13 Filipino Artists You Need to Listen and Re-Listen to

Filipino music is very much alive today. It is here to stay. It ain’t going anywhere. And just like any other type of music and/or culture, it evolves. It matures. It expands. It diversifies. It reflects the phases of growth and progression that the Filipino culture undergoes, as well as the vagaries and proclivities of Filipinos’ creative minds.

OPM (Original Pilipino Music) or now also coined “Pinoy Pop” has come a long, vigorous way. And our Filipino artists are better and braver than ever. They are the unwavering stalwarts of our creative heritage. They define OPM. They fuel OPM. They take it to different heights. And now, they continue to bring forth immensely significant contributions for this generation and the next generations of artists and music lovers.

So here’s a short list of Filipino artists that I believe deserve our listening ears, and whose musical works are undisputed  and world-class. Make sure that you listen to them to know and understand why they’re top-notch.

1) KYLA

screen-shot-2016-11-30-at-10-54-38-pmShe is dubbed as the Philippines’ Queen of R&B. And she absolutely lives by this title. Kyla is an artist of high reputation whose voice, I believe, does not sound like any other! She has everything a vocalist would ever dream of: (1) a wide pitch range, (2) a sweet, breathy and velvety vocal tone (for her low to mid register), which can switch up to a lusty and dynamic timbre (for her high register); (3) perfect pitch—her runs are always on point and constantly carries a high degree of complexity; lastly, (4) improvisation skills—she can turn any song into her own either by embellishing or refashioning a simple melodic line into something quite interesting. Just listen to her tasteful rendition of a Filipino favourite, “On the Wings of Love” that basically put her back on the charts.

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2) YENG CONSTANTINO

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Dubbed formerly as the Pop Rock Princess, and now Pop Rock Superstar, the multi-awarded Yeng Constantino has absolutely blown audiences away in different parts of the world in the last ten years with her stylistic prowess, undeniable talent and distinctive artistry. Yeng’s remarkable contribution to the OPM domain as a singer and songwriter has been incredibly significant and can never be discounted in history. She is a strong and living force in the industry. Her music has set a whole new standard for the Pop Rock genre, producing smashing hits like “Jeepney Love Story”, “Salamat“, “Lapit“, “Ikaw“, and the all time favourite, “Hawak Kamay“. Recently, a musical was successfully written and staged featuring a range of her most notable hits.

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3) JASON DY

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Known primarily for being a winner of the Filipino edition of The Voice, Jason is another R&B whizz whose musicality combines a very contemporary mode of singing (from the enunciation to his musical trajectory), and an ardent, soulful delivery. His runs are always daring and gutsy. He is in significant ways a trendsetter because of his flexibility in singing a range of different styles such as ballads, funky tunes, and even dance hits, without sacrificing his vocal identity. That defines a modern artist in a way—flexibility, agility, innovation and responsiveness to change. See how he infused an R&B flare onto this original ballad piece.

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4) MORISSETTE AMON

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This woman is a musical firecracker and an extraordinary performer. Morissette is one of the few Filipino singers (if not, the only one) who use the whistle register very effortlessly on a regular basis. In terms of abilities and artistic achievements, she has accomplished exceedingly much at a very young age.  Her technique is strong and sturdy that allows her to become flexible in using all her singing registers. And her high notes—all smooth and easy. She’s known to also ‘break’ her voice on purpose, which is a technique popularised by Mariah Carey during her prime years. Listen to one of her original hits that embody the novelty and colour of her vocal style.

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5) KZ TANDINGAN

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The “Soul Supreme”. KZ just keeps getting better. Everything about her is still evolving—her style, her sound, her looks, her intensity. She has only been around for a few years but her impact in the industry and with her audience is expanding incrementally with great force. She defines soul and passion. She has already contributed important and monumental songs for her generation like the award-winning “Mahal Ko O Mahal Ako“, “Scared to Death”, and her superb rendition of “Wag Ka Nang Umiyak” by Ebe Dancel. She knows how to reshape a song and give it a brand new fashion. Her warm and raspy vocal timbre sings more than just the story of the music—it penetrates your soul and messes with it every once in a while, so don’t get surprised when tears just start rolling down your eyes. She is that artist that you always want to watch and listen to live because of her enormous effect on you.

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6) JOHNOY DANAO

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How do you even begin to describe Johnoy Danao? Maybe the folks who have watched him in his sold-out gigs could explain better. He has been called the modern troubadour for his unexplainable ability to tear your heart up alive with his beauteous poetry and splendid vocals. He is an extraordinary acoustic artist whose music embodies absolute sentimentalism. His music is the touch of warmth that does not take away the pain, but soothes it very sensitively. I can still remember my initial reaction when I first heard his “Ikaw At Ako“. I was just pierced to the bones, wide-eyed, thunderstruck. It’s like it did something in me that is hard to explain. And that’s how you know you’re listening to music that is beyond just the music, but also speaks to the intangible soul.

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7) UP DHARMA DOWN

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Well now, I’ve not a lot of words to say about this group. They have proven quite enough, really, and earned their stripes over the years. They are an icon in the Filipino music realm and have carved their artistic niche very well even internationally. And their music is proven to be timeless and relevant. I believe their music is actually ahead of its time. That is why more and more people have learned to recognise and appreciate their multifaceted style, poetry and artistic language. The eclecticism and urbanity of their approach are just some of the things that make them unique. Who has listened “Tadhana” and not has his or her heart miss a beat?

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8) SARAH GERONIMO

12496461_10153207952346750_8854062340252040429_o“Sarah G” has already been hailed as an OPM royalty who has flexibly showcased outstanding versatility, and several aspects and attributes of her artistic identity in the past decade. Breaking free from being a traditional “biritera” (female belter), she has now emerged yet with a brand new element that redefines what it is to be a “pop star” in the Philippines today. Her style and sound have transformed drastically, and have diversified from mainly diva ballads into a more eclectic mix of R&B, soul, dance, alternative, even rap. She has ventured more on contemporary singing, highly enmeshed with dance, delivered with vehement attitude and intensity. All of these make her the hot-blooded, walking-talking, triple threat that she is today. She always has something new and interesting to offer so never miss a tune from her. Here is one of the hits that signify her transition era.

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9) MARK CARPIO

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Mark Carpio seems to be a new name in the OPM scene, but it will be hard to bypass the kind of musicality he offers. This guy is a balladeer with a strong vocal resonance, an advantageous pitch range, and substantial flexibility to shift between different registers and dynamics. His love songs are quite evocative and could probably be classified as “#hugot” songs (songs that draw out deep-seated emotions) because of the height and depth of emotions they portray. Some of these powerful, moving songs have now been used as soundtracks for film and TV such as “Hiling” and “Kay Tagal“. We expect to hear a lot more from Mark in the coming years.

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10) JONA

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You gotta admire this woman for her staunch pipes that can withstand any excruciating octave or any musical whirlwind. If you ever get lost around the C6-G6 area, you’ll find her there. Jonalyn Viray, now popular as Jona is one of the strongest and most dynamic Filipina vocalists in the whole of Asia who has enough flexibility to sing a wide array of styles–from pop ballads to billboard toppers. She is an ambitious vocalist, and knows how to accomplish all that she envisions, one by one. Her vocal range is sweeping; her higher register is cogent and compact. She is phenomenal. She is another example of a modern-day artist who knows how to innovate and redesign music, and proves to us that creativity always wins. In her recent solo concert, she has demonstrated that her set of pipes is indeed indefatigable and that she has earned and truly deserves her spot in the show business today because of her hard work, her excellence and consistency.

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11) EDWARD BENOSA

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This good looking dude knows how to capture the real essence of ballads—passion, vulnerability, romanticism. And surely, he is beyond his riveting looks. His voice carries a heavy deal of poignance in his hits like “‘Di Man Lang Nagpaalam” and “Why Did You Stay”. He lays his fragile soul bare with his powerful voice and unfeigned delivery. No wonder at the early stage of his career, this promising neophyte has won Best New Male Recording Artist in the prestigious Star Awards for Music of the Philippine Movie Press Club (PMPC). Definitely looking forward to more of his soul-stirring performances and thrilling vocal exhibitions.

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12) MOIRA DELA TORRE

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Moira is an artist to watch out for. She may be called a trendsetter for being one of the first few artists to introduce a singing style more prominent in Western contemporary scene today: a technique that includes singing with a twang, fluctuating dynamics, and consistent breathiness. Last time I checked, there isn’t a name or term for this vocal style yet. Some people call it the “indie” vocals because it is mostly used by indie artists—the likes of Regina Spektor, Norah Jones, and Nataly Dawn. More and more singers of all races attempt to sound like that these days, but they just sound ridiculous. (Seriously, just stop.)  Thankfully, we have one that sounds pretty “legit” and actually intoxicatingly mellifluous, and that is Moira. She has merged this sweet-toned singing style and the Filipino musical flavour, producing a very wholesome outcome.

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13) DARYL ONG

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Exceptional and edgy—these are the words I believe that best describe Daryl Ong. These are the qualities that made him fit in and belong to the new breed of Filipino singers. (Or should we call them revolutionists?) Daryl is an R&B powerhouse with a voice so slick and refined. He is not a typical R&B artist that casually copies modal runs from established icons. He demonstrates cleverness and precision in utilising melisma and playful melodic variations just in the right amount and blend, and only as needed in the new flavour of the song. This is what makes his song revivals powerful and compelling. He retools any music with command and authority. And he makes the Filipino audience fall in love and appreciate Filipino-bred R&B. Listen to his tasteful rendition of “Stay”, originally performed and written by my OPM hero, Carol Banawa.

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(All embedded images and videos are owned by their rightful owners. The images are hyperlinked to their main sources.)

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Alleluya!

Here’s something new. Just for fun, and just to share with you my roots i.e., choral music, I recorded myself in SATB, singing the version of (Eucharistic) Alleluya by “Mr C”, Ryan Cayabyab.

This brings back a lot of memories of home, my choral life, and my love for choral music!

Better to listen to with earphones by the way. If the embedded video does not work, click this link. 

 

Face to face with Brandy

This is honestly the most significant 30 seconds of my life so far. And I wish I had more than that.

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30 seconds with Brandy. Photo taken by the theatre staff. We weren’t allowed to take photos with our devices during this time, which I find ridiculous and annoying because primarily they said we could. But anyway.

I did not intend to write a “concert review” or a tell-all anymore because my words would not do justice to how it really felt on the inside. It’s a struggle to put into words. The encounter is almost divine. Pretty elusive. (I should also say that having no photos taken during the show because my camera was considered a professional type somewhat discouraged me to recount things and events in detail like what I’d always do.)

I guess I should keep this experience in the list of things I’d prefer to store in my massive vault of unspeakable treasures. All I know is I’m thankful that I got to watch her perform live, and to witness with my own eyes and ears the brilliance, magnificence, and soul extraordinaire of Brandy. That is just more than enough.

I could absolutely say that this is just one of the best birthday gifts I have gifted to myself. You just gotta spoil yourself every once in a while, you know!

I also almost hyperventilated after she gave me a super tight, sincere hug during the short Meet and Greet. She emanated joy and gratitude. The feeling was indescribable almost. She was just so dang kind! It’s like all the sass and pizzazz she would display each time she performs were stripped away, and she was just an ordinary person humbly thanking her fans for coming out to see her show, which she verbalised in the most profound, soft-spoken fashion.

13465929_10206788204199109_5197471545758489570_nThis experience made me appreciate her more; her artistry, her personality, her appreciation for her fans; especially her receptivity and equanimity because I understand how tired she must have been after the show, but she managed to welcome her fans with open arms and with the sweetest smile.

Hands down, she still reigns in her realm. And this encounter will always be special and treasured in my mind and heart

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DA 25

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He’s one of the few artists I call my “idol” (and well, it’s in the name of the competition he came from).

One of the artists that has always had a huge impact on me, like seriously massive I can’t even begin to explain.

This guy’s a genius. His passion for what he does is too incandescent it becomes infectious and contagious.

Most importantly, his voice is his most powerful tool. It’s moving, it’s uplifting. A real soul supreme.

And despite his long hiatus in the music industry, he remains to be that great artist I will always look up to, and wish to take after. And I do remain a rabid, Archie-hungry fan.

He turns 25 today.

Praying that he gets to have more fruitful and victorious years in the industry doing just what he loves to do; producing magnificent music, communicating God, and inspiring countless people with his passion and brilliance.

Happy birthday Archie!

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R.

Image by Arlu Gomez, Ivory Music, 2012.

Five years ago

(This photo showed up on my Facebook memories newsfeed for the 15th of December. That’s been five years before the present.)

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Five years ago, I was working very hard and dreaming to get enough marks to make it into the Encore concert and pass the uni auditions. The Encore bit never happened, but uni came to pass. I succeeded and finished.

Five years later, I’m in the position of teaching and helping kids create and fulfil some of these goals, and importantly, create more and fulfil more for myself.

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Some barbershop

I don’t have an extravagant, purposeful reason why I made this video. But I just really wanted to try this new Acapella app that has basically taken over my Facebook newsfeed.

This app is really cool. It allows people to record two or more video tracks of themselves singing different harmonic lines, and play them all simultaneously. It’s the modern way of recreating a virtual choir, or the likes of breathtaking Pitch Perfect or Rockapella tracks, right at your fingertips. There are great ones, some just make me want to get sick.

I’ve been (or I’ve started to be) on hibernation mode for the last couple of days having been off-work (which I’m honestly loving at the moment because I felt kinda frazzled by a lot of stuff in the last two months, although I’m really grateful). And so I decided to just download the app, and sing away.

I picked my absolute favourite, “Barbara Ann”, which was originally sung by The Beach Boys, in a barbershop quartet arrangement.  This song (particularly its arrangement) is very special to me because I have performed this tune with a group back in high school after we met the Musical Island Boys (my all-time favourite barbershop group, and seriously the best); and sort of adopted their style and arrangement into our own.

So, disclaimer: it is not my song, and not my arrangement. The only thing that I own in this material would be perhaps, my voice and my face.

I enjoyed making this one, and even listening to it because I just love the vibes and how the harmonies blend. It probably won’t be as shipshape as you might expect, but who cares? I’m not getting paid for it (HAHA! Kidding.)

Here’s the Finale part:

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The Sissums in Sydney!

Please tell me that was a clever title. I’ve learned that ‘sissum’ (pronounced as /siz-‘uhm/, which means “sister”) is what they’d call each other often, and what their fans also regard them as i.e., “the sissums”.

But anyway, two of my most favourite Filipino artists visited their fans down under! They did a couple of shows over the weekend, one in Blacktown (the one I attended), and one in Mt Pritchard. And even after two shows and two M&G sessions, it seems like we still can’t get enough of these two lovely hotshots.

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Fresh from the success of her 15th anniversary concert titled “Celestine” last year at the MOA Arena, Toni Gonzaga, who is dubbed as the Philippines’ Ultimate Multimedia Star has graced the Australian concert stage for the second time since her last visit, which was apparently more or less than eight years ago (now, I’m not very sure if I got the number right). And this time around, she’s brought her amazing sister with her—star on the rise, Alex Gonzaga, who has also been having a prolific career after wrapping up a very successful TV series last year; publishing a bestseller book, then releasing a studio album recently. Now she’s set to conquer the concert scene as she stages her very first major one at the Big Dome this April entitled “AG from the East: The Unexpected Concert.” She also stars in a TV remake of the iconic “Inday Bote.” Wow, this girl ain’t busy.

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I’ve always known and loved Toni even before she moved to Kapamilya. I’ve always admired Alex ever since she was Alex on “Let’s Go!” back in 2006. They’re not only talented artists, they’re also faith-driven, practicing Christians who have always stood behind their values and principles, and have not compromised their faith for the sake of work. This is just admirable.

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I swear, I just die every time Toni flicks her hair. And oh, the Ari pose by Alex.

I was just flippin’ excited when I first heard the news about their show. I probably was one of the first people to purchase tickets, which I booked mid last year. All I can say really is what an amazing experience! I just love them heaps. They’re probably the only celebrities I look out for on TFC. I’m always on the qui vive for their shows, TV appearances and what not. It was hard to believe that I was gonna see their faces in person.

It was July last year when I posted this mini article about Alex called “My Sassy Señorita.” I wrote in that blogpost how much I admire her and how much I want to meet her and stuff. Who knew that in the less than year, I actually would meet her even if it’s just merely for 30 seconds? Or probably more.

The sisters opened the show with a showstopping song, which I believe is called “Fancy” by Iggy Azalea (featuring Chari XCX). Look, I’m not even sure if that’s actually correct because I do not really know the song and I do not listen to a lot of rap music to be honest. I might have actually confused it with “Black Widow” (featuring Rita Ora), which they performed as well.

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Alex becomes a completely different person every time she raps. Her moves are ostentatious, her hands and hips are everywhere.

One of the best parts of the show was during the gaps, when they basically just talked with each other on stage. They have a funny and interesting relationship, and it shows when they chat and make fun of each other. I just loved and enjoyed the mini banters happening here and there. They’d slag each other off from time to time while everybody would have a good laugh about it.

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I have found the chit-chat’s in between songs very special because you just realise that they’re just right there, that they’re real!

What really astonished me was Alex’ sui generis persona—her highly diverting nature that incredibly blends singing and uproarious comedy. She is a cogent mix of charm, charisma, and chaos (Wow, dang that alliteration. LOL). Her voice has a lot of promise—she’s got the tone and the range. My Mum was bemused to know and hear that Alex can actually sing as she’s normally used to seeing Alex trifling with a microphone in the karaoke segment on ASAP every Sunday on TFC. Well, I’ve always known that she’s had it all along.

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Her humour knocks the stuffing out of me. My laugh was uncontrollable, and my friends know how I laugh—it’s pretty diaphragmatic. I laughed even at her lamest jokes. She blows my mind. She knows how to put up a good and lively show without even trying.

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Alex singing “Break Free” by Ariana Grande. Wow, she CAN sing Ariana stuff! I am well convinced.

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This is AG from the East channelling AG from Hollywood.

Alex got to perform a couple of her tracks from her first record called “I Am Alex G.” such as “Panaginip Lang”, and “‘Di Ko Akalain”. They’re very tasteful tunes. Also, I must say that both songs showed her sweet side and that she does have vocal abilities.

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Getting into the belting parts!

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With some guy from the audience. If only I were fast enough.

With some guy from the audience. If only I were fast enough.

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Transitions.

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The punas-pawis scene. Ate Toni being an Ate to her bunso. What a beautiful and amusing sight!

The punas-pawis scene. Ate Toni being an Ate to her bunso. What a beautiful and amusing sight!

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The sisters singing "Put It in a Love Song" by Alicia Keys (featuring Beyoncé). I was waiting for this!

The sisters singing “Put It in a Love Song” by Alicia Keys (featuring Beyoncé). I was waiting for this!

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I remember this conversation. It's Alex warning her Ate to keep the energy up as she started it skyrocket high.

I remember this conversation. It’s Alex warning her Ate to keep the energy up as she started it skyrocket high.

Oh, Toni Gonzaga. Her presence overawed the crap in me. She has a formidable aura that gently scuffles with her ravishing, angelic face. In other words, she is drop-dead gorgeous! She has a delightful personality that everybody loves. Her voice is sensational. It has that deep and warm resonance, and a sweet, silver-toned quality that her fans have loved ever since. Like all other singers, she sounds so much better live.

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Simply stunning.

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“We’re beautiful like diamonds in the sky…”

She performed some of her best-loved hits including her very first single, “We Belong” (which just got me nuts!!!), “Catch Me I’m Falling” (this would have to be my fav), and my sister’s favourite, “Kasalan Ko Ba?” These have really thrilled the audience and got them wanting for more. I was a little sad that she didn’t perform her latest tracks from her album “Celestine” like “This Love is Like”, and her original composition, “Awit ni Ginny.” I’ll hear them live one day. She also performed her rendition of “Starting Over Again” (originally by Natalie Cole), which was the theme song of her hit movie with the same title.

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Finally got to witness her awesome singing prowess. I’ve always been a fan of her vocals and style.

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Is there ever a female counterpart for a “balladeer/balladist”? Because if there’s one, then that’s Toni.

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For a fleeting moment, Toni flashed her engagement ring leading up to singing “Diamonds” by Rihanna. A little heartbroken and devastated, I do know and believe that she deserves the joy and happiness that this engagement is giving her right now, plus, the excitement of her forthcoming wedding with his betrothed. Toni also mentioned that it was probably her last big show or concert as a single woman, as she and Paul Soriano are finally tying the knot later this year.

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At some point, I was waiting for them to sing their popular rendition of “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” by Celine Dion, which they had already done in the past. Again, maybe someday.

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More funny conversations.

The sister capped off the show with Katy Perry’s “Roar”. But because the audience have clamoured for one more song, they sang “Blank Space” by Taylor Swift (They obviously garnered more cheers after the audience realised it’s a Swiftie song). And then finally, they took their last bow.

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Oh, this number.

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For someone who has poor eyesight like me, they would look like twins!

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I failed to capture what Alex was exactly trying to do here. But she was trying to creep through her Ate’s legs. You just can never know enough what she is capable of.

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Certainly working that pose.

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My last photo of the sissums on stage on my camera.

I could keep writing about how I admire these two women and how I have enjoyed and appreciated their live performance here in Sydney. I really wish that they’d come back to do another show soon. It was genuinely fun. My smile was just indefatigable. I wish the sissums all the best for their future endeavours, future projects and milestones.

Autograph signing! I got all flustered when as I came closer to them.

Autograph signing! I got all flustered as I came closer to them. Why are these people so pretty? Seriously, what do they eat?

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A glimpse of super short encounter with them. They were very kind to even write my name on the stuff!

A glimpse of my super short encounter with them. They were very kind to even write my name on the stuff! Also, I remember telling Toni, “Gosh, you smell so good!” She freaking does though!

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Probably the only decent photo we have with them. I don't understand why people always fail to take decent photos every time it's needed regardless of the kind of camera in use. But I guess this photo's good enough.

Taken from my iPhone by a friend. Probably the only decent photo we have with them. My dad had the good camera but failed to capture a good one. I still don’t understand why he didn’t manage to capture this on the DSLR.

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I literally squealed when I saw this in the captured photos!

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Boo-yah! Finally! This has been sitting in my collection for months.

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Again, boo-yah! Wow, I’m still head over heels for this woman.

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Follow them on Instagram @celestinegonzaga @cathygonzaga. And on Twitter @PBBToniG @Mscathygonzaga

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