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EXCLUSIVE: From the rubble we rise.

The thing about Gary Valenciano is, like many admired successful celebrities and artists, he seems larger than life. You see him perform on stage and when he's not slaying you with an emotional song, he makes you forget your aversion for public displays of enjoyment and just make you want to dance and have as much fun as he's having.

Another thing about him is that he knows what some people think of him and he's perfectly fine with it. "Some people call me masyadong ma-drama," he says with no hint of sarcasm. He lives as the Divine's mouthpiece and revels in it because, you and I both know, inspiration can come from anywhere so why not his songs?

So, he lets his music speak for him. His latest album, "With You," is just as personal as everything he's ever put out. "Every song that I do is a reflection of what I go through," he says.

Its title track was written for his son Paolo, for when he got married. "Kapit Pinoy" bears a powerful message for a nation that has taken one hit after another. "Come To Jesus" was a song he did at his father's service when the latter died in May last year. The rest follows the mold.

The thing about Gary, too, is that given the right circumstance you may actually experience an unguarded moment with him. During the interview, he bursts out into a song - an inspirational stanza from the song "In You" - and proceeds to almost turn the intimate interview into a crying session that I personally have never experienced with any subject before.

Full disclosure: I am a fan but you see why now. All this earnestness, this vulnerability - or, as they say, this drama - it hits you. It's surprising, somewhat uncomfortable but humbling as well. The moment is unforgettable.

"The reason I'm sharing this is I don't want people to think I'm spared from any of this," he says, revealing he's had his doubts and uncertainties. "I want people to know that the goodness of God is unfathomable."

His message is clear, then. "It starts with the heart that believes. I believe that even if I have diabetes, I'm still alive so there must be some reason for it."

'The time is still right'

A few months after "Yolanda," Gary visited Ormoc and Tacloban, and had seen the devastation first hand. He says, though, that it is so good "to see how much build-up is happening now..."

He adds, "I think they (get their) strength from each other also," noting most of them "just want to focus on, 'How can you help us?' Because that's what they want, to move forward."

He adds, "It's crucial because studies show that three to five months after an incident like that happens, the help lessens. And then people wait for the next incident to happen."

For those who are still planning to do something, "The time is still right," he points out. "It's needed more now."

Gary's visit was with UNICEF, who treated the tragedy as a Level 3 emergency, the highest possible category, "so they had the top of the top of the line (response) with regards to disaster management in the Philippines at that time," he notes.

Among the group was a German guy who, on their last night, approached Gary. "He was talking to me, saying, 'You know, I just came from Syria and it's really bad over there. I just wanted to tell you I've never met people like the Filipinos, who are very demonstrative in the way they show their appreciation.'"

Gary notes Pinoys love to give hugs and how those who lost their homes would even apologize for not having a place to bring the visitors.

"And the smiles... (The attitude is) really unlike anything in the world daw," Gary notes, adding, "The word resilient was often used."

Before the German left, "(He said,) you know, Gary, I just want to congratulate you.' And I said, 'For what?' 'Just for being Filipino.'"

Gary says, beaming, "You know, I've never ever heard anybody say that with genuine sincerity."

The three-decade mark

Next month, Gary is set to hold a concert "for the 'Yolanda' survivors but the concept is not like that; the concept is basically, really, a celebration of 30 years of music and an incredible career that has everything in it -- good times, tough times. In general, it's really celebrating life," Gary explains.

"I tell people kasi, typhoon 'Yolanda' destroyed lives and homes, but you don't need a typhoon to destroy your home. There are events that can destroy your lives permanently. Something as complex as a relationship falling apart; a person getting into drugs; or (having unfulfilled) dreams - those things can be debilitating for any person."

If Gary is all about faith and purpose, the concert also underscores hope. It's not just for victims of calamities; we all rise from personal adversaries. When he turned emotional after singing the song, he shares, "It's when I look back and see the 30 years that I'm celebrating, and the decisions I've made, the actions I've done, the things I've said, the ways I've thought, and still be blessed with the opportunity to arise," he pauses for emphasis, "that's why we called (the concert) 'Arise.'"

All the proceeds will go to the "Yolanda" survivors. "UNICEF is very, very particular as to where the funds really go and the issues that need to be addressed immediately," he assures.

As for the show, "I'll tell you, if you're watching the concert, don't be late," he teases. "I won't spill the beans now kasi you'll go, 'Ah, 'yan pala...' but you'll see."

It was on a Friday the 13th in April, 1984, that Gary held his first major concert at the Araneta. Almost to the day, three decades later, he comes full circle with "Arise" at the same venue.

For this show, they have picked the songs that best represent each decade of his career and narrowed down the lineup from there. "We're treating the songs in a way that would really bring memories back," he promises. He says he will tone down the more strenuous numbers, joking, "I don't want to wait for people to say, 'Tama na!'"

The thing with Gary Valenciano, though, is he probably won't be able to help it, and we'll be the better for it.

"Arise" happens on April 11 and 12 at the Smart Araneta Colisuem. Guests include Gary's son Gab and daughter Kiana; as well as Rico Blanco, Sarah Geronimo, Sam Concepcion with the Manoeuvres, Gforce, LSDC dancers and other surprise guesrs.


Gary Valenciano co-directs his April concert 'Arise' with son Paolo Valenciano (Photo by Annie S. Alejo)
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Title Annotation:Entertainment News
Publication:Manila Bulletin
Date:Mar 17, 2014
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