Her best moves
SHE isn’t what you would isn’t what you would expect from the sultry singer behind the viral song and widely-watched comedy videos. Truth be told, a serious audience would be surprised to find out that the lady—small frame, sparkling eyes, signature thick brows and all—exudes a childlike vibe. Karen Ann Cabrera a.k.a. Karencitta ruled the airwaves early this year with her hit, “Fckroun.”
Curious listeners were enamored by her soothingly cool voice and the Bisaya rap song’s infectious, jazzy rhythm and come-hither lyrics. It was by fate that Karencitta became the passionate perfomer that she is today.
Like most aspiring artists awaiting that one big break, she was making music and pursuing her studies in LA, where is based with her family, when she got a call from Grammy award-winning songwriter and produce Jon Ingoldsby.
Since that fateful meeting—“everything just aligned,” then came invites for her to perform back in her country. She has quite a steady online following now.
It was a pleasant surprise when Karencitta revealed that she once took a shot at a pageant for child beauty queens in popular noontime show “Eat Bulaga,” a stint she recalls with fondness and gratitude.
Here, she talks about her beginnings and making a mark in the industry. (NRG)
Is this something that you really wanted, doing music and your own kind of comedy?
In all honesty, I never saw myself acting. I always loved and wanted to do music. When I was four, I did join Little Miss Philippines in “Eat Bulaga” I was one of the finalists. I won Miss Friendship, too.
Opo. I remember my fellow contestants back then were Aiza Seguerra and Kim Domingo… Yes, I was in their batch. I do remember I was the youngest among the contestants. Eventually nihunong ko og showbiz and nibalik ko og skwela, balik dayon mi diri sa Cebu.
What do you remember about the experience in the noontime show?
I remember na I was the only contestant nga nihunong og perform during the talent competition. Literally, I froze. Nihunong ko og sayaw on live television and that was to the tune of Britney Spears’ “Sometimes. “
Because I saw my mom there, stage mom kaayo siya. So when the camera was on me, I just flashed this childish look nga mura og, “Mama ba!” But I learned a lot from my “Eat Bulaga” experience. Eventually we came back here in Cebu and my parents enrolled me in Center for International Education, from grade one to senior high. I graduated last 2013 then moved to the US.
Aside from music and comedy, what do you want to pursue?
I think that the course that I am pursuing is like spiritual suicide, because I feel like I don’t belong. Everytime I goto school, I feel like it’s not meant to be. Daghan kayo ko ug failures sa classes, and I took this as a sign from God telling me na this is not meant for me. Magtuon baya gyud ko ug maayo and still I fail the tests. It’s weird, and so I feel na mas ni-succeed ko aning music. Thank, God! Everything just fell into place. I think it’s the law of attraction, and I’ve always loved to do pop. It so happened that this year Grammy award-winner John Ingoldsby took me under his wing, and I think that’s something. I’m a firm believer in the law of attraction. It’s fate.
When did you realize that performing is going to be your life?
That moment when Jon Ingoldsby reached out to me, and upon hearing our first single— that was a monumental moment, I would say, a revelation. I mean, taga Lorega ra baya ko, and for him to invest on me on something this big, di ba? Just the thought of working with a Grammy awardee… Surreal!
How is it to be collaborating with Jon Ingoldsby, sound engineer for artists like Madonna, Lana Del Rey, Elton John?
Like I said, surreal. Initially he emailed to introduce himself as a Grammy award-winning producer, then told me that he wanted to meet up. At first I found it weird, I thought it was a scam… thinking nga dili ta mangadto niya uy. Unya niingon man akoang Papa nga kitai lang siya. It was weird because we had to meet him in his house, he was then insistent adtoa na maski sa Skype na lang pero it turned out okey ra man. In the end he was very legit. He worked with Madonna, he even won Madonna’s Grammy winning album in 1995. He worked on Britney Spears’ commercials. He is currently working with Halsey, Eminem and Sabrina Carpenter.
How did he discover you?
He is a big fan of my comedy videos daw. He even did imitated my signature move of picking my nose. So, okey kaayo siya. Jamming ra kaayo.
Is it quite a challenge for you to collaborate, especially since your songs are in Cebuano?
I am just grateful because we are working on a number of my singles. For these songs I’m more on integrating the Cebuano language and he is very open to the Visayan language, seeing it as something new and which will really pop here, locally. Ofmy previous singles, though at times dili siya makasabot, he is very supportive, magpa-translate lang siya, but true enough, his appreciation of the local vibe and language is there.
What keeps you doing what you’re doing ?
The Philippines. President Duterte. He inspires me. Musically, I am inspired by Amy Winehouse, for her voice. I am also inspired by Bob Marley, for his message to the world, for him to sing in a peace rally then two days after that performance he was shot. Why was he shot when he stood for world peace? So when an artist makes an impact that’s when I value the artists the most. I love Michael Jackson for his work ethic, I respect him for that and until now his music is still played. That’s what I would like to achieve. I also like Kendrick Lamar. But I think Beyonce is the best performer of our era. Beyonce, when she is up on stage… she sings, dances, jumps and twerks, all in high heels! Bilib kaayo ko!
What message do you want to impart to the audience via your songs and videos?
To embrace who you are. To not be afraid to speak up. Naka-notice ko nga kasagaran sa mga babaye sa Pilipinas reserved ra kayo. Nasakitan sila, dili sila makatubag sa ilang ginikanan… I am not saying na you should rebel, but somehow you need to speak up. Make your voice heard, have an opinion or something. And to educate yourself also, as well as respect your parents and ayaw’g kalimot ug sangpit sa Ginoo. There’s always a balance to things.
What’s an ordinary day like for you? In the US, I go to school on an accelerated program. It’s a condensed 11 weeks of study thus I really have to study all day. After that I make time to go to the studio. I write my songs, record. Usahay if I have nothing to do I go home and sleep for two to four hours. I personally update my social media. I do comedy videos and content creating, I do everything. And, of course, Bible reading at night. And house chores also because wala mi’y katabang sa US.
Are you aware that you exude sexiness, as seen in your videos and with “Fckroun?”
No. Dili baya. Dili gyud. Though I do get comments that it is kinda FHM. I don’t have the boobs, the voluptuous body. But thank you for the compliment. Definitely I am aware that my brand is a little balance of sexy and comedy. I am aware of that. And I think that my music is also chill, laid-back, groovy, sexy R&B and jazz.
What about that impression that you are maarte or too sosyal?
Really? Dili gyud ko arte and also a lot of guys think nga tomboy ko. I am a very laidback type of a person. Chill lang and jolly. And I do takelife seriously even though I don’t take everything to heart and just enjoy every moment.
What are your guilty pleasures?
Tim Tam, the chocolate. Boba milk tea. If you give me Boba milk tea, love na kaayo tika.
What do you do during your downtime?
I am always doing music. Music keeps me sane and without music, I think I’d be in a casket right now. Anything else I do is like spiritual suicide, it kills my soul and I’d be depressed and not happy. I turn pale, and I think every artist understands that. If you make them go to school, do engineering stuff and they’re artists. You just have to do what you really love. Like right now, I am balancing college and doing what I love to do, trying to make an impact.
So far, what’s the strangest reaction to your music?
I never expected that my music would get this kind of attention. Y1O1 reached out to me late last year and asked for a copy of my song. Only that I get to respond to them early this year na because I honestly missed the email they sent me. I was in the US all this time when my friends, former CIE classmates and cousins here in Cebu messaged me that they are now hearing my musiclocally on radio. I was really surprised. I was like, pag-sure uy! Honest to God, I never imagined nga mosikat akoang music because niana akoang team as well as akoang Mama nga, ”Day dili na mosikat kay Bisaya na. I just uploaded it despite the suggestion of my music team to change the lyrics to Tagalog and ni dili gyud ko because I want to amp up Bisaya music.
In your IMDB page it says that your ultimate mission is to revolutionize OPM and make a memorable performance …
When it’s OPM, it’s not only Pinoy or Tagalog, there’s also Bisaya. And I want to be that artist who says nga, “This is Bisaya music.” You have to pay attention. We are talented, we have the skills and we know what we are doing. You do not stereotype OPM nga puro Tagalog. We have talents all over Visayas and Mindanao and they need to be recognized. Because I feel that local talents really lack the recognition and respect they deserve.
What’s your creative process when you make a song?
I always start with the melody, although for “Fckroun” I started with mumbling, then the beat. Mumble lang without any words. Sometimes I start with the lyrics although rarely lang.
Any future local collaborations to look forward to? I’ve been friends with rapper Loonie since 2013 and back then we agreed that we would do music.
We were working on a draft called Lyrical Toast From My First Mix Tape, So Help Me God, pero wala nadayon kay what Loonie wanted was we would do it in a recording studio, pero naa man ko sa LA and he was in Manila. Pero now we still PM each other, he hit me up recently. So definitely, Loonie.
Would you be inclined to do acting as well? Why not?
Anything drama and comedy. Though I still want to be doing music ‘til I die. And if possible make movies and then branch out to the world. I actually did a feature film in LA. It’s called “Funny Man.” It was directed by Omri Dorani and written by Rick Harmon. I was casted as the lead actress, it was a dramedy and filmed in Hollywood. It was also a blessing because niagi ko og four auditions to get that role, this was in 2015.
How was it like being part of a Hollywood movie?
It was challenging because with the four auditions, it was callback after callback. Reading with different men for chemistry, and I was just lucky because it was a very collaborative process with the director. The director really guided me and made me choose who to be my lead actor. It was special and I somehow feel that I finally did something to be proud of for my country. It is now going through the process of distribution for mainstream release however you can see it through Amazon Prime.
How’s life at the homefront?
Chores. I help my mom in her caregiving agency in LA. I have four older brothers and bisan asa ko moadto naa gyud akoang Kuya to drive for me. Mao gyud na sa akoang kanta nga strikto akoang Papa, bisan asa naa gyud akoang Kuya.
What’s on repeat on your Spotify playlist?
Tame Impala, Kendrick Lamar and Amy Winehouse.
Your message to aspiring talents who want to be part of the music industry?
Be abnormal, be weird. There’s no blueprint when it comes to art. I mean, you can get a bachelor’s degree in art but that won’t assure you that you’ll be the best artist in the world. But you can be the best even if you just self-study, go online, read good books, don’t conform to standards, adhere to no rules. Just stand out.
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