Marlene: Looking Back
By Dennis Sun and Yellowbelle Duaqui
It has been 3 decades and a couple of years now since 1978 when a young lady possessing a powerhouse of vocals stepped foot on the Land of the Rising Sun impressing the Japanese audience. Now considered an icon in Japan's entertainment industry with talents crossing boundaries not only in music but TV, films, theatre and radio, Marlene shares a gem of advice that any journey we take in life - especially in building a career - is not all about what you become, but who you become as a person. Grateful to the society that launched her career as a singer, she launches a new album entitled INITIAL which can be in no more perfect timing than this trying moment in Japanese history.
Sit back and relax as we throw out to Marlene 32 questions...one question for each of the 32 years she has spent in Japan.
1. Before you went to Japan, what were your impressions about this country?
Rich in money and culture
2. Of all the different countries that accept Filipino singers, why did you choose Japan? You could have gone to USA or Europe to pursue a higher singing career.
I was discovered by a Japanese promoter at 15, but did not go until I was in college.
3. Filipinos are known to be flexible and they can easily adjust to different cultures and customs. What do you think is the most difficult thing for you to adjust or
accept in Japan?
The language! When I came here, I did not speak ANY Nihongo but I was quick in learning it and figuring out what they were trying to say through their facial expre-ssions! Those days I didn’t understand why the guys comes first and not the women! You’ve got to know the language to be able to understand their ways!
4. How was Japan then 30 years ago when you started compared to the Japan now, 30 years later?
The Nippon Danji way back then was supreme and women seemed to be 2nd class citizens. Today, women are more independent, looking after themselves, making their own money and making their own decisions.
5. How were the Filipinos accepted then?
That was the time when Filipinos here were known as entertainers…as band players, singers and dancers in an omise. Our women entertainers were called ”JAPAYUKI,” which I hated! Where did that word come from anyway?
6. Can you tell us how you were discovered?
I was just starting my career singing in Manila when a Japanese promoter saw me and heard me and would not just stop offering me to come to Japan.
7. You started your career as a pop singing idol in Japan. But basing from your early albums, you only recorded songs in English. Why not in Japanese, as well? Some foreign talents like Teresa Teng, Judy Ong, Agnes Chan and others were all recording in Japanese.
During the first 2-years of my career I recorded songs in Japanese. Then in 1981, I was offered by CBS-Sony then, now Sony Music Entertainment to launch an album categorized as FUSION/ JAZZ. The company wanted me to be different from the others. I was a “GAITARE”(gaijin talento) that lives in Japan. The rest is history.
8. Do you think that if they have asked you to record in Japanese, you could have been a much bigger star capturing a wider audience?
Honestly, I have no doubt about that!!
9. Having been to many of your concerts, I noticed that almost everyone in your audience is Japanese. Seldom do I see Filipinos going to your shows.
Yes, very few. I guess because I’m marketed to the Japanese audience. News about me if there’s any are in the Japanese media which Filipinos can’t read or understand. There’s also the price of my tickets. I think they’re too high for Filipino standards. Even if I want to, it’s hard for me to invite everyone to come to my shows because I understand them.
10. Given a choice, would you have preferred to have made a name in another country like USA or other English speaking countries instead of Japan?
I’m happy with what I have achieved here in Japan. This is a very difficult market to get into. I feel so blessed. We all have our share and I am destined to make it here. Of course, I would be happy to be given the chance outside of Japan.
11. What is so special about Japan?
I love the rich culture, the loyalty of the Japanese people, their honesty, their polite ways, their being so organized which our country need.
12. Why did you prefer to stay here? You could have chosen to break it in the mainstream American music scene?
Before I knew it, I realized this has been home to me. I was once offered to debut in Europe then in the States but my career was doing great, my recording company turned it down!
13. Would you like to create a name in the Philippines?
Oh, no question about that! It’s definitely YES.You are famous in Japan but not in your own country. Would you like to create a name in the Philippines?
14. So many Filipino singing talents came to Japan decades ago. But only very few were chosen to succeed. And you are one of the biggest Filipino stars to have made a mark in the world of music, films, theatre and television. What is your secret?
In Japan? A few? As far as I know, BIMBO DANAO made it big here as a singer 60 years ago even ended up marrying a very famous actress. 30 years later came MARLENE, and movie actress RUBY MORENO. My secret? It's not even a secret!
I treasure the opportunity that was given to me.
15. Is there a different or special way of doing business with the Japanese?
Nope! It’s pure professionalism.
16. What tips can you share to aspiring Filipino artists out there who wish to follow your career?
You’ve got to have DISCIPLINE and ORIGINALITY. You may start mimicking your favorite singer but you have to find your own style.
17. What is Marlene doing when she is not working?
I’m a busy MOMMY.
18. What is a typical day for you?
I do what a typical Mom would do! I wake up at 6am, prepare breakfast and obento for my kids. Drive them to school, attend meetings in their school if I have to. Do some house chores, pick up the kids, take them to their extra curricular activities…BORING eh!
19. You live in Tokyo and Nagasaki?
Since the Nuclear Power Plant crisis started, we moved the kids to Nagasaki where my husband works. We’re fortunate that we have a place to go when the news on radiation came out!
20. You have lived in Japan for so many years and probably had many Japanese suitors but ended up marrying an American.
God blessed me with a great husband. It is what it is.
21. You have two kids. How is life as a mother?
It’s very challenging but it’s worth it! I really enjoy being a mother to my two energetic children.
22. Would you push your kids to follow the same path as you did? Or would you prefer them to do other things?
I would lay the rail track down for them but It’s up to them to choose which way they want to go. I’m confident that they are nurtured with love and care and they’re disciplined enough to know what’s good and bad and that they will know what to do in life when they grow up.
23. How do you see yourself 5 to 10 years from now? Any plans? Would you like to continue singing or pursue other fields?
I’m enjoying what I have now and I see myself doing the same thing. If I’m going to do something else in the future, it’s definitely outside of my career.
24. Given a chance, would you like to try it again in the Philippines?
I never gave up my possibility of giving my country a try. If it won’t happen, it still won’t change anything. As I said, I’m very happy with what GOD has blessed me.
25. You were in Tokyo when the tragedy in Tohoku happened. How did it affect you?
I was so frightened. It’s different when you have two little kids. When I was in grade school, Manila had a big earthquake. I remember broken pieces of plates, glasses and figurines lined up at the side of our street on my way to school. I felt this earthquake was greater than that.
26. Knowing the Japanese people for a long time, do you think Japan can recover from this tragedy?
I think people just now realize what they were losing. In the good old days, Japan became arrogant , too proud. It became materialistic. They had it all and it seemed it would never end. Japan forgot their values, respect, love and care to one another. Now we’re talking about saving energy consumption, helping each other, working hand in hand. For me, it’s OKAERINASAI JAPAN. Now that we’re back to basic, I’m confident that Japan can recover and be even greater.
27. As a singer whose career is fully established in Japan, how do you think you can contribute to its recovery?
Music can heal. I participated in a song recorded for the people of Tohoku region. It’s called “LOVE WILL FIND A WAY” produced by INCOGNITO leader Bluey. Artists and musicians from all over the world participated. It can only be downloaded on iTunes. I can show them a good positive attitude about life, give them life through my songs.
28. Do you think music can somehow help provide psychological reassurance to the Japanese people?
29. You have made new album of your previous hit songs from the SONY label before. Can you tell us about the album?
It’s FUSION. It’s entitled INITIAL. Produced by Andoh Masahiro. He wrote my signature song ‘IT’S MAGIC’. Photographed by the famous cameraman KANOU TEMMEI and my wardrobe stylist is KONISHI DON. It is composed of my well-requested songs from my past albums.
30. In your new album, you composed a new song, COME FLY WITH ME. Can you tell us something how the song came to be written and what it is all about?
I was getting tired of hearing psychological difficulties the people are experiencing nowadays, so when I sat down and started to write the lyrics, I thought I’d write something that would uplift their spirits. Be positive is the message. That’s how I came up with the lyrics.
31. What would you like to tell the Filipinos in Japan?
Mabuhay ang mga PINOY. Kahit na anong hirap, palagi tayong magkakasama. I’m so proud of you. I discreetly visited Filipinos from Tohoku who took refuge at the Franciscan Chapel in Roppongi about 3 weeks ago. I was so touched and relieved that in spite of their loss, I still see smiles on their faces. That positive attitude saves us through thick and thin.
32. What would you like to tell the Japanese?
Hand in hand, we can build this country again. Don’t lose your faith. My thoughts and prayers are with you. May the smile on your faces come back very soon.