by Dante Gagelonia

kitchienadal2.jpgPlatinum-selling recording artist and solid Christian musician Kitchie Nadal has much to be thankful for, with a certified hit album, at least five hit radio singles, and sold-out concerts. How does she keep herself grounded? When does she find time to be with God? Is there a man in her life? Dante Gagelonia sits back, pulls up a chair, and shoots the breeze with Kitchie Nadal.
I was watching television several months back, and I happened to stumble onto a rather engaging music video on a local music channel. I’d neither seen nor heard the artist before (I was either blissfully or wretchedly ignorant of her identity, depending on how you look at it, in spite of her having been on the music scene for a while), so I was very happily caught up in it. To say that I was enamored of it would be an understatement, seeing as how all I could do was keep watching even though my brain kept saying, “Record it, you fool, before it ends!”
Suffice it to say, I didn’t. I just kept my mouse cursor hovering over the [RECORD] button the whole time; you’d think it would be the easiest thing in the world to just click, but no. I was so distracted with how much I liked the video that aside from not being able to muster enough willpower to move my right index finger, I also completely missed the onscreen text identifying the artist and the song!

Since I had no idea who the performer was, I was in a mild panic wondering who it was and where I might be able to find that song. I seldom fixate on specific songs, you see, but this one had me repeating the chorus over and over, the singer’s voice a captivating contralto echoing in my mind. My fascination wouldn’t have been so bad if I knew something, anything concrete about her or the song, but…. *shrug* I swore to myself I’d find out who that was.

Fast forward to a recent Saturday afternoon, where I found myself seated with Ganns and Harold in the lobby of the CSB International Conference Center. I was very understandably nervous because I was there to conduct an interview but I politely did my best to keep it under control. We caught up on current events first then talked a while about Ganns’s new magazine, Live the Life (which you happen to be holding right now, I’d wager), and discussed the photographic support that Harold is generously providing to the endeavor.

Eventually, the reason for our little gathering arrived: my interviewee, Kitchie Nadal, sans her bandmates but in the company of close friends.

Who would’ve thought that I’d actually end up interviewing that very same artist I had become patently fascinated with thanks to my accidental viewing of “Run” that one time a few months ago? I’d seen her perform live a few times in the weeks before that Saturday, and every single time she was a joy to behold. Seeing her arrive that afternoon and finally greeting her personally was momentarily breathtaking – there’s just something about her presence that inspires a warm, fuzzy feeling, a sentiment about her I’m sure many people share.

Before we began the interview proper, we went upstairs to the ICC Roofdeck to have a quick photo shoot. Ganns and Harold initially conceived of the shoot to be a bright, sunny affair with the Manila skyline as a backdrop. Nature decided otherwise, however, because shortly after we got to the Roofdeck and started taking pictures, it started to rain. Not a quaint little drizzle, mind you, but a windy deluge that was as refreshing as it was drenching.

We took refuge in the Roofdeck restaurant, and we decided on a more thoughtful mood appropriate to the weather. It turned out quite well, and Kitchie was very game to complete the looks we thought of. If anyone looks at her and thinks that she’s a delicate, maarte girl because of her angelic features, they’d be dead wrong – she was a real trooper, not bothered in the slightest by the rain; perfectly calm, collected and cheerful.

She was also endearingly matter-of-fact and unpretentious, things I discovered the longer we talked. I felt she would be those even beforehand, though, just by watching her perform; there’s something about her disposition that underscores how much she values plainspoken humility. When we finally sat down for the formal interview, it also became very evident that Kitchie is as down-to-earth as she is talented.

Most people would take notice of Kitchie these days and think that she’s a solo artist. That’s not entirely true, though. While she has indeed parted ways with Mojofly and now performs using her own name, she works with a regular set of talented individuals. And that’s how our interview started.

So, I understand that Kitchie Nadal is not just you, right?

It’s the band.

Would you care to introduce your bandmates?

Okay. The bassist is Aaron Cambonero, Marco Guzman is on drums and Jeff de Castro is on guitar. You knew them beforehand? Are they your friends from before?

Common friends.

Are they your fellow church-goers?

Yeah, the bassist (Aaron) is. He’s from the same church. Actually, most of the people I work with right now are from the same church.

Ah, I see. And I understand Roca Cruz manages everything for you and the band?

With Tommy Tanchangco, yes. They’re also Christian, from the same church.

Did you know them from before, like family friends? You look very close, and from what I see, it’s not just the bond between manager and talent, it’s more like the bond of family. You seem to have a great working relationship.

Yeah. Actually, before, I didn’t believe in working with family, even close friends. I thought that they’d tend to be a little too considerate, sometimes letting you get too lax, too comfy…. Not professional enough, you mean?

Oo. So I didn’t believe in that before. Pero ang galing, sobra, parang great revelation for me that it can happen, that if you have a good relationship, whether it’s with family or with a really good friend, it can happen, it can work. If you really love your family, diba, you won’t abuse or do anything to let the band suffer, or allow things to happen that would make the working relationship suffer as well.

Okay. Let’s talk about music. What is it about your music now that you enjoy doing?

Lahat. I enjoy everything about it. Working with the band, writing songs… oh, and watching other bands. I love watching other bands.

Do you have any particular bands that you’re enamored of these days?

Pinoystories. And Makiling Ensemble. Also others… yung ibang mga bagong bands magagaling din e. Like Urban Dub.

As for your own recent music, I was struck by one in particular: “You’re Worthy.” When did you write it?

I wrote it in class … my philosophy class last last term.

Were you still with Mojofly?

No, I was with my new band na. It’s actually about… well, during that time I was battling, thinking a lot. Diba in philosophy class we’re trained to be logical and exercise our reason and all? I was doing that, thinking a lot, wondering about things. But that difficult time, instead of crushing my faith, God used it to really strengthen my faith. During that time kasi, some things were really hard for me.

Hmm, okay. That must’ve been some class to really get your mind going.

Well, ayun nga, magaling yung teacher namin e. He challenged us to think and think and think. Of course, I got exposed to a lot of questions. Most of them are interesting and nakakalito, but things turned out well.

That’s good to know. As a performer, do you get a lot of fulfillment?

Ang fulfillment ko… every gig. Yung goal ko talaga is to express the truth.

The truth?

Yeah. Anything true. Just being truthful itself, about being honest with how you feel. Yun yung challenge ko every gig. Talagang I meditate to be able to do that. Being truthful is important. But of course not to the point where you’re washing your dirty laundry in front of everyone. That’s a different story. But sad stories… it happens, diba? It comes out in the way you play. There are times also na mismong gig ang dami kong revelations within myself. Kaya I enjoy playing live, because it challenges me to be myself. Parang it sounds so easy, but it’s really hard, especially in front of everyone, in front of strangers. They might not accept you for who you are. Thing is, that’s not important. I mean, of course it’s good to feel people accepting you. But you can’t please everyone. And even if I try to please everyone, I’m bound to fail. So ginagawa ko, dini-divert ko na lang. Instead of focusing on pleasing people, I focus on being truthful. And still love them, no matter what.

Sounds good to me. Were you always Christian?

No. Siguro mga two years na. But I got discipled mga one year pa lang.

How was it that you came to enter the faith? Was it a choice you made, did it come to you… how did it work?

When I left my old band, Mojofly, I was ready to give up the whole music scene. At the time, I just couldn’t see my purpose in singing anymore with them. I felt that if there’s no purpose, why are you doing it, diba? Parang feeling ko, it’s selfish lang. Not every gig back then was successful, so I would end up feeling like I was failing myself.

When things just got to the point where sinurrender ko na lang kay God, “I’ll just follow na lang whatever You want,” binalik ni God yung purpose ko. In a sense, nagkaroon ng revival of my sense of purpose. Pero yun nga, with another band na.

Some people might wonder: you’re a Christian, and yet you’re a performer as well. How do you balance it out, given that the music scene isn’t always very nice, and it’s not always the most decent place in the world. How do you stay afloat?

Ang galing, actually. Katulad ng sabi ko, now I’m working with people who are from the same church, and we’re a family. It’s much easier for us to work together as a team. Diba it’s Biblical pa nga? Sabi ni Jesus, you go by twos. It’s better than one.

So ayun, working together with them and getting discipled makes it a lot easier for me. In the music scene, you’re exposed to a lot of things, like temptations. It’s easy to ruin one life, but it’s harder if you’re with a family. So ayun, getting discipled and really knowing to trust and learning to trust the people I work with, going to the same church… yun yung key for me to really be consistent and still strong, still continuing to grow.

What do you see in the future for you?

Musically… hmm. Maybe after I graduate I’d want to really get to know more about the Philippines. You know why? My entire life I was raised here in Manila, where there’s really good access to international bands, to international music. It kinda killed my interest in knowing more about the music and culture of the Philippines. Siguro nga it’s the effect of the colonial mindset. At the same time, I don’t naman regret or resent it, because I also learned a lot of things from other bands, international bands. But it would be nice if I get to learn a lot about my own country, and maybe in the future help local bands get established and have more access to the music scene here in Manila, and maybe internationally. Culture-wise, I really believe in the Philippines. We’re very rich, diba, yung history pa lang natin e. Ayun, I’d want to love the Philippines more and share its riches with others.

That’s great to hear. Do you see yourself staying in the industry for a while?

I hope so.

On a very commercial note, how is the band doing?

We’ve come out with an album right now, and the second single is doing well on radio. We’re producing the album but Warner Music’s distributing in the record stores.

Thanks so much for your time, Kitchie. Before we end, though, is there anything you’d like to share with the magazine’s readers?

If they want to go into music, they have to really be sincere. There has to be sincerity. Music is a gift, diba? And they really have to learn to love it purely. Because sometimes, things can turn out na parang nagiging tugtog-pera, minsan nagiging work na sya. If they decide to do music, they have to realize na it’s a gift and they have to do it purely. And syempre, meron kasi mga perks yan e. I mean, getting into music, it’s like having power. There’s power and fame. Pag masyado mong pinasok yan sa utak mo, tapos yun yung naging driving force sa yo, most probably you’ll fail. Basta, I can’t explain it. It’s just down to one thing that I learned: music, you just have to do it the right way and make it happen.

After our interview, we all shared a nice merienda in the ICC’s café, talking about all sorts of things. It was a profoundly refreshing experience, talking with Kitchie and understanding her perspective about herself and her music.

Oh, as if it wasn’t enough that she’s pretty, talented and faith-driven, did I mention that she’s smart as a whip, pursuing a Psychology/Education double degree in DLSU-Manila? Her life is blessed, most definitely, and I feel that simply having her around can be a blessing as well to other people, both as an exemplary role model and as a truly beautiful person inside and out. Her being a performer is, I believe, evidence of her deep generosity of spirit, her willingness to share herself with those who would listen and bear witness – not just to her music, but to the persona of faith she lives and aspires to. I hope she stays with the industry for a very long time – we need more earth angels like her, captivating us with her gift of song and sincere faith.