Freeman Cebu Entertainment

Cebuana singer-songwriter Paula Pagalan on yearning for a permanent home

Januar Junior Aguja - The Freeman

If you tune in to DYFR 98.7 Life-Changing Radio every morning, you’ll likely hear the warm, gentle voice of a young Filipino-American woman. She reads the news, shares Bible passages, and offers words of encouragement to help listeners start their day with a positive mindset.

She is Paula Pagalan, and being a radio announcer for a Christian FM station in Cebu is the best gig she could ever have. “I feel so blessed to have this job where I can listen to Christian music all day and work in a great environment,” she told The FREEMAN in an interview.

However, Pagalan is better known for her night job as a singer-songwriter in the Cebu music scene.

“My songs are very vulnerable,” said Pagalan of why she feels stage fright every time she performs. “They tell stories of things that happened to me before, about the people I used to really love, or still really love. So I am afraid of what people will think: Will they like my song and understand what I am trying to say?”

Her love for music stemmed from her grandfather, who was in a band with his brothers, writing Christian music together.

“My grandfather would play the ukulele with me in the middle of the night and sing with me. He was the one who taught me how to play my first song on the ukulele,” she recalled.

Leaving behind

Pagalan, 25, has lived like a nomad. Born in Cebu, her family later moved to the United States, first in Missouri, and then in the Bay Area in California. In 2018, the brood relocated to the Philippines.

She stayed briefly in Cebu before enrolling at Silliman University in Dumaguete City, where she studied Speech and Theater Arts for a semester. She then returned to Cebu to finish college at the University of San Carlos, graduating with a degree in Communications.

While she has no regrets about moving back to her birthplace, she was sad to leave behind loved ones in the States. “As you get older, you kinda lose touch with those people because you live completely different lives, and it hurts. Music helped me get through all of that.”

Pagalan used to be a party girl dreaming of a rockstar lifestyle. Now, she considers that time as an unhealthy coping mechanism for her sadness.

“I was running away from my feelings and the pain I experienced from my youth. I went through hard things when I was young that affected my health and my relationships,” she said. “I look back at who I used to be, and she’s a stranger to me now. I feel sorry for her. I wish I could hug her and tell her it’s going to be okay.”

What changed Pagalan’s life was connecting with God – something she had previously avoided despite growing up in a Christian household. During the pandemic, her thesis partner invited her to a Bible study. It was then that she felt her relationship with God begin to heal and she gained a renewed perspective.

While faith plays an important role in Pagalan’s life now, she isn’t exactly a gospel or Christian artist. Her music will more likely remind listeners of alternative artists such as Mitski, Phoebe Bridgers, and Maggie Rogers.

Icy Blue

Pagalan released her debut single “Icy Blue” last April under 22 Tango Music Group, a song she wrote in 2021 about a former best friend-turned-crush that she lost touch with.

“I was madly in love with this guy in high school and he was my best friend. I cared about him and he cared for me. After I moved to the Philippines, we kinda lost touch. We would email and Facetime each other sometimes, but it wasn’t as frequent as I wanted it to be.”

What inspired her to write was that one instance that “I was missing him and I was going through a difficult time” when she tried to call her friend several times but he wouldn’t pick up.

While she didn’t harbor ill feelings toward him, she deleted his number as a way to move on. She later on received a text message from a random international number.

“I knew it was him based on how he speaks in his messages. He asked how I was doing or if I had any music projects lined up. I didn’t reply. I deleted his message and I reported his number as spam. I loved him too much, but I can’t keep in touch with him anymore,” she said.

In the chorus, she sings: “Tried to hit you up last night / but you didn’t pick up my call / Like you used to do / I didn’t leave a voicemail ‘cause I know you’re busy having fun / Should I call again or wait ‘til I’m the one?”

A home in Cebu

All her life, Pagalan yearned for a permanent place to call home. While most of her family returned to the States, she decided to stay in Cebu for good.

“Many of my old songs tackled my longing for a home. I longed for a place to live in forever. That’s something my heart desires: to settle down in one place. If you go through my notes and old recordings, you will see that as a recurring theme,” she shared.

The end of the chorus of “Icy Blue” connects with that theme: “Maybe if you help me out / I might find my way back home / Icy Blue / When I call / Will you come through?”

Asked if she ever considered going back to America, she said: “If God calls me, then maybe I’ll go back to the US. But so far, I am content and happy with my decision to stay here in the Philippines.”

She also hopes to see Cebu’s music scene thrive as she makes a name for herself. “We have so many talented people here. I can’t believe I get to hear so many talented people singing at multiple gigs each month,” she said, adding that Kubra Commander is one of her many favorite local acts.

She advised aspiring songwriters not to ignore their feelings. “Write everything you are feeling and allow yourself to feel sadness and happiness,” she said.

“Spend time with the people you love because being around them makes songwriting easier and allows you to create songs from your experiences. You can immortalize those moments in a song, so cherish your time with people because you never know who might inspire your next song.”

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