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Julia Fordham is actually cool |


Julia Fordham is actually cool

BRIEF HISTORIES - Don Jaucian - The Philippine Star
Julia Fordham is actually cool
Julia Fordham is also an LGBTQ rights advocate. She’s written a song for a short film about gay marriage and performed at the San Francisco Pride Parade in 2002.
Photos by PAOLO ABAD

She is admired by people like David Lynch, she’s worked with India.Arie and Paul Reiser, and was invited to  record an album in Joni Mitchell’s house.

First, the basis of cool, which should have been blown wide open in an age where the borders of highbrow, middlebrow and lowbrow are gradually being eradicated. The idea of “cool kids” still exists: arbiters of hipness who can sway crowds into buying what they’re selling — usually on their color-coordinated Instagrams. There are those who are defiantly “lowbrow,” whose Twitter timelines are actually just Tumblr s**tposts and who know the titles of each Daisy Siyete episode by heart. But it’s also easy to slip between the lines of what’s highbrow, middlebrow and lowbrow, and the lines just keep blurring and blurring until we’re left with just Beyoncé (no complaints about that).

So why do I have to defend Julia Fordham’s coolness?

Each generation is resistant to the previous generation’s roster of musical legends. Back when we were kids, neck-deep in Backstreet Boys and Christina Aguilera (#BuyLiberationOniTunes), we thought folk music and the Beatles were reserved for the jukeboxes and KTVs of our parents. But as we made significant steps into our own musical awakening, we made room for John Denver, The Lovin’ Spoonful and Paul McCartney on our playlists. And in the vast gulf that spans Joni Mitchell, Kate Bush and Joan Armatrading, artists like Julia Fordham lie in its deep places, waiting to be rediscovered.

“I always sort of say that the Filipino people must have great taste and emotional intelligence (laughs) because they accept my less than central way of singing and being in the world,” says Julia Fordham.

I watched her recent Manila concert as part of a work assignment. In order to prepare myself (i.e., so I wouldn’t be one of those idiots who only know her two most popular songs, [Love Moves In] Mysterious Ways and Invisible War) I had a playlist made and dove into some of her records, “Porcelain,” particularly.

It was actually her sixth time to perform in Manila, which should have clued me in that she has a dedicated fan base here (she actually knows who her Number One Filipino Fan is — by name) and in a brief chat backstage, Fordham told me that her Filipino fans are known to wade into her deep cuts, passionate enough to demand that her set go beyond the usual favorites.

“I wasn’t gonna do Towerblock but when I say I have been inundated with requests and demands... and I started typing back to people, ‘You know, I wasn’t gonna do that …’ but I think the people from Manila really stepped up their game because they started writing to the crew, the band and everybody involved in this production so I have succumbed to the pressure,” she said.

This ferocity is something that Fordham appreciates, as her songs don’t particularly inhabit the qualities of “mainstream showbiz finish ballads,” as she put it.

“I always sort of say this means that the Filipino people must have great taste and emotional intelligence (Laughs) because they accept my less-than-central way of singing and being in the world,” she said.

It’s not that surprising that her deeper cuts remain classics to her fans, especially to Pinoys, who are inclined to favor gut-wrenching ballads, and Fordham’s are the deceptively happy kind, built on slow-burning piano backing and wrapped in her plush contralto. There’s Girlfriend, a tragic song that opts to shelve the idea of romance; Porcelain, a delicate number about the fine line between sensuality and fragility; and the aforementioned Towerblock, which starts out as a tender ode to a new lover but ends with a crushing lesson on self-reliance.

This is hardly a testimony meant to make Fordham’s music relevant to the new generation. She’s admired by people like David Lynch, she’s worked with India.Arie (Concrete Love is one of her best songs) and Paul Reiser, and was invited to record an album in Joni Mitchell’s house. She’s even an LGBTQ rights advocate. She was even thrilled when I pointed out she’s performing here during Pride Month and probably would have said yes to an invitation to the Pride March if she was still in town.

The comfort of Julia Fordham’s music is what makes her enduring, her notions of romance and heartbreak glow like a lamp in the lull of loving. She’s been written off as a Joni Mitchell without the poeticism but her strength relies on her way of conveying an undercurrent of melancholia and vulnerability that is precise yet powerful. And she doesn’t just trade on sadness — her songs cross many lines, from free-flowing jazz, world music, torch songs, social activism — sometimes all in one go.

It’s great that my musical preference is often challenged and, eventually, destabilized by artists like Julia Fordham; my discovery of her is a small revolution that only serves to break the barriers that I have come to erect in my musical inclinations, and what it means to like and love music. It might be a stretch to put all this weight on Fordham’s music, but isn’t this what the personalization of music is about? When the little failures and quiet moments that make up your personal history are given life through the meanings of each song that you embrace? And Julia Fordham is only happy to have done that for you.

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