popular in the Philippines, they (people) think it was just to elevate the music. They underestimate the genre so much. I see the beauty in that. They think it is easy to play. But it is not easy to play. There are difficult pieces to play.”

But it was a particular bossa nova song, “Desafinado” which she recorded that had intrigued her even during her highschool years. It was the song, providential enough to take Sofia into a place that she had never expected to be in – celebrityhood. It was written originally in Portuguese by Juan Carlos Jobim, and the title meant “Slightly Out of Tune,” in English.

 “When you listen to it – it was kind of uncomfortable at first. If you listen to the whole song, it works. But if you listen to single elements – the chords, the notes, the voice, it is kinda off. It was one of the few things that made me think that a genre exists.”

Since then, she would sing and master the latin bossa nova songs, including “Desafinado.”  Her interest for such music was for herself, and not exactly for anyone else. Singing was a private affair.

“I saw singing as a solitary thing. For me it’s like you’re praying. There are prayers that fit a chorus. But there are prayers that are best prayed alone. Singing was something that I enjoyed by myself, not even with friends.”

 In fact, it seemed no one actually knows that Sofia was into music at all, particularly during her adolescent years – not even many of her classmates. After classes in highschool, she would go alone to the school’s music room, and tinker with the piano keys, and do some oido playing. She would strum the guitar or even construct her own bodhran (hand drum instrument) out of some plywood since at that time, it was not available in the Philippines yet. And years after, when she acquired herself a real bodhran, it was easy for her to play on it as she already had the muscle memory from playing with the imitation. Sofia had so much fascination for music, but again it was for her own consumption.

Perks and Moments.  It was a dreadful moment for Sofia when she attended an fm radio event at World Trade Center as guest, after her music was heard on radio. It was her first solo public appearance ever. She had been part of a highschool band or even a church choir, but in this occasion she alone got the spotlight.

 “Sobrang kaba. Kasi I did not know what to expect. I did not have any experience, like singing na may technical stuff. May monitor ba diyan. Ano bang timpla niyan (referring to sound engineering). Kasi I (only) did it (singing) in my room.”

As it was observed earlier during the photo session, Sofia realized that she needs to be more at ease in presenting herself to the public. Interviews and public relations are part and parcel of the business that she is in.

“It comes with being a musician, as a singer. Of course, people will be in interested your music as much as how you are as a person. It is logical in a way, that your music reflects your significant human experience. So if you are interesting, usually then your music is interesting. Although I am not really used to the whole thing (of being public). Even before, I was not really into taking pictures of myself. Even you check my (blog)site, there aren’t too many pictures.”

She readily admitted that she had to learn how to be in front of the camera – her angles, her hair, and her dress.   

It took sometime before Sofia enjoyed the groove of becoming a known personality. The perks were not so much about the popularity and the pomp, but the opportunities to get to mingle with fellow artists, particularly those she has respected much.  One time, Sofia had the pleasure of getting an autograph of the great latin jazz percussionist, Airto Moreira at the First Philippine International Jazz Festival.

While other singers would count the number of cd recording as career milestones, or the amount of money taken in as a gauge for success, Sofia remembered little moments and anecdotes as a way of knowing how much her music affected her audience.

“Someone sent me a track of a kid. I don’t know if it was her (the person that gave her the track) niece or her child. But the kid was singing along with me in the cd. And I said wow, they (kid and the person) really enjoyed the music.”

Sofia has adjusted slowly to getting popular, yet still making the effort of being “typical” by working as a copywriter for an ad agency during the day, and boxing workouts during the free evenings, Japanese recording executives called to sign her up as an artist.

Sofia has long acknowledged that blessings, poured in by a great entity above, have come her way, without much effort from her. It might have been because she had the right karma, or probably her spirituality brought about the charm for the opportunities in life. It was very apparent during the interview that all she had wanted was a plain yet meaningful life based on her college education and her simple demeanor. Her deep roots though for world music and her cool mellow voice fated her to be truly called an artist of world standard. And by September, this year, she gets to taste the benefits of becoming an international talent – she gets to travel to Japan and Singapore to promote her first international recording.

“Although things don’t go according to your plans, you just have to acknowledge din that this (becoming a world class singer) is a blessing kasi it is not something that you plan (on) it. It is not that it will make you a lesser person if you experience it.  How many people na ba ang nakausap ko, ‘Ikaw nga buti ka pa, ako nga gusto ko ng record, hindi ako nabibigyan ng opportunity.’”

Sofia’s remarkable young life parallels the beauty of her favorite song “Desafinado.” Each element or segment of her life may seem to be off, but once you take it as a whole, Sofia’s life actually works and eventually, turns out very well.