Susan Fuentes finds her voice again

- Nathalie M. Tomada () - January 9, 2011 - 12:00am

CEBU, Philippines - Hers is a story of a woman who had the world at her feet, was thrown into difficult circumstances, and found the grace to survive. 

When singer Susan Fuentes emerged onstage during the recent book launch of “To Never Forget,” the memoir of The FREEMAN chairman Jose “Dodong” Gullas at the Radisson Blu as one of the special guests (the other being Ms. Pilita Corrales), audience members were surprised at her sudden appearance after a long and unexplained hiatus.

They were also surprised because unlike other singers, who after a long absence from the scene have lost all the shine and luster of their heyday, the now 56-year-old Susan was still oozing with the sultry charm that became her trademark during her reign as “Queen of Visayan Songs” in the late ‘70s. Though her voice was a bit hoarse, she was still hitting all the right notes with her lusty vocals and emotional stylings. 

Susan Fuentes (whose real name is Susan Toyogan) became a prominent recording artist in the late 70s to the 80s. Susan popularized various Visayan songs, from Cebuano, Boholano to Ilonggo. She also recorded original Tagalog songs, the most famous of which was Miss Kita Kung Christmas, which also spawned revivals including that of Sharon Cuneta. 

Susan was born in Butuan City and grew up in a music-loving household. At the age of five, she was already joining amateur contests and entertaining people. Her promising talent landed her a feature in Bisaya magazine, and soon after high school, she was brought to Manila with the help a family friend to sign up with Alpha Records. Not too long after, she transferred to Gem Recording, where she was built up and packaged as the “Queen of Visayan Songs.”

She released seven albums under Gem Recording, which was owned by the Ayala's of Davao City and which had the likes of APO Hiking Society, and then “Kilabot ng mga Kolehiyala” Haji Alejandro as one of its recording artists. Susan became such a hit in the Visayas and Mindanao, where her albums became certified gold records, so much so that it was her image that was emblazoned in banners that welcomed visiting artists from Manila, even those more popular than her.

With her career going full throttle, she practically had everything she could ever ask. “Lahi gyud akong kinabuhi sa una nga daghan kaayo ko og kwarta. Nabuhi ko na murag reyna,” Susan recalls to The FREEMAN.

But she became overwhelmed and out of focus, made worse by an abusive lifestyle and self-destructive vices. In the ‘90s, Susan faded out of the spotlight.

“It's a long story. I had family problems,” reveals Susan, a single mother of two. “Then nagkasakit-sakit ko. I underwent four major operations, including a kidney transplant.”

Susan says she had all the chances to redeem her life, but it was only after hitting rock bottom that she willed herself to turn her life around.

Eight years ago, even when she could no longer afford to buy medicines or vitamins for herself, she was still able to undergo a life-saving yet very expensive kidney transplant through the generosity of her doctor and some kind individuals. It was a very humbling experience and it strengthened her resolve not to allow another opportunity go to waste. “I’m actually living on the grace of God,” says Susan.

Despite all that had happened to her, she is very grateful that her God-given talent of voice was never taken away from her. She renewed her faith and became active in her church in Quezon City by leading its music ministry. “I thought di na gyud ko makakanta, abi nako kutob na gyud ko didto, kay daghan man nahitabo.”

While she enjoyed serving at her church, there were times when she really missed performing for the mainstream audience. “Siyempre na miss gyud. Namiss gyud nako ang singing career nako kay daghan ang nahitabo nga mga trials and testings pero by God’s grace naka-recover ra gyud ko.”

While there were several near-opportunities to do live public performances and concerts (she, however, recently guested in a GMA TV show), her appearance at the book launch of Dodong Gullas was the first in a very long time.

Dodong Gullas and his wife Nena have been looking for Susan Fuentes since last year when they staged the Halad 2010 concert honoring Cebuano composers and featuring Visayan singers Pilita, Dulce and Raki Vega. Unfortunately, they couldn’t locate her, up until recently.

Susan is profusely thankful that “they never gave up in looking for me.”

According to Susan, a Visayan musical event cum roadshow is now in the works, inspired by the success of the Halad 2010 concert, and she is going to be part of the artist lineup. She prays that it finally pushes through this year as it might give her the opportunity to visit Davao where her children, now adults, are based. It’s been almost a decade since she last saw them.

She shares, “I just want to see them. That’s my main motivation why I want to return to performing again.”

Asked if she’s open to making a full comeback and recording again, as some of the music personalities of the ‘70s and ‘80s are now back in the scene, hosting noontime shows, releasing revival albums, and doing concerts, she says: “Mobalik gyud ko sa pagkanta kay mao gyud na ang gihatag Niya nga talent nako. Kung naa’y offer nga mobalik sa recording, why not?”

Quoting her favorite Biblical verse from the book of Jeremiah, she adds: “Si Lord nalang ang bahala nako. ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” (FREEMAN)

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