Category Archives: Life’s Adventures

He is not Bro. Diony for Nothing

img_0172I used to have profound conversations with my parents, specifically my father, about anything under the sun. I normally would ask him just one question and he would enumerate several answers. My father who was a journalist back in Mindanao, being the city editor of Davao Sentinel and a contributing writer of ‘The Mindanao Daily Tribune’ have tons of stories hidden in his pandora box. I would unearth all those untold stories by interrogating him time and again.

My dad, Diony Cifra Jr, a born journalist endeared  by his fellow legionaries as bro. Diony is likewise a born legionary. Just as he would always tell me that I was born for music. I am a witness to his unconditional love and devotion to the Blessed Mother. He started attending the Legion of Mary when he decided to leave his career as a journalist and decided on becoming an under bar lawyer instead by enrolling in San Beda Law school. He considers the Legion of Mary as his second family next to us. He made it a point that he continues on with his journalistic talent by becoming a ghost writer for several priests and officers of the apostolic community while he was attending the Legion meetings every Sunday with no absence. To him, not attending a Legion meeting or making excuses like being busy with whatever reason is a crime, unless he is deeply sick and about to drop dead, attendance is a must.  The Legion of Mary is his top priority.

Years after his devotion as a member of the Legion, he rose from a member to a Curia officer and later on became the president of the Senatus of Northern Philippines, off and on. He found a venue to continue his love for writing. As a writer, he is passionate, firm but polite, straight to the point with no qualms about any subject he would write about. When I see him typing with his manual typewriter, without looking at the keyboard (he’s great in typing) , he will not allow disturbances. When an idea comes to his mind, he would start typing his idea non-stop. The story  just naturally flows from his brain to his fingers. As soon as the sound of the typewriter stops, we all know that his story is done. Most of his stories are about his love for the Blessed Mother, his parish, his Monsignor, him being the legionary of Mary, the junior members, the officers’ responsibilities towards the Legion, the role of the Catholic Church, the Vatican, Legion Handbook, apostolate, how to be a faithful servant, how to build a family based on Christian values and I could go on and on.

When my father read the first essay I wrote in high school, he uttered, ‘Sweetheart, (he calls me , Tart) , (now I am missing him dearly), you have talent for writing’. I just shrugged my shoulders and I said I was just writing from my heart and soul. Then he follows it up with, ‘you are not only good in music but writing as well’. ‘Anak, that’s how writers are, you write because your heart tells you to do so’. I don’t need writers like Ophelia Dimalanta, who was my professor in literature way back, to validate my knack for writing. My father’s validation is more than enough.

As soon as he came up with the idea of printing the first Senatus Bulletin, he wasted no time and had confidence that the Bulletin will be his legacy. I just keep on praying that the wisdom he instilled to his fellow legionaries would continue that legacy. The Bulletin gave him life and rejuvenates him  issue after issue even after his first heart attack.  My brother Pipo and I are privileged and grateful to the Senatus officers to be given the opportunity to keep the Bulletin circulating to this date.

27th October is my dad’s first year death anniversary. I want to pay tribute to my father and my mentor in life, by announcing to the world that his legacy continues while every legionary reads the Senatus Bulletin, while a legionary regularly attends  weekly meetings, while humility is continuously observed, while apostolate works are being done wholeheartedly without expecting anything in return. To us, his children, he is the best father one can ever have. He is a legionary and he is not Bro. Diony for nothing. We miss you so much and we love you Dad.

Nativity and the Legionary

     To neglect someone’s birthday is to say we do not love them. God forbid that we would even forget our own mother’s birthday. Yet, this is what many Catholics do with Jesus’ mother. There is only one reason why we should celebrate. It is the birthday of the mother of Jesus our Savior and Mary being our heavenly mother. It is just the same as saying that to forget our own mother’s birthday is unthinkable.
     

     In conception, Mary was created and filled with spiritual gifts and blessings but she was shrouded by the mystery of the womb. When She was born, she was introduced into the society of man. Born to the light of the world, her mission to be the universal mediatrix and co-redemptrix officially began, much in the same way the birth of Jesus Christ had. 

     I have had the privilege to have endless conversations with my father, (known to many of the legionaries as Bro. Diony), about his love and devotion to our Blessed Mother and his undying support to the Legion of Mary. He opened his publishing business after realizing that being in mainstream journalism would only endanger his life and he named his company, Madonna Printing Press after the The Madonna and Child or The Virgin and Child and is often the name of a work of art which shows the Virgin Mary and the Child Jesus. The word ‘Madonna’ means “My Lady” in Italian. Artworks of the Christ Child and his mother Mary are part of the Roman Catholic tradition in many parts of the world including Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, South America and the Philippines. Paintings or otherwise known as icons are also an important tradition of the Orthodox Church and often show the Mary and the Christ Child. That was the first manifestation of my father’s profound love to Mama Mary. 

     He met my mother through the Legion of Mary which my father thinks is the best gift he ever received. She was a legionary too. His prayers to Jesus through Mary was to be blessed with a loving wife and obedient children to the Catholic faith. In my opinion, Mama Mary answered all his prayers. His love for Mary never ceased till his last breath as we celebrate his 1st year death anniversary on October 27, 2016. I know that in exchange for all the blessings and the goodness of the Lord to his family , there were sacrifices to be made, and that is his one hundred percent devotion and attention to the Blessed Mother. He missed some of his family’s celebrations such as birthdays, bienvenida and despedida parties and many more, all because he had to go to a retreat, or attend a Curia meeting, go to the darkest and deepest streets of the slums to bring the message of Christ, September functions, Nativity, Immaculate Concepcion, Assumption celebrations and what not. All about the Blessed Mother. My mother would be disappointed and one time in my early teens, I confronted my father. I literally told him that he is never around on family gatherings. He simply uttered, ‘we are blessed because of my absence at home’. His love for the Blessed Mother got us to better schools, live decently and experience the finer things in life. I am not saying that he was not around all the time, rather, he spends more time with the Legion. I know how much he loves us all. Not even going through heart infractions stopped him from serving. To my father, it was through the Blessed Mother that despite the turmoils we face, we pick ourselves up, dust ourselves up, see the light at the end of the tunnel and continue to live a spiritually fruitful and happy life. 

     Let us make a space to remember always in our hearts on what the ‘Handbook’ says: ‘Especially does the Legion aspire after her humility and above all her faith, that virtue which has in her alone been found in its utmost extent and never equalled.’ And it is the one thing each of us prays for every day. Again, Humility and Faith. 

     As I write this, I believe in my heart that my father is in control of the keyboard, typing these words and I am just his messenger. As legionaries of Mary, we look at her as our heavenly Mother and the Queen of all queens. Is it appropriate to question whether her birthday has to be celebrated or not? Let us not forget the reason why we chose to be in the Legion. We are given the opportunity to show our affection and respect to our Heavenly Mother. On behalf of my father, Bro. Diony Cifra, Happy Birthday Mama Mary. You will be forever loved, adored and hailed as the Mary full of grace.

R.I.P. To 44 Fallen Commandos

  • image I wrote this blog on the 30th of January after the massacre of the 44 members of SAF that horribly took place in Mindanao. I did not post this because during those days, the issue was very controversial and my dad advised me to not meddle with my already troubled country. It would be like adding insult to injury. Now that Noynoy Aquino will soon be our ex president, I thought this is the right time to say my piece. This is how some political analysts would look at Pnoy (President Noynoy Aquino of the Philippines) as the Commander in Chief. While his right hand is busy with the finality of the Bansamoro Basic Law, to which the population of Maguindanao consists of mainly MILF members (who are allegedly the people behind the massacre), him trying to be the gentleman and the diplomat, rubbing elbows with the leader , which I find ‘incredibly ridiculous’, (knowing that these are the same people who were involved in the number of massacres that occurred several years back) fervently hoping that they will finally surrender their arms and embrace peace with the government, Pnoy’s left hand is persistently persuading the Senate to have this BBL implemented until at least before his term ends. So what happens now? Not everybody agrees with the BBL, trust is of the essence and as far as the MILF is concerned, my instinct tells me that they are not worthy of that. The BBL has a long way to go. It still needs a lot of reading,interpolations, discussions, amendments and a hundred percent consensus by the Senate and even more, a referendum for the entire nation. It can not just be implemented, not now or more so not ever. The MILF has been consistently defending themselves that they are  not the culprit of these tragic massacres but in reality, they seemingly are. If only we have an extraordinarily observant leader, with strong political will, conviction and discernment, he should be smart enough to be able to read between the lines. History shows that MILF do not follow the rules of ceasefire and the leaders should not be too assuming that after BBL, the whole country will at last live in peace and harmony. Harboring international terrorists is unforgivable and unacceptable. The person rooting for the BBL was the same person who gave the go signal to attack without vigorous planning. Pnoy wanted to take the credit and show the world that he has a legacy to leave before his term ends, but at the expense of SAF and innocent civilians and individuals? Unfortunately, the mission failed and the massacre goes on and on till the present. BBL will never be the solution or if at all there will be a solution. Long and tedious planning , then maybe, just maybe peace will be achieved only if people, Christians and Muslims alike will realize the meaning of human respect and compassion. I condemn this tragic event and I have no words to the wives , children and family of the SAF fallen commandos. War is stupid and the people perpetuating it is even more stupid. And I quote Miriam Santiago’s line, ‘Life is Hard but it’s Harder when you are stupid.’ Filipinos killing Filipinos. Is not that a humongous act of stupidity?

Passport and Family

It’s a beautiful Christmasy morning this 22nd of December 2014. For the first time in so many years, I won’t be home for Christmas because of so many things that transpired which I thought won’t allow me to book a flight before Christmas. My passport is expiring within 6 months and international aviation law says that a person whose passport is expiring in 6 months will not be allowed to travel. I was advised by Immigration to renew my passport as soon as I can. I wish it was that easy. I hold a Philippine passport even if I don’t basically live in my own country. I did not know that renewing means getting your new passport after 45 working days. I renewed it first week of October and considering the bureaucratic system and red tape in our government, 45 days is not a guarantee. That would mean I might not be home for Christmas if I don’t get my passport at least by first week of December. I was right. My passport arrived on the first week of December , the same week when my mother was rushed to the hospital due to pneumonia. She was critical. Since my passport was not on my hands yet, I had to make a decision to book my flight to Manila after Christmas just to be sure. As of this moment while I’m writing this, my mom is at the ICU and we are hoping that she recovers. The delay of the arrival of my passport is the biggest reason why I decided not to spend Christmas with my family. Plans have been made and much as I badly want to be home to see my mother, I won’t be able to.
I’m not blaming my country or anybody for my life’s turn out of events. I realize now that we can’t control things all the time. The world owns us. The entire universe owns us. We don’t even own our passports. I wish there were other ways to make life more manageable but then again, I guess it will always be a struggle. Even to renew your own passport..

80 years and it’s a Bonus?

As I start writing this, I look back at the first time I understood what my mother meant when she told me that giving birth to me is like finally having someone to call your own. I became my mother’s best friend cum daughter since then. The moment her gynecologist announced that ‘it’s a baby girl’ ,
she heard the song ‘Silent Night’ being played all over the hospital rooms. I was born in the month of October, the month where Christians and non-Christians as well, feel that Christmas is just around the corner, what with the Christmas songs already being played by all radio stations. I was my mother’s best Christmas gift ever.
It’s the 21st of December today and anytime from now, she is about to leave us, our family, to rest into eternal life. This is my worst Christmas gift ever. I love Christmas season. As the song says, it’s the most wonderful time of the year. Well I guess not for everybody. Not only because my mother is fading away but because of so many reasons. War, hunger, poverty, selfishness, hatred, greed, corruption, heinous crimes, injustice, etc. etc.
In other words, life is not fair. Life is a struggle between choosing to be happy or choosing to be sad amidst all the chaotic realities that we are facing. My parents brought me up generally to be God-fearing and to be a happy person no matter what. As I go through life’s journey, I realized that there are issues on the other side of the coin. To be happy and to accept whatever life serves me on the table is one and the other is to face and accept a passing away of a loved one head-strong. The second one is tedious. I am very lonely that my mother is traveling on a journey where she’s not returning to us and that is unacceptable.
My friends consoled me, spoken words of wisdom so that I would feel better and just move on and face a new chapter in my life. That my mother lived long enough , 80 years to set it right, and lived a full life therefore I should be happy. That 80 years is a bonus considering that the average life span of a person goes around 70 to 75. I’m grateful for having friends who care but I am not convinced. NO.
A bonus is being with my mother 20 more years. That I go first before her, that I don’t see her anguish in pain while all the other parts of her body are failing. Is it hard for the universe to just make my mother comfortable sans pain and be with us longer? Acceptance?
To not question that her physicians did their best to extend my mother’s life? Am I looking for chivalry from my God or from the experts to make her strong and be with us again?
Chivalry is gone these days. Life is a struggle.
There is no bonus. When someone grows up to be with a loving family, it’s hard to let go. Yes, I still choose to be happy but for now, I ask the universe to let me be. 80 years is not enough. There is a Forever which is intangible.
Love. And only now that I start realizing that. I continue to pray for a miracle as I write this….

Racism in Jazz

Jazz trio and the writer.. In a jazz gig.
Jazz trio and the writer.. In a jazz gig.

Music is and always be my life. After finishing my Communication Arts degree in a prestigious university, I had my practicum or as others would say apprenticeship on television stations and radio stations doing jobs as director’s assistant or scriptwriter’s assistant, everybody’s assistant, doing voice over jobs, forever the assistant, forever the voice over and never the real deal. I could have been a director, a scriptwriter, a television or a radio announcer. I could have had a career in Journalism. Much as I love to sing, writing is also my passion. In other words, I have a degree in Communication Arts and I can’t use it. I guess I really never wanted to be behind the camera. I remember telling my mom after six months of training on television, and I quote myself “mom, I don’t think I want to be behind the camera forever, I want to be in front. During the training, I had an encounter with a very good singer who later became the Kim of the Musical Ms. Saigon , she was amazing but I thought to myself, I can do that too, and perhaps become even better. I was in a hurry to be in her position, in front of the camera. So there I go. After several day jobs, I got bored and impatient, I quit! There were a lot of auditions being held then as hotel vocalists, band vocalist or wedding singer. With a lot of practice and guts, I auditioned. The rest is history.
From my country, I went hopping from one country to another as a singer, armed with a degree in Communication Arts In English, a lot of piano and guitar lessons, vocal lessons, and jazz workshop sessions. To date, I still attend jazz cliniques much as I give my own jazz clinics too. But that’s already water under the bridge.
This is the first time that I am going to express myself in writing as far as being ‘Asian’ is concerned, specially in the world of jazz. I have long been wanted to be heard and after I read an article in Cosmopolitan magazine regarding Asians being stereotyped as the following : chinky eyes, almond shaped eyes, noodles, chopsticks, yellow or brown skin, straight black hair and most of all non English speakers, I said to myself, enough of those craps! I’ve had it and let it be known that some people are either uneducated or plainly idiots or racists. Why?
In my travels as a jazzer, being in the business for almost 2 decades, having recorded 5 CDs , having to perform in front of an audience almost everyday of my life, dealing with bosses from different parts of the globe, I can absolutely conclude that I am pretty much doing a good job if not great.
I am not writing this to bad-mouth people who do not have any knowledge in world history or world geography or human behavior. I’ve just had enough.
These are the phrases I would hear or expected to hear? And I quote ‘oh, you’re Asian, and you speak good English.’ Or as how the immigration officers of the US Consular Office interrogated me when I was applying for my 01 visa or legally defined as an alien of extraordinary ability, and I quote again, ‘what’s with the English?’ Either he wants to intimidate me or he’s being sarcastic because he’s a racist. I may sound too sensitive on this subject but no. I’ve just been trying so hard to bear these unbearable assumptions.
I remember my friend telling me, and he’s a very good speaker of English as well, somebody irrationally told him, ‘so you’re Filipino, why do you speak very good english?’ He wanted to give that guy a right hook as strong as Manny Pacquiao’s  to shut him up, I’m glad he didn’t. And yes, my friend is an American law-abiding citizen, with a decent job , pays taxes and has a car registration most Americans wouldn’t have.
This kind of story doesn’t happen only in the US. It happens everywhere, Japan for one. It’s a beautiful country with very polite citizenry and has a wide audience in jazz. Even a non English speaker country like Japan stereotypes other Asians as people who have a native tongue and that’s not english. To the japanese; americans, canadians, australians, and all the other countries colonized by the Queen , are the only ones acceptable to be a jazz vocalist. Why can’t people just accept that a talent is a talent regardless of race, beliefs and gender? Is it hard to appreciate real talent? Does one have to be white or black to be validated? Who are they to judge? I’m blessed to have intelligent and level- headed parents, who are tirelessly telling me that I shouldn’t let anybody bully me or deprive me of my freedom to showcase what I can do, and still maintain humility. I can only take so much. I have no excuse for being Asian, educated, talented, speaks 3 languages fluently including English for that matter. People can either accept it or not, it doesn’t matter anymore.
My advice to aspiring jazz vocalists, pursue your goal! Go for your dream. It doesn’t matter if you’re not black or white. What matters is that you can deliver and you deliver well! Sorry racists, it’s time for a shoutout!
I’m not sour-graping, i’m just saying. No more racism in jazz , after all, music is a universal language.

My brother Pipo

My brother Pipo

Pipo Cifra my brother will be awarded with the San Beda Alumni Achievement Award, particularly graduates who are serving the Filipinos locally and the Global Filipino as well in the department of Arts , by San Beda College a very prestigious private school in the Philippines on February 18, 2014. The same achievement given to Manny Pangilinan, the CEO of TV 5, a justice, and other achievers who made a difference in the country and the world as well. I remain to be the proudest sister! So proud that I need to post it. Pipo is a composer , arranger, musical director for TV, radio, Film, theatre, commercials and a lot more! You can check him out on google or Facebook. Find Pipo Cifra for your musical needs.

Love is All that Matters

Next to singing, writing is my passion. I wrote a couple of blogs many years ago about my career, how people see me as a musician, as a vocal coach as a person, as a woman, a mother, a daughter, a sister, a friend and many other things. I focused on nothing but myself. What really mattered to me then is what I think and not what other people think which I thought was just right. I wrote hate blogs so I can express my feelings more without actually confronting the person vis a vis, while maintaining ethics in journalism. Doing my best not to name names, venues and what not. I was having a ball. But not until 2 years ago when my husband passed away because of a very dreadful disease called the Big C. He was dying. And this is what I wrote after he was buried.
What really matters to you the most? Quite a difficult question to answer. You study hard, work hard, build a great family, and in one shot, they’re ALL GONE. You seem to be on your way to oblivion. All the things that mattered to you, to oblivion. You want to make a choice..That ONE choice to be HAPPY, and you think you’re doing a great job by denying things and putting on a happy face all the time, TRUTH is, you’re confused, disoriented, disappointed, feeling guilty for a reason you don’t even know, or in other words, EMPTY. It’s the saddest feeling one can have. Me, I’m doing my best to really get back to my SANITY..Seems to me there’s a powerful force trying so hard to pull me down and feel EMPTY no matter what i do. I so believe in absolute faith and that if I call on to God, life would be and its’ intricacies would be easier to handle. I ask you all, what are we on earth for?
Remind me and Enlighten me, please…
This is how desperate I was then, and not many people can read it. Thank you WordPress, now I can write better articles (and publish as well) that will hopefully reach out to many people. My life as a vocalist/vocal coach, a musician, a lyricist, a performer, a friend, an observer of the world would hopefully inspire other people to express themselves better through writing or performing and eventually contribute something in their own small ways to make this world a better place to live for. I now realized that there’s always a reason behind everything. Dwelling on my beloved husband’s death will not make him rest in peace. I heard an inner voice telling me what I’m here for. To share the gift, to inspire would be musicians/vocalists , to be a good mother to my daughter, to be a good daughter to my parents, a sister to my brother and a true friend. Kindness and Love to all. That’s what really matters.