Friday, 14 July 2017

Behind the Scenes at the Edmonton Filipino Fiesta

 The Filipino community saw another successful Edmonton Filipino Fiesta last June 9-11, 2017 at the downtown Churchill Square. This is the second year of organizing for a valiant group of individuals comprised of: Tony Santiago (head of the Organizing Committee); Herald Casana (Logistics); Ida Beltran-Lucila (Program & Entertainment); Jojo Lucila (Parade); Mila Bongco-Philipzig (Family Zone and Canada150 mural); Jeanette Dotimas (Communications); Carlos Lorena (Finance); Ariel Pascual (Volunteers & Security); Warren Duclan, Albert Rosana and Hermo Pagtakhan.

The idea of an Edmonton Filipino Fiesta started with a question, in typical battle of Alberta fashion, “Why does Calgary have a fiesta when  Edmonton, the capital of Alberta, does not?” And so this group worked, step by step, learning as we went on the “City of Edmonton Events 101”. In each meeting we would talk about our vision, plans, and end the meeting feeling daunted with the tasks at hand. Having started the planning in March 2016 with a considerable tight timeline for a June event, we would end the evening agreeing to think over our plans and return with a decision on whether we would actually push through with the event or not. We would then assemble after a week or two, go through the same cycle of being caught up in the excitement and frenzy, until it was impossible to back out at all. In the most stressful times, we would ask each other, “Why are we doing this again?” This roller coaster ride for two years, however, was marked with humour, respect, determination and hard work.

The vision for the Fiesta was a Filipino celebration that is inclusive, diverse in its offerings and demographics, and accessible. The Program (which I can personally talk about) was conceived as an avenue for both established and aspiring performers. The acts are unscreened, uncensored and non-hierarchical. Everyone is given a chance - as long as you’re Filipino, of Filipino-descent, or a non-Filipino but working on a Philippine medium or form of art. The goal is to bring the Filipino artists together - be aware and appreciate each other’s presence, talent and work, and hopefully, lead to further collaborations.
In the two years of the Fiesta, I’ve seen: artists go to international competitions and win; a singer performer during the first year of the Fiesta come back on the second year with a children’s choir he has established; a resurgence of younger performers; new performers on the first year returning with a more polished performance the succeeding year; artists meeting up during the planning stages and end up doing joint acts; and performance gigs being offered. And there are still more untapped Filipino talent. The Open Mic section alone saw additional Filipino talents that were not even on my radar.
These attest that arts within the Filipino community is thriving, and needs to be nurtured and kept vibrant. And this is also my personal advocacy, and the reason why I enjoy working on this project - to be instrumental in bringing the Filipino artistic community together, in providing an avenue to showcase their artistry, and for some, provide some form of mentorship. These are also what artists and altruistic people realize when they volunteer their time and work. That through these efforts in building a community, the intangible benefits reaped outweigh any, or the lack of, monetary compensation.
And this is why, despite offers to bring in pop artists from the Philippines, it was a conscious decision that, even if we had the financial resources to cover the cost of importing pop artists, that we would concentrate and invest the resources to local artists and develop on the grassroots level. There was a defining moment this year, with one of the performers who was in both years’ Fiesta. We were backstage and she was looking around at the performers and the crowd. Then she says to me, “I can now see what you are trying to do.” What she saw were the enthusiasm of emerging artists, a growing circle of Filipino performers, and the development of an audience for them. Yes, it definitely feels good when someone gets it.

However, whatever headway the organizers have achieved in the past years, the state of future Fiestas is tentative. First off is the logistical question of where it will be held, what with the LRT construction downtown next year. But more importantly, is the subject of sustaining the human and financial resources required in the organization of the Fiesta. Because the reality of it is that the organizers are all volunteers and life sometimes imposes itself and takes over. And contrary to what others may think, the Fiesta does not earn money for the organizers. These are just my personal thoughts, and not representative of the organizers as a whole. And so with this in mind, this is in a way, a paean to my fellow organizers, who simply loved to have a good party, rolled with a good idea and met the challenges head on and with composure. So here's a toast to a job well done and hopefully, to a less nerve wracking future Fiesta!

This article was published in the July 2017 issue of the Alberta Filipino Journal.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

The Phoenix Rises in Dale Urnos

I love stories of personal talent and achievement. But add to that a story of survival and overcoming struggles, I am overwhelmed. Such is the story of Dale James Urnos, chef, and most importantly, a fruit and vegetable carver, in Edmonton.

Married to wife Geraldine and blessed with 3 children, Dale has been a chef for 12 years. His early working years though did not foretell a career in the culinary industry. His career pathway was directed by the money trail. Dale was studying electrical engineering but had to quit due to financial reasons. As a then working student, he was the caregiver and financial provider for his father’s dialysis treatment until his death. He worked in construction, at fast food outlets for McDonald’s and Domino’s and as a jeepney driver. Later he ventured to look for employment in Dubai, and worked in a restaurant, which started his journey as chef. Rising through the kitchen hierarchy, this later lead to contracts as a chef to the Bermuda Islands in 2007 and finally, in an effort to bring his family together, to Canada in 2010.

In all of these, Dale had always the challenge of overcoming the obstacle of a lack of formal education and certification for his jobs. He compensated through hands-on training, personal research and development, perseverance and the humility to work in lesser than ideal situations in order to be able to prove himself and eventually work himself up the ranks.

Good things happen to good people. Despite all his hardships, there are pockets of good fortune and memorable moments in his life which cement the belief that a higher hand is at play with his life. These circumstances would include: being in the right place at the right time for higher employment; training the children of Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones the art of pizza-making; a co-worker surprising him by paying for his airfare to the Philippines; and an employer delaying downsizing business until he and his family received their permanent residency.

In the same pattern as most of the pivotal moments in his life happened by chance, his venture in fruit and vegetable carving was born out of a sense of isolation. Arriving in Canada in the height of winter, unprepared for the cold, and alone, Dale hunkered down and whiled away his time carving fruits and vegetables. Recalling how a previous Thai co-worker would do his centrepieces and watching Youtube tutorial videos, his single carrot roses garnered so much attention from co-workers, customers and friends, that these became regular table centre pieces and gradually grew in magnitude and complexity. Due to word of mouth and Facebook posts, he receives requests for personalized centrepieces and giveaways for special occasions, i.e. a wedding cake made of fruit for a bride unable to eat cake. All of these he does gratis and views as his way of paying forward. He donates his works to fundraisers and silent auctions. Check out his Facebook page to see just how amazing his creations are. He constantly pushes himself by working on different designs and experimenting with different mediums. When he is produce shopping, he not only thinks of flavors and recipes but shapes and textures, and potential art creation. His favorite symbol is the eagle which is obviously a symbol for his soaring dreams.

Dale now works as Head Chef at the Pineridge Golf Resort. He is part of the Canadian Culinary Federation of Chefs and Cooks (CCFCC), and is one of the board members of the Philippine Culinary Federation of Canada (PCFC). The PCFC is an association of Filipino chefs geared towards establishing camaraderie amongst Filipino chefs, assisting in fundraisers and providing hands-on training, mentoring, workshops and uniforms for aspiring chefs, and providing scholarships in the Philippines. This advocacy stems from the intention of making the path easier for aspiring chefs and sharing the lessons from his hardships - try and try until you succeed; practice until you master it; the true test of the chef is the love and passion for cooking; there is always room for improvement and never be afraid to take new challenges; always take a step forward but keep your feet on the ground; learn to accept advice and ideas from fellow chefs and even critics because you cannot please everybody; and most of all, work hard in silence and let your success be your noise.

Dale’s life story, many aspects of which I have not even touched on, is as melodramatic as a soap opera. Life can indeed be stranger than fiction, as they say. However, it reflects a person who has a strong sense of responsibility and loyalty, perseverance, humility, and generosity. He is the kind of person who readily switched his own salary with another Filipino entry level co-worker to help him settle in Edmonton. It seems too good to be true. But skepticism aside, the world is a lot better with people like him. More importantly, this is a story of redemption, where “our passions are the true phoenixes; when the old one is burnt out, a new one rises from the ashes” (Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe).

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Sunday, 14 May 2017

The Fiesta in Philippine Culture

Edmonton Filipino Fiesta
Fiesta is a Spanish and Latin word for a festive celebration of a religious holiday. In modern times, it connotes a feast, a holiday or a carnival. The Philippine culture is marked with various fiestas, both pagan and Christian in origin. These fiestas may commemorate a moment in history, the feast of a patron saint, or celebrate a bountiful harvest. The fiestas are so spread out in time and geography that it is virtually impossible to participate or witness them all. In fact, the Manila Broadcasting Company has organized the Aliwan Fiesta, an annual event that gathers the different cultural festivals, as a one-stop showcase not only to the people in Metro Manila, but as an attraction to those abroad.
Before the arrival of the Spanish colonizers, the Filipinos were already engaged in mystical beliefs, worshipping and appeasing gods believed to control their family, livelihood, prosperity, health and their safety.
Fiesta in Toronto
The Spanish colonizers, especially the friars, used the fiesta in converting the pagan Filipinos into Christianity. The processions, festivities, music and pomp, would lure the “natives” from the remote fields, into the “plaza” or centre of the town. Instead of outlawing the pagan celebrations, the dances and rituals were altered as offerings to the saints.
In these modern times, the fiestas may be used to promote economic, political or tourism objectives. But with every Filipino, it is a social time, a time for fellowship, and a holiday. Although most fiestas originated as religious events, it has become secondary to the general spirit of celebration.
Fiesta in Sacramento
Components of Filipino fiestas are banderitas (small flags), endless or continuous eating, processions, parades, dances, entertainment programs, religious or cultural rituals, trade fairs, pageants, games and contests and holy mass. Filipinos are known for their hospitality and there is no better avenue to showcase this than during a fiesta. One can be in a fiesta and partake in meals in several houses in one street!
Much like the fiestas organized by the early Spanish missionaries who were homesick, and flavored the festivities with practices back home, anywhere in the globe where there is a strong Filipino community, some form of fiesta has been celebrated. Go through any social media newsfeed and you will find Filipino fiestas held in North America, United Arab Emirates, Australia, and Europe. In Edmonton alone, there have been several events on patron saint’s feast days and regional festivals. Because as diverse as the Filipinos are in geography and ethnolinguistics, it is the fiesta that unifies us all. With its atmosphere of revelry and pageantry, the fiesta embodies what we crave for and aim to sustain - the invitation to connect, celebrate, and affirm the Filipino life and culture.
Fiesta in Honolulu
To quote Florentino H. Hornedo in his book Culture and Community in the Philippine Fiesta and Other Celebrations, the fiesta is rooted in the communitarian and expressive instincts of human nature, is a durable venue for Filipino culture and expressions, and is a symbol of Filipino sense of community as they struggle against modernization, involving individuals in their community. It serves as a cultural anchor, whereby the fiesta recreates for the Filipino a sense of being home, renewing his identity, and sense of belonging to a home and familial village.
Fiesta in Australia
History has shown how the fiestas serve as a tool for varying purposes. The Filipino fiesta in today’s context, especially abroad, is whatever we, as a Filipino, make of it. We shape it based on how we view our Filipino-ness and how we want it to be perceived and celebrated in the society or community we live in. It is a reflection of who we are in that point of time and location. It an event by the Filipino community, for the Filipino community and secondary to the other people in whatever foreign place the Filipino may be.
Edmonton will be having its own Edmonton Filipino Fiesta on June 9-11, 2017 at the Sir Winston Churchill Square. For more information, go to or

This article was published in the May 2017 issue of the Alberta Filipino Journal.

Friday, 14 April 2017

Bethany Briones: an Exemplar in Education

The Edwin Parr Teacher Award was established in 1964 by the Alberta School Trustees’ Association. This award is presented annually to a first-year teacher who exemplifies dedication to students, as exemplified by Edwin Parr, an educator and community leader. Each education zone in Alberta brings forward their own representative, and for this year, Edmonton Public Schools (EPSB) has selected, out of four first year EPSB teacher finalists, Bethany Briones.

Bethany is a Grade 1 teacher at Ormsby School. She is cited by senior administration as a teacher who strives to provide the best possible learning environment and experience for their students, developing strategies that can be adapted to meet all of the learning levels and styles in the classroom. What is distinct with Bethany is her use of art and music when adapting to students’ learning styles - the use of visual, auditory and kinesthetic learning. She incorporates music into her classroom routines & leads the class in a morning song which offers a special time to showcase each student and their gifts. She took a leadership role with the school’s music program - organizing the handbell choir and leading them in performances. She has also accompanied the choir on the piano, inspiring students to learn the piano, and eventually offering free after-school piano lessons to disadvantaged students.

Bethany is the daughter of Paul and Maria Allen Briones. We have known this family since our first year in Canada more than a decade ago. When we established our dance company, Chameleon Dance Edmonton, Bethany was one of our original dancers. She was the youngest and probably the gutsiest. She had no qualms and no inhibitions traversing unknown territory and the discipline we demanded on our dancers. As I got to know her, I realize that this is her pattern and approach to all her challenges and adventures.
Edmonton Public Schools Awarding

Bethany is a dutiful daughter. It was due to her parents’ prodding that she studied piano at the age of 5, and later on, guitar lessons and dance classes with Chameleon. She was also active in school sports, leadership activities, volunteer work and church activities. In all these endeavours, she would throw herself 100%, challenged into overcoming difficulties, and recognizing that one can achieve anything with determination and hard work. She was awarded the Superintendent’s Award in Gr. 9 and a Rotary scholarship in Gr. 12.

Bethany’s servant leadership revolves around education and the church. Even as a young girl, she had always wanted to be a teacher, working with children and being instrumental in providing them a better life and opportunities for growth. She recognizes the importance of a good foundation brought about by a strong family unit and faith in God, as exemplified by her own family. She also acknowledges that not everyone is fortunate enough to have this. It is interesting to note that, even though Bethany dabbled into the arts as a form of recreation, and she does not consider herself first and foremost an artist, her distinct mode of service and giving back is music and dance. As she had found enjoyment and life lessons on discipline with piano and dance, she shared these when she assisted school and church choir and band performances, and choreographed the school musical as a student. Now as a teacher, she is providing students who would have no way of affording piano lessons, a safe space, an alternative form of expression and recreation, and inspiration and motivation to achieve more. She has shown leadership and initiative by partnering with Alberta Music Education Foundation in providing keyboards to her students.

Bethany with her parents, Paul and Allen Briones
Bethany is just on her first-year of teaching and has shown compassionate and enthusiastic leadership. One that is honed by strong family love and support, divine faith and a quest to make life better for herself and for others. Whether or not she is handed the Edwin Parr Award later this year, she is an exemplar as a daughter, a student and a teacher. Ever heard the phrase that one lives up to the meaning of one’s name? I looked up the meaning of Bethany and came up with “house of song” and “daughter of the Lord”.

This article was published in the April 2017 issue of the Alberta Filipino Journal.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Proud Luisa: Love’s Got Everything to Do With It

A read-through of Luisa Marshall’s write-up will leave anyone awestruck with her stunning success. What is more impressive, however, is the underneath driving factors of love, humility, strive for excellence that propels her to expand her boundaries.
Luisa’s story starts with a childhood dream of being an actress, performing in various musical productions. Her singing has allowed her to travel to different countries and the decision to be a permanent resident in Canada in the early 1990s. She carries the immigrant story of sacrificing for the family, of homesickness and of the resolve to acquire and lead a better life. In all her trials and eventual successes, her philosophy is “to live life, love life to the fullest. To be compassionate and have moral responsibility to help others. To give back to Canada and to empower immigrants to be productive, to work hard and to follow their dream”.

Luisa Marshall is a Renaissance woman - singer, TV host, producer, publisher, advocate, wife, mother (not in any order of importance). As a singer, Luisa performed with the popular Manila band Ambivalent Crowd. She then went on tour as lead vocalist for Hall of Fame throughout Asia, the Middle East and North America. It was in one of this tours that a random act of donning a Tina Turner wig while doing a cover of Proud Mary, that her entertaining circuit turned a cornerstone. With her strong vocals and a resemblance to Tina Turner, the tribute artist act became another vehicle for her talent. This was capped by garnering the Grand Prize at the World Rock n Roll Tribute Artist Championship in 2003. Highlights of her tribute artist stint are guestings at the Ellen Degeneres show and Oprah Winfrey Show - performing in front of Cher and Tina Turner herself (!), and portraying the role of Tina Turner in the stage musical “TINA, A Rock n Roll Journey” in 2006.

Based in Vancouver, Luisa hosts her own tv talk show Simply the Best, which is now on its 8th year, in the Shaw Multicultural Channel. Together with husband Steve Marshall, they publish the MetroVan Independent News. The tv show, the Tina Turner tribute shows and their newspaper are the platforms for her advocacies. The tv magazine format allows her to inspire people through lifestyle, health, and self-empowerment features. The newspaper is a voice for accountability, societal equity and information. And the Tina Turner tribute shows serve as a medium to bring joy, to raise funds, and to increase awareness for different causes. Her tribute shows has seen her in tours for the United Nations Peacekeeping Force which included war-torn Bosnia and Sarajevo, and for the Multinational Force and Observers in Israel and Egypt; fundraisers for calamities in the Philippines, Haiti, United Way, Red Cross, Cancer Societies, among others.
Unsurprisingly, she has received accolades, recognition and rave reviews from both ends of the world: voted as one of RBC’s Top 25 Canadian Immigrants alongside two time NBA MVP Steve Nash (2013), which she considers as one of the most defining moments in her life; a feature in “My Filipino Connection, The Philippines in Hollywood”, authored by Ruben V. Nepales, Chairman of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (2012); the MIDES Award 2011 (Mother Ignacia Del Espiritu Santo) given by the Gracean Worldwide Inc. in Las Vegas; the Gantimpala Award by the University of Santo Tomas (2010), among others.
With her various undertakings, family supersedes everything else. Luisa considers herself first and foremost a mother to their two daughters, Kimi (a musician, songwriter, and arts director) and Zenia (actor, singer, songwriter). It is a mutual admiration club - she gets her inspiration from their love and they think the world of her. She is their superhero, the inspiration and exemplar, and the best cook. Her husband Steve, whom she teasingly refers to as “the biggest slave of all”, is her anchor, allowing her the space and time to spread her wings, at the same time grounding her amidst all the whirlwind of activities and stress. They are a family truly involved in each other’s lives. Last year, the family went on a performance road tour across Canada to raise funds and awareness for Canadian military Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. Encountering the beauty of Canada while simultaneously raising about $30,000 was a truly bonding experience for them.

Amidst these heady achievements and worldly accolades, Luisa retains a philosophical and humble disposition. In the bustle of all her activities, she strives to live in the moment, stay positive, and be grateful. To quote her, “Once you have a grateful heart, you have a happy heart! With a happy heart you can do wonders and it’s sometimes surprisingly magical how you can make a difference to others. We can all do this by dedicating our life to a cause, a goal, a dream.

Luisa will be performing her Tina Turner Tribute show in Edmonton on April 29, Saturday, 7:00 pm at the Howard Johnson Hotel. Tickets are available through Brenda Kaminsky Entertainment Productions at 780-964-2513. When you watch her show, you don’t just experience a full evening of delight and talent, but also celebrate everything she stands for - a Filipino, a renowned artist, an exemplar, a crusader, and an enthusiast of life.

Asked on what is the utmost lesson that she wants to impart, she replies: “Never be afraid to dream and to live the dream. Be wacky, be impossible, be different, be cool, be weird, be who you are! But make sure you are realistic and level-headed going for your dream. Always make careful plans and reasonable steps to get there without causing misery to others... That love is greater than money. That love for one’s self motivates more productivity that ignites the spirit within. That nobody’s perfect but you can work hard to be the best you can. That respect, gratefulness and compassion are important. But, most of all, be humble!”

Luisa’s turning points in life have been propelled by love - love for her singing, her family, and for service. And as the saying goes, love indeed makes the world go round. Such is the case with Luisa, and she has done it with grace and magnanimity. Be proud of yourself, Luisa, as anyone who knows you and meets you is, or will be, proud of you.

This article was published in the March 2017 issue of the Alberta Filipino Journal.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Cynthia Hicks - a life in the theatre, the theatre as the life

Cynthia Hicks is one of those people who one can say was born to be in the theatre. She jokes about starting her dance career while still in her mother’s womb. Mom is Maria “Nanette” Hicks, who was the co-founder of Philippine Barangay Performing Arts Society, and Dad is Graham Hicks, writer and former columnist at Edmonton Sun.

Cynthia’s childhood was steeped into dance - Philippine folk dance, highlands, ballet, jazz and tap. She then discovered drama classes via the Citadel Theatre School, eventually taking over her older sister’s role in the Christmas Carol at age 8, and then moving to the Edmonton Opera’s production of South Pacific. She remembers having so much fun at the theatre and being treated so well by other actors that she naturally kept on performing - in dance and musical theatre all the way to junior high, an opera production in the summer for the Fringe festival, and eventually challenging family tradition with her desire to study high school at the Victoria School for Performing Arts.
as Maid Marian in Robin Hood

It was during this time, her Grade 10 year, that my husband Jojo and I worked with Cynthia. She joined our dance company, the Chameleon Dance Edmonton, in our performances at the Aberdeen International Youth Festival in Scotland. At this time, aside from Chameleon, which had already a rather rigorous training and rehearsal schedule, Cynthia was also committed to Philippine Barangay, mostly as leader and choreographer, and the St. Albert Musical Theatre. I remember her rushing from one rehearsal to another. No matter how much I wanted to shake my head with what I then regarded as her “suicidal and masochistic” artistic tendencies, I couldn’t help but commend her for her dedication, enthusiasm and persistence. Cynthia as a dancer was like a sponge and clay - having the capacity to absorb corrections,  and the malleability for our coaching. As one who has grown in the theatre, her approach to her art was and is intelligent and respectful.

Cynthia as dancer
At Grade 11, she joined the Citadel Theatre Young Musical Company. It was at this point, constantly surrounded by like-minded individuals, and having acting, directing & dancing included in her daily curriculum and after-school activities, did she consider theatre school for post secondary studies. After high school, she spent a year at the University of Alberta, applied for six theatre schools across Canada, and got accepted in all six. No mean feat. She elected to go to the National Theatre School in Montreal, which was such a pipe dream in the first place, and graduated in 2015. In between all these, she underwent training at the Performing Arts Project at North Carolina, the Banff Centre Musical Theatre Intensive, and the Broadway Theatre Project in Florida.

Based now in Toronto, Cynthia’s life consists of the valleys and peaks of an actor’s life - endless auditions, back to back bookings, indeterminate lulls. It is exciting in that it is unpredictable, varied, nomadic and competitive - the exact same traits that one may hate about it. She has done commercials, workshopped plays, performed in a pantomime musical, works in a restaurant and babysits during lean months, and is the General Manager of Hataw, a Philippine fusion dance company in Toronto. In the immediate future, a web series and a tour production are lined up.
Caucasian Chalk Circle at the National Theatre School

Cynthia has a very strong sense of community and civic commitment, which she says is her Mom’s big influence. Since her 16th birthday, she has been doing personal fundraisers to benefit orphanages in the Philippines, requesting for donations in lieu of gifts. She
dreams of eventually going back to school for an Education degree, and teaching drama at Victoria School as a way of paying back; to write a play and be an advocate for stories that are not told enough; and to build a community of minority artists, people who are trailblazers and breaking barriers in their art, in Edmonton. The passion is gradually turning into a vocation.

Child Cynthia with 2 older siblings
I like keeping tabs on all our dancers. I hope that they live their dreams and especially for those who are instill into the arts or theatre, I worry when or if they live a precarious and "starving" artist's life. I reflect on what I know about Cynthia and I see images of someone finding a calling at a young age, propped up by a supportive family; a determined and hardworking girl who will stop at nothing to achieve her goal - availing of every possible grant, bursary, scholarship, training program, working odd jobs to save money; smart and introspective using her art experiences and work to unravel her layers as a person; and courageous in following her bliss. Cynthia has dedicated her life to her art and lives her life through her art. It is one rollercoaster ride where she revels in all it has to offer. Oh yes, Cynthia Hicks knows how to live her life and at the very least, she will just be alright. To quote John Wooden, "Things work out best for those who make the best of the way things work out."

This article was published in the February 2017 issue of the Alberta Filipino Journal.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Emerging Artist Series: Young Morrie

Apart from opportunities to work and collaborate with established artists, one of the satisfying moments in an arts career is taking note of emerging artists and following their career trajectory. Admittedly, some of those I’ve observed did indeed soar to dizzying heights, and some have crawled to frustration and oblivion. As someone who has gone through the artist’s ups and downs, I always harbor high hopes for an emerging artist. And one such fellow is rap artist Young Morrie.

Young Morrie is Ralph Giralao in real life, 25 years old, born in General Santos in the Philippines, and was on his third year of nursing studies when his family moved to Edmonton five years ago. And like any young man eager to claim independence in a foreign adopted country, he worked different jobs mostly in the food and entertainment service industry.

As a young child, Ralph remembers accompanying his father to the video rental store and seeing a drum set in the store next door. And because he was still too small to play that particular drum set, his father started him on piano lessons instead. He would later train himself on drums by observing and imitating other drummers, using the couch and whatever was handy at home as his drums. His love for music was established during his elementary years - performing with school bands and composing his first song in Grade 5. The band gigs and song writing would continue up to his adult years. His favorite music artists and influences would include Eminem, Andrew E, Blink 182, Bamboo, Salbakuta, Kawago, Story of the Year, Snoop Dogg, and Powerspoonz.

In Canada, he looked for a band to join but for some reason, it just did not pan out. This lead him to a period of frustration, desiring for an outlet for his music. Being an introvert, music was his way of connecting with people. This period also lead him to a period of introspection, of self-discovery, and a mature way of looking at life. He saw the inability to join a band as the universe’s way of telling him that he just might need to go in another direction. He thought, “If I can’t find a band, why not use my music writing myself?” Fortuitously, at work, where he has the habit of singing/rapping out his latest beats, a co-worker encouraged him to come up with a mixed tape. This was when Ralph decided to use the stage name Young Morrie, inspired by Mitch Albom’s book Tuesdays with Morrie. The emergence of Young Morrie was in August 2015. Since then, he would record and upload his music, and perform during Open Mic nights at Tavern on Whyte.

I first came into contact with Young Morrie through the Edmonton Filipino Fiesta last June 2016, where he was one of the performers for the Entertainment Program, of which I was the organizer. He then struck me as a very easy person to talk to, respectful and at the same time intense. He was one of the few performers in the Fiesta who sang original works, instead of doing covers. To date, he has a total of 25 compositions, 14 of which still need to be recorded. Among those recorded and available in the Young Morrie YouTube channel, Facebook page and iTunes are: In It, Get the Money, After 5, Blue Wave, Moment with You, High, Question Air, I’m Sorry, Drive, Hold on Tight, among others. His album was produced by Juno-nominated, Western Canadian Music awardee, and Canadian Independent Music awardee, Mr. Sandro Dominelli. Based on public feedback during the Fiesta, Young Morrie was one of the favorite performances.

Since then, we’ve been in touch through social media - listening to his new music, providing feedback when solicited and keeping up with his various guestings. I am struck by the contrast in persona of the Young Morrie and Ralph Giralao. Whereas Young Morrie comes across in performances as the confident, ready to face the world and its challenges, young man, Ralph on the other hand, portrays the typical young artist treading on career insecurities, obstacles and wistfulness of one yearning for validation and recognition. His dialogue in our conversation vacillates from a determination of living out the dream, to the practicalities - facing the realities and hardships of life. He counters this conflict by inspiring and motivating himself through his favorite books: Tuesdays with Morrie, Steal Like an Artist, Awaken the Giant Within, and Relentless.

The music of Young Morrie is a snapshot in time of Ralph Giralao’s life. Music is Ralph’s way of verbalizing and expressing his thoughts and feelings, and once it’s out there, causes him to reflect and understand his behaviour and dreams. It is admirable when someone makes himself vulnerable, opening one’s heart and mind. He is focused in being true to himself and in living life to the fullest - essential lessons and guiding principles learned from Tuesdays with Morrie. I am glad that Ralph has the Young Morrie alter ego to channel and harness his aspirations. In this quest, how can one not hope but only for the best for him in all his endeavours? For Ralph Giralao/Young Morrie, music is his journey. With or without fame and fortune, I wish for him an awesome and extremely fulfilling ride.

For all artists, both the established and especially the emerging ones, a rapport with the audience is essential, and a validation of your work. Go check out his music and connect with him through the Young Morrie YouTube channels, Facebook page and better yet, purchase them through iTunes.

This article was published in the January 2017 issue of the Alberta Filipino Journal.