MANILA, Philippines?It?s almost midnight on a Tuesday at InterCon Hotel?s Gambrinus Bar and a burly Caucasian can?t contain his excitement over the music.
The guy keeps cheering the lone female singer, Mari Nallos, a London-bred Filipina who looks too young to be doing a repertoire of standards, but whose version of ?Fly Me To The Moon? is enchanting.
Every now and then, she signals the piano player and shifts tempos?Latin jazz, R&B, pop?but the voice remains smooth, crystal-clear, with a hint of supple texture. It?s the voice that reportedly impressed the late Inday Badiday, who promptly tagged Nallos as ?The Crystal Voice of Asia? after watching her perform several years ago.
The title got entangled in a bit of controversy when ABS-CBN used the same sobriquet for its talent Sheryn Regis and Nallos? manager protested. But Nallos need not give a damn, because what she can deliver is more than all the ensuing hype.
Her Tuesday gigs at Gambrinus attract a good-size crowd, although there are slow nights when maybe just six people are left by the time Nallos finishes her third set. Thing is, if those six people go to bed happy, then Nallos would?ve done a mighty job.
Born in Rome to parents who worked as chefs, Nallos was 2 years old when the family moved to London. At age 4, she sang her first verses but was still overcome with shyness. Things changed when she turned 9 and her dad bought her a karaoke. She took to singing seriously, agreeing to have tutors and to join contests.
?I won quite a few contests,? Nallos recalls. ?I remember topping a ?Tawag ng Tanghalan? in London.?
At 15, she studied at the Sylvia Young Theatre School and remembers having Amy Winehouse for a classmate. ?She stayed only for a year, although we knew each other well,? says Nallos.
She moved to Manila five years ago with one vision: ?To make it big.? The big break should come soon, or shouldn?t be a problem even if it takes some time. Her manager, Nelia Lim, has been careful in finding the right means to that end.
What she needs
Nallos got to sing the themes of two Koreanovelas, ?A Rosy Life? and ?My Husband?s Woman.? The latter used her cover of ?Making Love Out of Nothing at All.?
Although she has recorded several albums and EPs, what she needs now is a new record with stronger originals or with covers that would stand out. Lim says she?s working on a possible deal with PolyEast Records.
Meanwhile, at Gambrinus, Nallos sings ?If I Ain?t Got You? and ?Inseparable? with aplomb; when she proceeds with ?(You Make Me Feel) Like A Natural Woman? and ?Don?t Cry For Me Argentina,? the burly guy whistles in approval, and then winks and waves at us, as if to say, ?It?s the music, not the liquor.?