THE last time Celeste Legaspi held a solo concert was in 1987, 30 long years ago.
“My last major concert was before we staged Katy [a musical based on the life of local vaudeville star Katy de la Cruz, in which she starred],” the legendary singer shared in one recent intimate chat with a select group of media.
She was asked, “What made you walk away?” After contemplating the question, Celeste retorted, “I have done several big concerts na kung anu-ano na ang ginawa ko. Merong tribute to komiks, there is one also about the movies. It always had to have a theme. I think I grew tired of that medium. It was also around that time my late father (National Artist for Visual Arts Cesar Legaspi) told me to do something original.”
The parents and aunties of the millenials are decidedly Legaspi’s audience. But the admirers of this music icon have kept alive their memories of her brand of artistry. Ask your folks and they surely know Legaspi’s signature songs like “Tuliro”, “Saranggola ni Pepe” and “Mamang Sorbetero”, among many others.
During her prime in the 1970s and 1980s, when every songstress and chanteuse capitalized on sentimentality, Legaspi brought elements of no nonsense blues into her singing. Hers is a distinct and mellifluous voice that you’ll never get tired of listening to. As one good friend described her, “Celeste is Celeste. And there is only one.”
It was a time when singers put their hearts and souls into every performance, not mere vocal calisthenics we now often hear and see. Legaspi’s take on biriteras is “sometimes it’s okay, it calls attention, pero kung paulit-ulit na, mabibingi ka na, hindi mo na tuloy maintindihan ’yung lyrics. A song is a means of communication. Instead of just shouting at me, I want to know what you’re trying to tell me. You can appreciate it more if there is texture and clarity.”
Legaspi seems to be a reluctant actress. Over the years, she has allowed her presence to grace only a few projects. For the true-blue cinema aficionados, they surely remember her few and select film performances in Lino Brocka’s Sa Kabila Ng Lahat, Mario O’Hara’s Tatlong Ina, Isang Anak, and Ishmael Bernal’s Wating.
And those that patronized theater will surely remember her in Katy and Larawan, The Musical. On TV, Legaspi’s last acting stint was in GMA’s top-rating soap Ang Dalawang Mrs. Real a few years ago, where she was properly elegant as Maricel Soriano’s protective mom. Sometimes, it seemed like the longer she stayed away, the bigger her legend grew.
Legaspi may have veered from doing big concerts but she never fully left the scene. Once in a while, she would perform for causes she believed in, lending both her presence and her gift of voice to organizations and advocacies that matter.
Also, she has never stopped championing original Pilipino music from the time she helped set up the Organisasyon ng Pilipinong Mang-Aawit (OPM). Legaspi was also one of the founders of Musical Theater Philippines (Musicat), which produced well-received productions including Katy in 1988, Kenkoy Loves Rosing in 1992, Alikabok (1995), and Larawan The Musical (1997).
Health concerns like asthma and allergies also drove her to stop doing concerts, which requires stamina to withstand rigorous rehearsals and the actual show itself.
But all these things could never silence Legaspi, who is known to speak her mind. She herself admits that when she was younger and more active as a singer, she could be very exacting. That’s another one of the lessons her father handed down to her. “My father would always tell me, ‘If you can’t do something excellently, then don’t bother [doing it]’.”
In the age of social media trolls, and of singers to whom screaming means outstanding singing, Legaspi remains a voice that is both honest and straightforward. “After the May elections, I stopped watching television,” she volunteered. She’s one who used to openly expresses her opinions on political matters, especially on social media.
“I used to always answer [trolls] until I decided that I had better things to do and reacting just makes me angry. My husband [composer and advertising executive Nonoy Gallardo] would always tell me, ‘Tigilan mo na ’yan.’ Now, I would still check from time to time. But what turns me off even more is when the grammar is horrible and the spelling, too,” she said, letting out a hearty laughter.
The outspoken Legaspi doesn’t see herself joining the fray of celebrity mentors/judges in talent competitions. “Sometimes I get to watch these TV talent competitions but there are way too many already. ’Yung mga nagdya-judge would sometimes make you go, ‘May karapatan ba silang mag-judge?’ Ayan na, baka magalit sila sa akin, ha?”
So rather than waste her precious energy only to get unnerved and attract unnecessary emotions, Legaspi has decided to focus on the film version of Larawan The Musical. “It’s now been four years in the making. We remain hopeful that we can show the film in local cinemas, with or without the Metro Manila Film Festival.” Legaspi’s upcoming concert will coincide with the centennial celebration of her artist-father. “My father has always been my biggest critic,” recalled Legaspi, “and most often than not, it was cariño brutal.” She will be joined by our favorite vocals group, The CompanY, under the musical direction of Ryan Cayabyab.
For sure, we will love her more as a live performer and a gifted artist when we watch Celeste Legaspi on August 5 at The Theatre at Solaire.
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