IT’S BEEN nearly a decade since she left the Philippines, gave birth and raised two kids and we’re impressed at the Dessa we see striding right before us. Dressed in a casual stripe dress, hair up a bun with tendrils cascading slightly above her nape, any weight gain from the last time she left the country is just not obvious, or it’s just not there.
“I move a lot. When you’re in the US it is already a given na the independent life and the hard work motivates you. Kailangan mo talagang gumalaw, or else … ” says the 43-year-old diva. “I mean you have no choice. I just have to because I have two kids to support and it is not that hard compared to noon na hard work talaga,” she adds, referring to her own experience, much like every Filipino immigrant goes through. Gritty, fierce, and a fighter. Hers is much of a sob story that upon reading a Wikipedia page detailing the songstress’ life, one would say she has been through a lot—from selling ice candy as a child to help her mother, to the grief and suffering of physical and emotional abuse from a previous relationship. She has somehow emerged the survivor.
The former kontesera was discovered by thespian Mitch Valdes when she was just 14 and was eventually managed by star builder-host Boy Abunda. She gained a following, dominated major singing competitions then bagged the plum top prize of the Voice of Asia in 1993. Dessa’s vocal talent is never lost on Filipino audience, plucking her out and her family from humble beginnings. She also raised the bar for winning the 1993 FIDOF award in Russia and the Saga Yoshinogari Festa in 1998.
In a quick catch-up at favorite Instagrammable hangout, The Pyramid, Dessa shows the importance of staying positive. Keeping it real at the same time, she admits she still is far cry from achieving her dreams. With such enthusiasm, it’s not surprising to see how Dessa has seemingly been unscathed. Staying true to oneself is a big factor in this kind of longevity. Whether as a performer, a mother, or as an aspiring actress, Dessa is set to make a huge rebound conquering more goals. And it’s all because of her clear focus, genuine personality, and the natural ability to laugh it all out. (NRG)
What brings you to Cebu?
Nagba-bakasyon kaming mag-jowa. Pangalawang bisita na niya to. He’s from Las Vegas. First time he was here in the Philippines we went to Boracay and sabi ko sa kanya if babalik siya bibisitahin namin ang lugar ng nanay ko. My mom was born here—in Mandaue—pero nagdako siya sa Davao. So, feeling ko may dugong half-Cebuano ako. Kasabot ko mag Bisaya pero konti lang.
How long have you been together as a couple?
Halos magdadalawang taon.
How’s life being away from the limelight, your life away from the Philippines?
My life in the States medyo may masarap, may mahirap, karamihan may challenges talaga sa buhay. Kasi doon natuto akong gumawa ng lahat. Kasi syempre when you’re here in the Philippines merong tutulong sa iyo— pwedeng tawagin ang nanay o kung meron kang kapatid. Doon, lahat ako lahat. Like especially when I gave birth sa bunso, ako lahat ‘yun—from nanganak ako, naging baby siya, ako lang lahat.
So, you’re still singing in the States?
Yes, ‘yun pa rin. I do shows sa ibang state pag may invitation from Filipino communities. Sa Las Vegas meron akong banda dun ‘eh. Every night nagpe-perform ako pero there was a year na I totally stopped singing with the band and that was when bumalik ako dito sa Pilipinas for some performances.
How different is the audience there compared to here in the Philippines?
Mahirap i-please ang mga tao dito eh, kasi bukod sa marunong tayong kumanta at marunong tayong tumingin ng maayos at magaling na kumanta, sa States kahit pachurva-churva ka lang ng ganyan, go na sila with standing ovation pa. Masarap din ‘yung feeling na tipong ‘yung ibang lahi ina-apreciate ka. Like ‘yung karamihan ng audience ko dun are mostly African American, ‘yung mostly musically inclined and minsan magugulat na lang ako na meron na akong famous artist dun sa crowd. I feel proud to be Pinoy because they would ask of the race that I am from. Sarap lang ng feeling.
You have performed with a number of world renowned talents. Which performance was most memorable for you?
Halos lahat ‘eh. Pero siguro ’yung first ko was my first front act. With Mike Francis. Memorable ‘yun kasi nung tinawag na ako sa stage, the people were like booing—understandably, because they didn’t know me. Kakaumpisa ko pa lang nu’n ‘eh and that was also my first time doing a front act.
Ginanap ‘yun sa Ninoy Aquino Stadium. Tapos pagpasok na nung music malakas talaga ‘yung booing ng mga tao. But nung nag-start na akong kumanta medyo tumahimik na nang konti ‘yung audience and siguro na think nila na iba pala ako and nakinig na sila. So after my first song they wanted more of me, na imbes tatlo lang supposedly ‘yung kakantahin ko, naging lima.
How do you take care of your singing voice?
Sa ngayon hindi ko alam how I go about taking care of my voice. I just drink water and dati kasi hindi ko hilig ang uminom ng tubig. Dati ang pinaka-tubig ko ay kape. Sobra! Lumaki ako sa kape. Pero nung nagkasakit ako dahil sa sikmura ko, tapos syempre nung kabataan ko mahilig din akong uminom so nasira ‘yung part ng gastro churva ko. So nung nagkasakit na ako binawasan ko na ‘yung kape at ‘yung soda. Pero ngayon medyo bumabalik na naman ako sa kape pero yung pinipili ko na mga coffee ay ‘yung mga healthy ones, hindi na ‘yung regular na matatapang. Healthy drinking na tayo ngayon.
What do you miss most about performing locally?
Ibang iba kasi pag Pinoy ang nag-appreciate kasi ang feeling mo after is okey pala akong kumanta. ‘Yung ibang klaseng validation ang iyong nakukuha. Kasi nga ‘yung ibang lahi kahit na pakembi-kembi ka lang kumanta, standing ovation pa rin sila ‘eh basta mag perform ka lang sa kanila.
Is there any artist that you dream to perform with?
Wala na. Patay na si Whitney (Houston) ‘eh. Siya sana kasi lumaki ako na siya yung parang nag-inspire sa akin kumanta ng todo. To always sing soulfully, aside from Patti LaBelle and Aretha Franklin. So when Whitney died pinag-iyakan ko ‘yun ng isang buwan. Totoong hindi ako nakapag move on na parang ang tanga ko di ba, akala mo na kapatid ko siya pero ’yun lang. Iba kasi yung impact niya sa akin nung bata ako. So, right now ‘yung mga natira na lang ang gusto kong maka-duet si Patty LaBelle at si Aretha Franklin. Mamamatay siguro ako sa nerbyos performing with the two.
Do your two kids also sing?
Yes. ‘Yung bunso ko, the 12-year-boy nag-bi-beatbox. He creates music through his mouth. Nakakaloka! Tsaka kumakanta din siya pero mas kumakanta yung girl na panganay ko. Mas opposite siya kasi kung biritera ako siya naman ‘yung subdued or mellow na from natural nag si-shift to head tone.
We have quite a number of emerging local singers. Who among them has made an impression on you?
Si Morissette. Napakagaling ng batang ‘yun. I don’t know if you happen to know the Suklay Diva, Katrina Velarde. Magaling din ‘yun pero ang paborito ko talaga ay si Morissette. Bukod sa napakabait, magalang, ma-respetong bata. Napakabait niya, sobra. At tsaka ang galing galing niya.
What song is on your mind right now?
“Forever is Not Enough” kasi ni-remake ko kasi ‘yun eh, so ‘yun ang pinaka single ko ngayon. Sabay promote! ‘Yun ‘yung nilabas sa Spotify just a month ago lang at nakakatuwa kasi kinongrats ako ng Star Music agad kasi naka 100 plus siya kaagad na streams. So, sabi ko talaga ay bongga ito and from there we decided na we will go ahead and do the full album na. We are still working on completing the album. It will be a mix of originals and covers and it has a concept pero hindi ko pa pwedeng i-share ‘yun.When will this be out? It should be out next year kasi I have to go back to the States for the next two months and then balik uli to promote the album. Tapos nagta-try kaming aarte ako. Magta-try lang ako na ‘yung parang kukunin lang ako as a guest so medyo tatanggap na kami ng ganung klaseng labada (laughs). Pero definitely hindi drama kasi ‘yung kay KathNiel na movie dapat andun ako ‘eh, mag e-extra sana ako dun. Pero hindi ako natuloy kasi nag-conflict with my schedule so si Frenchie (Dy) ata ‘yung kinuha nila. Sana magka movie ako at mag-audition ako. ‘Yun ang sabi ko sa handler ko—na willing akong tanggapin ang lahat ng mga iyan. Basta kaya, gagawin ko. Kung gusto mo, sasayaw pa ako (laughs).