What I've Learned

“Ano ba naman ang magagawa ng ranting and raving mo on social media? Wala rin, 'di ba?”-Celeste Legaspi

The legendary singer on making ‘Ang Larawan’ and paying Nick Joaquin with beer and a typewriter.
IMAGE Joseph Pascual
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WHAT I'VE LEARNED

CELESTE LEGASPI
67, singer and actress

I had a hard time memorizing the lyrics of Saranggola Ni Pepe. I still have a hard time remembering it, because it’s very unique. I was only 22 when [my husband] gave that to me. I didn’t know where it was going to go, I didn’t know how important it was. Basta to him, it was his reaction to what was going on around us. He wasn’t even [thinking], “I have to fight them.” He was just reacting to his environment.

What has been prevalent here really is “pwede na.” And I’ve been guilty of that too, in the past. Those musicals that we created and produced—seven of them—none of them, I was really 100% happy with. Meaning, we had good material and then when we put it on stage—because kulang sa budget, kulang sa time, mali ’yung casting, or something—there’s something not perfect about it. And you’ll just have to let it go. Sige na nga, bahala na, it’s okay, what can you do. I’m also guilty of that. But I’ve never been happy about that. Never.

Especially as I grew older, ang [attitude] ko was, I will dedicate myself to excellence, because what’s the point, 'di ba? You’re already near death, you might as well! When will you do it pa? (Laughs)

"When I sing kasi, it’s my most spiritual moment. I’m using something that was given to me—it’s a blessing, and I’m sharing it with other people. I think that’s prayer."

When I went to EDSA in 1986, I didn’t even think, “This needs courage” or whatever. I didn’t even say to myself, “Hey, this is dangerous.” I just went. I needed to be done, so I just went. I don’t really know about courage—all I know is that it needs to be done, so I’ll do it.

Is it arrogant to say that I don’t really think about fear? I do get apprehensive, I do get anxious, but I don’t...  Ang yabang ko naman! I’m afraid of the future, when I’m about to die. Or, am I really afraid, or just anxious? I don’t know—I’ve never really thought about fear, I guess.

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I had a teacher. I was 13, I was so fat, I felt ugly and I was complaining to my parents [that] I only had one pair of shoes. And she brought me to Divisoria, she bought me tela, she brought me to Magnolia, she had me try an ice cream sundae. I thought that was so sweet of her. It made me feel good. I was affected by that kindness.

Ano ba naman ang magagawa ng ranting and raving mo on social media? Wala rin, 'di ba? I’d rather go into the communities and try and help.


Celeste Legaspi (rightmost) in Loy Arcenas' Ang Larawan, a film adaptation of a stage play based on Nick Joaquin's A Portrait of The Artist As Filipino.



My father [painter and National Artist Cesar Legaspi] was colorblind, did you know that? What he did was he devised ways to get over it. He was always colorblind, but he was able to get over it [enough] so that he could paint. He came up with his own ways. I was 13, 15 and he would have me identify colors from a magazine page. Every day ’yan. He fixed his working table so that all the colors, all the tubes are categorized according to color. I guess he taught himself how to imagine the colors. If you see his paintings now, his reds and his greens are vibrant and beautiful. This was a great difficulty, and he overcame it. He was never OA about it. He just went ahead and did it. He was tenacious, pero quiet. Kaya ako, pagka nakakakita ako ng artist na maarte, ang feeling ko talaga, “Hindi naman kailangan ganon!” You just do it. You just continue doing it. You work on it.

There was one year that I quit school. I was taking up nursing, I was a sophomore, and I decided that I wanted to stop schooling. And they allowed me naman. That one year, I would always hang out with my father in the studio. That was also the time that I started singing with a group, so I started to have confidence with my singing.

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I like following the recipe first, strictly. And then I invent on it. So that you know what it’s supposed to be.

When I sing, I think that it’s a prayer. I felt that way, even before. When I sing kasi, it’s my most spiritual moment. Hay, ang OA! (Laughs). But that’s really how I feel about it! I’m using something that was given to me—it’s a blessing, and I’m sharing it with other people. I think that’s prayer.

"Men don’t change. Don’t be fooled! I’m 67 and I’m telling you, they don’t change."


I have at least five songs that have remained hits, that I can put in my repertoire and people will clap to. I think that’s absolute good luck. I know of other singers who don’t have hits—they’re extremely talented, but somehow, they don’t have hits. One such person who is absolutely lucky is Basil Valdez. He has like 25 hits or something like that—all of that, people will clap for and want to listen to again and again in exactly the same way. He’s absolutely lucky, that way. I don’t know why we were given these songs. It’s marvelous luck. I didn’t go out to look for it. Other singers are as talented as I am, but it just came to me. And then I got to work with Rolando Tinio, I got to work with Lino Brocka, I got to work with Ishmael Bernal. I mean hey, that’s luck! (Pauses). Maybe talent also. (Laughs) Pero malaki ’yung luck!

Men don’t change. Don’t be fooled! (Laughs). Only women change! I’m 67 and I’m telling you, they don’t change. [Men] just grow older, lose their hair, grow a belly and lose the ability to have great sex!

I wish I were taller! I had great parents, my husband’s wonderful, the children are great. Sometimes insolent, but great. I wish I had more grandchildren; I wish there was a little girl that kind of looks like me. But I really wish i were taller, just for the experience!

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Humility is always good. The need to be humble, at whatever age, it’s always good. Sometimes lang you don’t recognize it agad and you let it pass you by, but it’s always good. Candor is also nice, but only when you’re older!



Nick Joaquin, we really had to woo him
to allow us to turn [A Portrait of The Artist As Filipino] into a musical in 1997. And it wasn’t easy, wooing Nick Joaquin. I had a foot in the door because my father, Cesar Legaspi, was a close pal of [his], but we had to go around after him. He would have luncheons with his artist friends, and he would be lording it with the beer, we would sit there and listen. But it was wonderful because these were great people, and they always had great food. Once we had to follow him to Sulo Hotel, tatlo kaming executive producers: ako, si Girlie [Rodis], si Rachel Alejandro. Rachel was around 21 or something, 22. And then Nick told her: So, you’re a singer? Rachel said yes. O, sing! We were there in the coffee shop, and si Rachel naman, sing! It was a standard, which Nick loved. And then finally, he said yes, and he didn’t ask for any payment, except for San Miguel Beer and an old-fashioned typewriter. Everything just fell into place. And then Rolando [Tinio] just did the work in three weeks. I guess if you’re a genius, talagang ganon eh, no? Pag hindi ka genius, medyo nahihirapan ka! (Laughs)

1917 was a very unusual year in the Philippines. Seven national artists were born—kasi all of them are celebrating their centennial year this year. My father was born in April, Nick Joaquin was born in May. And Marcos was also born in 1917—how crazy can that year be?

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Read the libretto of Rolando [Tinio]. He has words like, Tony Javier saying pagka siya nagkaroon ng pera, pupunta siya sa Europa. Mag-aaral siya ng piano, at sisinghot siya ng kultura. Things like that, na dapat talaga marinig ng batang Pilipino.

I was so concentrated during the shooting [of Ang Larawan] on making sure that no one was adlibbing the lines of Rolando Tinio, that everybody was delivering the lines as written. And that’s not easy, because the cast members—who are all excellent—are used to adlibbing, para mas-natural. And my requirement was that no, you have to be faithful, completely, 100 percent, to Rolando. I tell the cast, very simply: Bakit, National Artist ka ba?

Makeup by Joan Teotico using NARS Cosmetics, hair by Bryan D. Resureccion.

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Miguel Escobar
Assistant Features Editor for Esquire Philippines
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