The music is straight ahead jazz — the classic, swingy stuff with lots of space between instruments and a smoky, sultry voice caressing the lyrics. It’s jazz, the classic American artform. But the words… aren’t… English. The words to the lovely “Dahil Sa Yo (Because of You)” are sung in Tagalog, the native language of the Philippines. It’s a jazz standard nonetheless, written for a Filipino movie in 1938 and better known for an English-Tagalog version recorded in 1964 that made the charts in the US.
The singer is Charmaine Clamor, the self-described “Queen of Jazzipino,” who sings with a lovely voice in both English and Tagalog, a range of songs from traditional jazz to a fine jazzy version of the U2 rock hit “With or Without You,” to traditional folksongs of the Philippines in her jazzipino style.
Clamor’s built a loyal following of Filipinos worldwide by bringing her jazz chops to songs in Tagalog, updating her cultural heritage with a modern sheen. She was born in the Philippines and started singing when she was just 3, entertaining bus riders. She later learned to play the piano and accompanied her mother, who sang Filipino torch songs called “kundiman.” Her family moved stateside when she was 16 and she retained her cultural ties to the Philippines.
She’s released four albums, including the wonderful, low-key “My Harana: A Filipino Serenade” that’s almost entirely in Tagalog, and mostly sparingly accompanied with just a guitar or percussion. For fans of Brazilian jazz and samba sung in Portuguese, sitting back with Clamor’s Tagalog songs has the same lilting, lulling effect.
Clamor kicks off her 2007 album “Flippin’ Out” with a wonderful take on “My Funny Valentine,” “My Funny Brown Pinay,” a powerful affirmation of her ethnic identity that starts out with a spoken poem backed by piano, bass and drums before she breaks into the melody: