Lea Sa­longa on the im­por­tance of putting her whole heart right to where it re­ally mat­ters.

Pho­tographed by Sara Black. In­ter­viewed by Niña Luigi Chua- Cabardo

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Watch­ing world-renowned singer and thes­pian Lea Sa­longa per­form is an emo­tional ex­pe­ri­ence. Her pitch-per­fect, crys­tal clear singing voice awak­ens some­thing true and pure in­side the heart of the lis­tener, yet the re­sult is calm­ing and sooth­ing to the soul. From the time she started un­til now, and hav­ing played the lead roles in mu­si­cals such as the epony­mous An­nie, Kim in Mis­sSaigon, Epo­nine in LésMis­er­ables, to her re­cent role as Griz­z­abella in CATSTheMu­si­cal– Lea's per­form­ing sen­si­bil­i­ties never fail to reach out to her au­di­ence. And the mere men­tion of her name makes ev­ery Filipino's heart swell with pride.

Af­ter mark­ing dif­fer­ent milestones in her life, Lea's proud­est mo­ment was when she be­came a mom to Ni­cole Bev­erly, her daugh­ter with hus­band Rob Chien. And she takes on mother­hood with more love than any role she has played on­stage. Lea opens up to Ur­ban Liv­ing about her Ilonggo back­ground, her own ex­pe­ri­ences of rais­ing her daugh­ter and keep­ing up with the de­mands of her work.

Tell us about your Ilonggo back­ground.

I've only been to Ba­colod twice, Iloilo once. But of course my mom is Ilongga. I guess her cul­ture is pretty much preva­lent in how she speaks, and in how she treats peo­ple. Also in how she cooks adobo—fried the next day. And that's the way I like it. Ilong­gos are known to be malamb­ing. My mom has her mo­ments (laughs). But yeah, for the most part, she's very af­fec­tion­ate, es­pe­cially with my daugh­ter. You know she's very, very gen­er­ous. Pu­song ma­mon. Out­side she's very, very tough but in­side, any lit­tle thing can make her cry.

Is that also how you are?

Hmm…I'm a lit­tle more tough. It takes a lot [to make me cry] I think. But that said, if let's say, there's a com­mer­cial that's shot in a cer­tain way…that's it, the wa­ter would turn on. I have my own but­tons. And some­times I'm sur­prised at what pushes them.

How of­ten do you go to Ba­colod?

The whole fam­ily goes with me for shows. My brother Ger­ard [comes with me] since he's the mu­si­cal di­rec­tor. My mom comes be­cause we have so many rel­a­tives in the area who want her to come and visit. I bring my daugh­ter, and some­times Ger­ard brings his chil­dren. So it be­comes a fam­ily af­fair. And Ger­ard's wife comes too be­cause she's in the orches­tra. My hus­band also comes since Ba­colod is part of the coun­try he hasn't seen be­fore. So we'll all go. Ev­ery­one works to­gether, and ev­ery­one gets to play to­gether too. For me, I'm far more strin­gent with how much re­cre­ation time I get, or al­low my­self to have, be­cause of my voice, be­cause of it be­ing sen­si­tive. So when I go for a show, it's work, vis­it­ing fam­ily, and al­ways with a lot of eat­ing. Which is why I'm not that skinny (laughs)!

I think you just

have to open your­self up to life and liv­ing... Open your mind and heart.

What are the things that you en­joy in Ba­colod?

First of all, I en­joy the air­port be­cause it's so nice. It's very ob­vi­ous that they put some love and care into it. They don't do that ev­ery­where here [in the Philip­pines]. I en­joy Ilonggo food such as Kadyos (a dish made of Kadyos or cow­peas, broiled pork, langka and greened with kamote leaves), fried adobo, and Chicken Inasal. There was one night in Ba­colod where our host took us to Manukan County where we tried the Chicken Inasal. And there was gar­lic rice, and some guys were hav­ing beer. We all smelled like smoke. It was my first time there. It was su­per, it was sooo sarap! We didn't want to stop eat­ing. We were full but I wanted to eat some more. I was with Rob and he loved it.

Be­ing raised by a malamb­ing, but tough mom like yours, how did you trans­late that to your own brand of mother­hood?

My mom was there 24/7. We were her “job.” My work re­quires a lot of travel. Which means I'm away from her [Ni­cole] for two, three weeks at a time. She [my mom] would say, “Don't be away na­man from your daugh­ter too long! One day, she won't know na who you are.” I'm like, “I don't think so.” When I'm away from her [Ni­cole] for a cer­tain amount of time, I make sure it's no longer than a month. I think my brand of lamb­ing is dif­fer­ent from my mom's. Ac­cord­ing to my brother, I'm more able to step back. My per­son­al­ity is more like my fa­ther's. He's the type of guy that even if the whole world is fall­ing apart, he can still get a good night's sleep. That kind of “nothing­could-stress-me” mind­set.

How are you as a mom?

Ni­cole's per­son­al­ity is ac­tu­ally very strong. And she likes be­ing in­de­pen­dent and do­ing things her­self, even if she's not go­ing to suc­ceed. And some­times you feel, “Oh my God, I have to help her be­cause you know, kawawa na­man'yung­bata. But then, what I've learned to do is sit on my hands and watch, and not to in­ter­vene. Like she would say, “Mommy, I want to do it my­self.” I'll say, “Okay. If you need help, let me know.”

There are a lot of artists from Ba­colod: Kuh Ledesma, Peque Gal­laga, etc. Would you think the Ba­colod cul­ture would be con­ducive to an artist's de­vel­op­ment?

I ac­tu­ally don't know. Be­cause my mom's old­est sis­ter, who's prob­a­bly “more Ilonggo” since she's older and more “steeped” in the cul­ture and more of a wit­ness to my grand­fa­ther's po­lit­i­cal ca­reer (Lea's grand­fa­ther Leo Imu­tan, was once Vice Mayor of Pulu­pan­dan, Ne­gros Oc­ci­den­tal). A lot of her kids en­tered into the arts. One is a prima bal­le­rina, an­other is a sculp­tor, and an­other one is an artist. And she has a daugh­ter who did the­ater and is cur­rently work­ing on writ­ing mu­si­cals. And she has grand­chil­dren who en­tered the busi­ness also, and who have beau­ti­ful voices. It's in­ter­est­ing to know that in our fam­ily, there's a bunch of us who are do­ing this. I don't know if it's a ge­netic thing or a cul­tural thing. But I'm in­clined to think that its ge­netic much more than it is cul­tural.

How do you con­tinue be­ing cre­ative?

I think you just have to open your­self up to life and liv­ing. And not just live in a bub­ble. I mean, I love staying at home and play­ing with Ni­cole. But some­times I watch what she's do­ing and it in­spires me to write what I see. I end up writ­ing about it, and let­ting the idea mar­i­nate in my head. It's open­ing your­self up to con­ver­sa­tions with friends and re­ally be­ing open. Open your mind and heart, be­cause you just never know that there might be one word, or one sen­tence in that con­ver­sa­tion that might be­come a jump­ing board for some­thing else. You just have to open your­self up to life, ex­pe­ri­ences, travel, and things you see around you. You have to al­low your­self to stop and look.

What work ethic do you bal­ance that with?

There has to be dis­ci­pline, struc­ture and or­der, be­cause you can­not cre­ate a show out of too much chaos. It's find­ing or­der out of chaos that I try to do. And as far as work ethic goes, if it's too dif­fi­cult, I have to keep on prac­tic­ing, prac­tic­ing and prac­tic­ing un­til I get it right. It gets to the point of ob­ses­sion. Then when I'm hy­per-fo­cused on one thing, ev­ery­thing else kind of falls away. I'm singing in the back­ground, I'm prac­tic­ing while I'm eat­ing. It's borne out of love. It has to be. There has to be pas­sion, there has to be love for this. Don't even at­tempt to do this [craft] if you do not have a love or a ba­sic re­spect for this. And it will show in your work! The au­di­ence can feel it kasi when you put your heart into some­thing. en you've taken the time to make it right, out of the love for the craft and a love for the au­di­ence watch­ing you.

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