Fil-Am singer shares love for OPM, kundiman

Leah C. Salterio - The Philippine Star
Fil-Am singer shares love for OPM, kundiman
Aside from singing, Kurt Tijamo is also into songwriting. He has written a lot of songs. For his first single with Curve Entertainment, Kurt is coming out with an original, pop, R&B track, U & Me.
STAR / File

Multi-faceted is the word that readily describes 28-year-old Filipino-American singer-songwriter Kurt Tijamo.

When he was younger, Kurt didn’t know exactly what his ambition was. Since he has the height, he really loved playing basketball. Meanwhile, his mom always convinced him to become a doctor. It wasn’t until in Kurt’s senior year in high school that he realized his “deep passion” for singing.

“So, it was kind of serendipitous that I auditioned for a musical on a whim,” Kurt recalls. “Of course, it was scary to decide to study music in college instead of something more traditional. I remember second guessing my major, but then I thought, ‘Well, the world has enough accountants.’ So why not pursue music?”

US-based Kurt didn’t actually realize he wanted to become a singer until he was a teenager. “I started out learning piano from my dad and thought that’s what I wanted to do,” he shares. “Even when they bought me an acoustic guitar for my 13th birthday (cliché, I know), I didn’t think about being a singer-songwriter.

“So, I didn’t really figure out that I had an instrument until I auditioned for musical theater in my senior year of high school, when I was 17. They decided to cast me as Javert (in Les Miserables) and then all of a sudden, I discovered a love for singing and decided that I wanted to study music in college.”

The earliest and most influential person on Kurt’s musical development would have to be his dad. “He taught me to play piano and even gave me a musical vocabulary very early on that I feel still influences me today,” he grants.

Admirably enough, Kurt is also into writing songs. He has written a lot of songs. For his first single with Curve Entertainment, Kurt is coming out with an original, pop, R&B (rhythm and blues) track, U & Me. Song arrangement and production were done here in Manila at Kindred Productions.

“Writing songs has always been a hobby of mine; sometimes as a way to process intense feelings or just to compose a cool idea that I had,” Kurt discloses. He expressed his desire to record an OPM (Original Pilipino Music) soon or perhaps re-imagine a track that everyone is familiar with.

In songwriting, Kurt’s biggest musical influence has been Fil-Am singer-songwriter Gabe Bondoc, a California-based pop-acoustic artist, who rose to fame for his One Take Sessions of famous songs and his own compositions.

“I didn’t really take guitar playing seriously until my cousin showed me one of Gabe’s YouTube videos very early on,” Kurt grants. “I was hooked and I literally learned to play guitar by watching Gabe’s videos and learning his songs. A lot of the foundation of my style was formed by learning Gabe’s songs and technique.”

Early on, when Kurt was still a teenager learning to play the acoustic guitar in the confines of his bedroom, John Mayer greatly influenced his guitar playing and even musical tastes. “He is constantly growing as an artist and that is something that I want for myself as well,” Kurt says of John. “I also really enjoy listening to the jazz guitar masters as well, like Wes Montgomery, Herb Ellis and Joe Pass.”

Although he has yet to visit the Philippines, Kurt was raised in a very Fil-Am tradition, coming from a family of working-class immigrants. “My cousins and I were looked after by our lolo during the day, while all the parents were at work,” Kurt shares. “So, I ended up identifying very closely with the Filipino side of my family.”

Unfortunately, because his mom had to work while also going to school, learning Tagalog was not successfully passed on to Kurt and his siblings. “We know some of the basics and a few phrases that all Filipino kids hear when they’re in trouble, but I’m not much of a speaker,” he unabashedly says.

“That’s something that I’m trying to work on now on my own, because with all of the social consciousness happening here in the US, I’ve decided to really dig down and rediscover my Filipino roots. My mom is doing the same rediscovery and she even started learning Baybayin script.”

Thankfully, Kurt is familiar with Filipino artists, mostly the ones that his mom loves to listen to. “My mom always liked to sing Mr. DJ by Sharon Cuneta when I was growing up,” recalls Kurt. “I love singing in Tagalog!”

“I even did a set of Filipino kundiman for my graduate recital at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Exploring the work of composer Francisco Santiago (Father of Kundiman) was an incredible and enriching experience. I really love Filipino music, especially a lot of the songs from the ‘60s and ‘70s. I’d love to do an OPM cover soon.”

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