By Ruben V. Nepales
Charmaine Clamor, America’s leading Pinay jazz vocalist, joins Cyndi Lauper, Natalie Merchant, Tori Amos and other singers in David Byrne’s “Here Lies Love,” a musical dramatization of Imelda Marcos’ life.
Charmaine is the only Filipino artist in the double-CD project of David, who was inducted, as part of the Talking Heads, into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002. David has won Golden Globes and Academy awards for his music.
Charmaine, acclaimed “jazzipino” exponent, sings the track “Walk Like A Woman” in David’s collaboration with Fatboy Slim (British DJ and recording artist) on the former First Lady.
The song cycle is described in David’s website, thus: “Through a series of songs written by David Byrne, with musical contributions from Fatboy Slim (Norman Cook), “Songs from Here Lies Love” presents Imelda Marcos meditating on events in her life, from her childhood spent in poverty and her rise to power to her ultimate departure from the Palace. In particular, the production looks at the relationship between Imelda and a servant from her childhood, Estrella Cumpas, who appeared at key moments in Imelda’s life.”
The project was performed live twice as a work-in-progress at Carnegie Hall in New York (2007) and at the Ridley Centre in Adelaide, Australia (2006) with Joan Almedilla and Dana Diaz-Tutaan, respectively, doing the Imelda vocals.
Now, the two-CD incarnation, which comes with a lavish booklet and six videos of songs and historical footage from the Philippines, will be released in April by Todomundo/Nonesuch Records.
“I’m thrilled to be in the company of these wonderful female vocalists,” the LA-based Charmaine told us via e-mail from the Philippines, where she is scheduled to do a series of gigs. Aside from Lauper, Merchant (as Estrella) and Amos, the CD also features B-52’s Kate Pierson; Martha Wainwright (she sings “The Rose of Tacloban”); Nellie McKay; Roisin Murphy and other chanteuses. Steve Earle (as Ferdinand Marcos) and David likewise contribute vocals on a couple of tracks.
In the Philippines, Charmaine released an album, “Jazzipino,” on the Viva Records label. In the US, she has three albums which have been embraced by jazz and world music critics. Below are excerpts of our interview with the trailblazing singer who grew up in Zambales:
How did the offer to sing a track on “Here Lies Love” come about?
In 2007, I was doing my annual appearance at the Iridium Jazz Club in Manhattan. Unknown to me, there was a scout in the audience for Nonesuch Records, David Byrne’s record label. During this show, I sang my “jazzipino” version of “Dahil Sa Iyo,” a well-known Imelda Marcos favorite. At the end of the night, the scout introduced himself and informed me of an “Imelda Marcos project” that David Byrne was developing. The scout said I was perfect for the project, and that he would recommend me to Mr. Byrne. A few days later, Mr. Byrne’s manager contacted my manager, Michael, and offered a contract—no audition! Mr. Byrne listened to my music on my website, and decided he wanted me on his record.
How was your first meeting with David?
I didn’t meet him until the day of recording. He flew from New York to oversee the session at a studio in Silver Lake in LA. I was a little nervous meeting this eclectic and brilliant artist whom I admired. But he immediately put me at ease with his easygoing and friendly manner. He said he was intrigued by the story of Imelda, what power had done to her mind. He was especially fascinated by Imelda’s relationship with her nanny-servant, Estrella Cumpas. After visiting the Philippines and doing research for the project, Mr. Byrne amassed quite a lot of information about the life of the Marcoses.
Did David give you recordings of the initial productions for you to listen to?
He sent me a “scratch” audio recording of the entire project. I was impressed with the catchy melodies, and more so with the historical accuracy of the lyrics. This is a serious psychological study of a complex and flawed character whose delusions affected many innocent people. No, the shoes are never mentioned.
What is “Walk Like A Woman,” about?
“Walk Like A Woman” is about Imelda wanting to learn how to impress, how to be a socialite in order to win the attention, full acceptance and love of Ferdinand Marcos. My song is the first number of “Act Two” of the theater piece under development.
Can you talk about being the only Filipino singer in the album?
I am surprised and honored to be not just the only Filipino, but also as someone who lived under Martial Law. I’m thrilled to be in the company of these wonderful female vocalists. This is my first foray into the American pop scene.
You’re in the Philippines now to participate again in the annual Philippine International JazzFest.
Performing for my kababayans in my motherland is always a thrill. This is actually my third appearance at the PIJazzFest. However, I’m especially excited about this one because it’s the first time I’ll be playing in the Philippines with my touring American rhythm section of Dominic Thiroux on bass and Abe Lagrimas on drums. We’ll be doing several concerts throughout the festival, at places like Greenbelt and the Ayala Museum. But I’m most looking forward to the closing night (Feb. 28) at the Sofitel, where I’m fronting for the legendary fusion group, Yellowjackets.
When you return to the United States, you will be putting finishing touches on your next American album. How is this shaping up?
This album is a strong testament to my development as an artist. I’m really going into new territory. The album is jazz, pop, world, blues, funk, samba, swing and “jazzipino.” It’s got horns, organ and kulintang. It’s me! Altogether, it’s pretty good!
Any other interesting developments?
I’ve been blessed with many interesting bookings in 2010—Alaska, Hawaii, Oregon, Canada … I’ve been chosen to close the 2nd Asian American Music Festival in Los Angeles in October, as part of an incredible lineup of Asian artists from all over the world.