by Joseph Pimentel/AJPress
“This Lea concert as great as it was, we don’t see a lot [mainstream] concerts featuring Pinoy or Pinays,” said Winston Emano, a public relations executive, who was hired by the Disney Concert officials to oversee the Salonga performance. “Lea is a pioneer. She’s the first Filipino to headline at the Disney Concert Hall. This is special to our community. Given that the historical significance is that Bunker Hill was the first Filipinotown in Los Angeles. She represented the community.”
Emano has been active in the Filipino community for the past fifteen years. He knows too well about the ups and downs of many Filipino performers who were on the cusp of mainstream success but, like the Greek mythical character Sisyphus, just could not get over the hump.
Fifteen to twenty years ago, you’d be hard pressed to find a Filipino performer in a large mainstream venue unless it was being rented out, said Emano.
“These mainstream venues were not available in the past to us,” he added. “The only way to get one is if you’d rent it but we all know that’s very expensive.”
He said the first time he saw a Filipino concert was Gary Valenciano performing at the Universal Amphitheater in Hollywood in the early 1990’s.
“I think he was the first Filipino to ever play at that theatre,” said Emano.
But nowhere did Valenciano get the same type of love or adoration that Salonga received from a diverse crowd at the Disney Concert Hall last July 12.
Valenciano, Regine Valesquez, Freddie Aguilar, Martin Nievera, Jocelyn Enriquez, and Pops Fernandez have done well performing in front of pre-dominant Filipino crowds in the US. However, their success in the community has not translated to the larger mainstream concertgoers.
Emano explained that there are a lot of reasons why the mainstream (non-Filipinos) were blasé about Filipino artists. He said perception. Radio executives did not know how to type caste a Filipino artist or their style to fit a specific audience.
“It’s hard to find good radio play,” said Emano. “The problem is that back then, a lot of record executives, a lot of DJ’s they wouldn’t play a Filipino person’s song because for example, they’d say that the ‘black listener wouldn’t want to hear someone do R&B coming from a non-black performer,’ and so on.”
“But now people’s perceptions are changing,” he added. “You see Lea. There’s Arnel Pineda who’s doing a great job replacing a very popular pop singer. Charice Pempengco is an Internet star. Slowly the mainstream is changing the perception of Filipino artists.”
Ana Puno, President and CEO of Star Media, produces shows featuring Filipino talent in the US and Manila, Philippines. She’s produced shows for Martin Nievera, Pops Fernandez and other Filipino artists.
She said that it’s difficult for an established artist in the Philippines to reach mainstream success in the US.
“Lea was gradually brought in [to the mainstream’s consciousness],” she said. “Now she’s being exposed. Look at Charice. David Foster is helping her career.”
“There are a lot of Filipinos that are really talented, who can sing really well but they are not given the proper break,” she added. “Sometimes they have bad management, or don’t have the proper agent. It’s already so hard to penetrate the mainstream market.”
Emano hopes that Salonga’s performance is a wake up call to music producers about Filipino talent. He also said Salonga is setting the trail for those behind her.
“Lea’s performance on Friday is going to open doors,” he said. “Now, this sets the stage for all the upcoming Filipino singers and artists around the world. The audience at the Concert hall was treated to world-class artistry that is Filipino artists. I hope this is a start of something.”