Her eyes on the global stage; her feet rooted in the Philippines
Pinoy pride is more than just something that rolls off the tongue because of perfect alliteration; it’s more than a chant to cry out and it’s more than something you utter whenever convenient. It’s a gut feeling that you can’t turn away from no matter how hard you try—not that you’d want to anyway, if you had any real ounce of it.
In an attempt to be true to our own roots, Wonder decided to hero Pride and Independence as our mantra for the month of June. And when we got the opportunity to work with one Karen Ann Rodriguez Cabrera, better known as Karencitta, we knew that the heavens (or whatever it is you believe in) must have lined up for us somehow.
Barong and gray dress trousers, STEPH VERANO
It hasn’t even been two years since Cebuana landed at the top of the charts, yet the musician is lightyears beyond where she first started. Years of dance classes, voice rehearsals and cardio exercises have so far led to his: a contract with Capitol Records and a new album underway.
And in case you need some reminding, Capitol Records is no small-fry. At one point or another, they were in charge of some of the biggest acts in international music. Do the names Sam Smith, Katy Perry, Nine Inch Nails, Paul McCartney, The Beach Boys and Troy Sivan ring any bells? If you can wrap your head around the immensity of that, just try to imagine what it would be like to see your name beside theirs.
But before you start to argue that Karencitta is in no way the first to be recognized abroad, we raise you this: She is the first Filipina to be signed by the record label. And besides, a rap in bisaya being played in a car as it cruises through the streets of LA? Paints a pretty proud picture, if you ask us.
Black sheer terno and sheer long-sleeved top, JINGGAY SERAG, cream voile trousers, STEPH VERANO, white sneakers, ADIDAS ORIGINALS
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though; let’s start at the very beginning because as she herself reiterated, the road to success is a long, difficult and tiring one.
Karencitta was 18 years old when she made the decision to pursue music professionally–that was only five years ago, but her success is in no way an overnight story. She started her training at the age of four, although entering showbiz was never really the end goal. Her lessons were a way to keep herself busy, much like most of us were enrolled in swimming classes, Kumon or REP. Karencitta just happened to have a knack for it and we just so happened to be gifted with tracks of her hard work.
The build-up to Cebuana, while years in the making, had simple and humble beginnings. It was meant to be an anthem—which we now know it to be—to be played in jeepneys and taxis as an ode to Cebu’s Sinulog Festival. But with a mix of bisaya, Filipino, English and Spanish, the lyrics of the song resonated with more than the city’s locals.
Now the question is: How will her unique sound fare on the global stage?
“I think authenticity is the catalyst of business”
Purple slip dress, EMJ USON, brown faux snakeskin flat, CHARLES & KEITH, pink and yellow cutout earrings, O’EL DESIGNS
The risk, of course, with going international is that level of uncertainty that comes with how a different-cultured audience might respond to your local flavor. Will they understand it? Will they put it down? Will it thrive across the islands that nurtured it? And maybe more importantly: Will your own taste eventually change to cater to the palettes of others instead?
She may be young but Karencitta knows what she won’t back down from. “I will always try to bring the local scene with me,” says Karencitta when prodded about her plans. “That has been my goal since the get-go: to bring OPM to the international [scene].”
Her words sound pretty and her promise makes the Filipino in us proud, but how can we trust them? We’ve heard flowery vows before, so what makes her statements any different?
The six hours Wonder spent with Karencitta were enough to prove to us that authenticity—and feeding off this authenticity—was the only game she knew how to play. Every moment was a colorful one, whether that meant breaking into dance, singing along to the music playing on the speakers or hyping herself up as our photographer showed her shots from behind the scenes.
On a more serious note, Karencitta also knows that it’s this genuineness that will take her far. As she explains it, “Authenticity is the catalyst of business, so sticking to your roots is the best [way] to move forward—especially if you’re an artist. If you imitate other cultures, then you’re not going to be a purple cow; you’re not going to stand out in the industry.”
Black and white printed top, PATRICK LAZOL, yellow tulle slip dress, EMJ USON, green checkered cropped top, PATRICK LAZOL
And that Pinoy pride we were talking about earlier? It comes out from Karencitta, clear and strong and undeniably. Why else would she still champion her local roots, after all, if she didn’t feel comfortable in her own morena skin? Why else would she have jumped at the opportunity to teach people a little bit more about Cebu in our cover shoot?
“What makes me so proud [of my heritage] is that it makes me different,” she tells us. “And we have our own culture, so we can put that in the industry.”
But it isn’t just about the need to stand out that she’s stayed so true to herself; it’s the sheer refusal to present anything else to the world that doesn’t resemble her. She is so certain as she says that she will always hero that local flavor that’s become synonymous to Karencitta—so much so that you hardly believe she’s only 23.
“Pinoy pride [is] inevitable.”
Green sculptured jacket, PATRICK LAZOL
Then again, as Karencitta so aptly describes, “Pinoy pride [is] inevitable.” And truly, it is something that we all grow up learning to nourish but sometimes forget to keep in the light as we grow older. But while the rest of us have forgotten to shine some light on this attitude, Karencitta has continuously nourished hers.
Her Pinoy pride and her firm grasp and understanding of who she is (and who she isn’t) has helped bring her to the highest of highs. This means a team that backs her up and knows how to have fun with her and loves to watch her succeed. It means a sense of fulfilment when you see yourself—and everything you bring with you—succeed.
With her second album on the way, Karencitta admits that her next tracks are targeted more to the US market. It’s going to be titled LA Persuasion and will feature more hip hop and trap influences, but it will still be truly her…which means we have the same attitude and mic-drop-moments to look forward to.
Gray skirt lapel, STEPH VERANO, gray trainers, ADIDAS ORIGINALS, blue earrings, O’EL DESIGNS
We’ve only heard the beginning of Karencitta; there will be so much more to look forward to. We will be showered with music videos that make us want to dance, with lyrics that will make us want to learn the many dialects our islands have to offer. And she will be loving it, herself and our culture through it all.
And if she can keep her roots and pride in the Philippines—willingly and lovingly—with all the wide roads and opportunities and promises that LA has to offer, then why can’t we? Why shouldn’t we?
As Karencitta says, “I didn’t have any struggles finding my unique sound. I have a lot of genres.”
So from her to all of us, above is a specially curated playlist from the musician herself.
Cebuana Persuasion by Karencitta is out now on Spotify and Apple Music