MANILA -- He has crossed all seven continents, travelled to more than 70 countries and charted millions of nautical miles on the high seas. Amazing is how one might term singer Reuben Laurente’s professional voyage onstage aboard the many cruise ships he has taken.
What others may never reach or see in their lifetime, Laurente has accomplished everything after only a decade. He started his cruise ship stint in 2008, when the international cruise company, Royal Caribbean International, came to Manila to conduct auditions for dancers and singers.
As he became one of the Asian artists who joined the growing international cast of singers and dancers of the cruise ship, Laurente, tagged as Manila’s Pop Virtuoso, had the chance to visit every imaginable destination around the globe.
“I auditioned for the part of a featured singer for production shows and was blessed to get the part, along with Anna Fegi-Brown and Roy Rolloda,” Laurente shared. “I was doing various shows ranging from pop, dance, musical theater, jazz, popera, name it. The ship has got that in their themed shows. I did that for 10 years onboard ships from the Royal Caribbean’s fleet.”
While he basked on his rewarding job contract, Laurente understandably became scarce in the local entertainment scene and the music industry. “Much as I would still like to connect with the industry, my work did not allow me to because I had to fulfill contracts between six to nine months in a year,” he said.
Still, Laurente considered it a blessing that in between contracts, he was able to record his fourth and fifth albums, respectively. “Heart Blends” was released under MCA-Universal Philippines in 2009 and “More Than Just Renditions” came out in 2012 under Musikatha Music Ministries.
While on board the cruise ships, Laurente had to battle homesickness, being away from his immediate family and even the local music industry. “It was just an awesome thing that I was mostly around Filipinos who were there as your family,” he said. “Plus, there’s always Facebook and Skype to lessen that homesickness.”
Laurente attests it is never easy being away from home and “living in a floating hotel” as a performer. “You’re the face of the company, so you always had to be at your best in your performances and in dealing with guests, even if you felt low at times,” he explained.
“Another way of conquering homesickness was being part of a ‘pat on the back' team, being with the right people whom you can talk to and whom you can be yourself with. More importantly, I know I have the Lord with me and I am abreast of the scriptures because that really helped me big time.
“I would always claim that I was overwhelmingly victorious and more than a conqueror (Romans 8:37) in whatever situation, because ‘if God is with us, who can be against us?’ (Romans 8:31).”
Laurente started his singing career at the same time he entered college at the University of the Philippines in 1986. After winning third prize in a gospel singing contest hosted by the late Ronald Remy and his daughter, Jackie Kookoorithchkin, Laurente became a gospel singer for the inspirational show, “The Essential Christ,” hosted by Ramon and Cita Orosa.
“At that time, I was also asked by [Bro.] Ramon Orosa to perform at their Christian-themed restaurant, Sign of the Dove, where I entertained guests singing gospel songs,” Laurente recalled. “That was where [Sir] Butch Lagdameo, [Bro.] Ramon’s son-in-law, saw me and he asked me to perform at Joanne Lorenzana’s concert at the same venue.”
Singing gospel songs was nothing new to Laurente. In 1981, he was one of the grand finalists of “Tagis-Himig,” a gospel singing contest that aired over at DZAS 702-AM. “I was 11 then and the contest was kind of a ticket to a recording opportunity and become a Papuri! singer,” Laurente said.
Papuri!, being the music arm of the Far East Broadcasting Company, opened doors for Laurente to spread his musical wings. He placed third to now Papuri! gospel royalty Cindy Del a Paz-Lacanilao and Cynthia Capecete-De la Cruz. That also led him to becoming a Papuri! singer.
“Later in 1986, I did a gospel recording, ‘Totoo,’ for composer Butch Charvet, along with two other gospel singers – Lea Carlos and Honey Lopez-De Vera,” Laurente recalled. “It was aired on DZAS and little did the Papuri! committee [Papuri! icons Romy Dinglas, Maru Cepeda-Javier and host Efren Pallorina] know that this was how the former boy soprano sounded then and the rest is history.”
Laurente interpreted his first Papuri! song, “Bakit Ako Mangangamba,” penned by Cesar Aniceto. It was a duet with April Ricafrente for the album, “Papuri! 9,” released in 1987.
Then came his 13-year stint with the Philippines’ premier vocal sextet, The CompanY, a chapter in Laurente’s professional life that he tagged as “the most fulfilling,” in his growth as an artist.
“In a person’s life, you would know for yourself that you needed to turn another page and start another chapter,” he maintained. “Moy [Ortiz], as the artistic/musical director/leader of the group, has instilled in me a special discipline as a solo artist that I am still making use of up to this day.
“I would always remember Moy saying, ‘rebel against mediocrity’ and that is why every single thing that I lay my hands on, I make sure I give my personal best. After all, I’m always in pursuit of excellence which the Lord, the Giver of this talent, only deserves.”
The youngest among five children, Laurente was born and raised in Manila. Both his parents are from Iloilo, hence, he is Ilonggo at heart, along with his four other siblings – Grace, Allyn, Ruel and Diane. His dad, Dominador, passed away in 2004, while his mom, Gilda, is turning octogenarian on August 28.
Although both his parents can carry a tune – his father was even a harmonica player and the vocalist of their combo back in Iloilo – it was Laurente’s mom who taught him his first songs, “Matud Nila” in Tagalog and Larry Miranda’s “Sapagkat Mahal Kita.”
“It was both of them who believed in me and encouraged me to just sing and perform like it was my swan song always, so I could give my all and my personal best in any singing engagement,” Laurente fondly remembered.
Then, he patiently did the rounds of singing contests on TV in the early ‘80s. Nothing ever discouraged Laurente. He was always ready to face the musical battle head on, winning in some, losing in some.
“It was my mother who taught me how to sing, but it was my father who pushed and accompanied me to audition for ‘Student Canteen’ [daily winner], ‘Bagong Kampeon’ [weekly winner and challenger], ‘Superwheel Search for Singing Star’ [weekly winner] in the show, ‘Sali Kami,’ hosted by Helen Gamboa and [Senator] Tito Sotto in 1985 and ‘Talent Search’ [monthly winner], hosted by Nestor De Villa and Nida Blanca in 1984.”
Laurente completed his Bachelor in Interior Design degree from the University of the Philippines Diliman. Finishing college also proved to be tough for him, as he shuttled between performing and going to school. “I would love to be an architect then, but I know myself well and math was my waterloo,” he disclosed.
“I would not say Interior Design was the next best choice as I never applied for Architecture in college. My father was a graphic artist, an illustrator and I obviously took after him. I love Interior Design as it encompasses color, form, line, pattern, texture and putting it altogether in a space and design composition where each element complements the other.”
As he has been performing through the years, Laurente has been blessed with awards and nominations that he considers important moments for him. In 1999, 2001 and 2007, he was nominated for Best Male Recording Artist of the Year in the Awit Awards, an award that remains elusive for him.
However, 2007 was like a banner year for him as a solo artist. “It was as if I scored a grand slam because I won an Awit as a singer and a co-writer [Best R & B Song along with Architect Markel Luna], an Aliw for Best Male Performer in Hotels and Lounges, and a CMMA (Catholic Mass Media Award) for Best Pop Album of the Year for my 2006 album ‘Pop Virtuosity,’ co-produced by D’Concorde Records.
“In 2010, I was given a Global Pinoy Award by the SM Supermalls for being an OFW Filipino entertainer. In 2011, I was awarded a special citation, with Anna Fegi-Brown, for being Filipino entertainers who champion the international cruise entertainment industry.
“More recently, I was awarded by Aliw the 2018 Best Male Concert Artist of the Year and the 2019 Best Crossover Artist [Male Category]. I can only thank the Lord for these blessings. Glory is His.”
While the entertainment industry is still reeling from the sweeping impact of this pandemic, Laurente did not wait for COVID-19 to taper off to record his first digital album, “Milestone.” Purposely, he did not even delay the recording at this time.
“The plan has been in the back burner for nearly two years now,” he granted. “A very good friend of mine, Arnold Santiago, who partly owns the events venue, Gazebo Royale, expressed his willingness to produce the album because he believes in me as an artist and in my craft. Hence, GRMilestone Records was born.
“We pushed through with recording the tracks for ‘Milestone’ because we believe that if we’re able to bring this to completion, it would affect people positively. It’s something that would entertain and inspire at the same time. An album that can possibly uplift the spirits amidst this pandemic.”
Laurente’s sixth solo album, “Milestone” celebrates his 34th year in the music industry. “That, in itself, is a milestone,” he proudly stated.
Although there is no title track in the album, the 10-track digital outing contains seven originals and three revivals. According to Laurente, the album complements the tagline of Gazebo Royale, which is “Celebrate milestones in your life.”
“The reimagined songs are ‘Someone To Watch Over Me’ by brothers George and Ira Gershwin, an a cappella where I recorded all the parts and arranged by co-former The CompanY member, André Castillo and the song is our homage to our beloved The CompanY;
‘Di Na Muling Mag-iisa’ by Gines Tan will be one of the duet cuts in the album with gospel music and theater diva Tricia Amper-Jimenez [‘diva’ expressed as a woman with extraordinary talent and not the nasty definition]; and ‘Sandaling Pinakahihintay’ by Professor Augusto Espino of the UP College of Music. The song is a special request by the producer himself and one that I dedicate to our Creator.”
Meanwhile, the seven original songs came from Laurente’s friends in the industry who, in one way or another, played a significant role in his career as an artist. The composers are Nathanael Arnel De Pano, Jungee Marcelo, Soc Villanueva, Jonathan Manalo, Markel Luna, Jasmine Aquino and the team of Edith Gallardo and Babsie Molina.
The arrangers are the father and son team of Henry and Rush Garcia, based in Chicago (Illinois), former The CompanY Andre Castillo (based in Maryland), gospel music producer Kahlil Refuerzo, gospel concert musical director Eboy Refuerzo, former NeoColours member Niño Regalado, Manila Symphony Orchestra and Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra orchestrator Naldy Rodriguez, Loud Box Studios’ Gino Cruz, choral music advocate De Pano and Studio Z’s Paulo Zarate.
Session vocals were arranged and performed by Laurente’s good friend, Zebedee Zuñiga, who’s also part of the iconic vocal quartet, The Opera. The other duet (by Jonathan Manalo) is with Laurente and Lani Misalucha.
“I am just grateful everyone included in this project said yes to this album,” Laurente allowed “I cannot thank them all enough. It’s actually like a music festival. It’s a musical celebration encapsulated in one album.”
Before the pandemic broke out, Laurente was fortunate enough to be repatriated in the nick of time from the international cruise ship last February. As a talent of the Miami, Florida-based Don Casino Production, he was contracted for a solo show as headliner on board the Westerdam (Holland America Line), from January 31 to February 11.
“When the pandemic broke out, we were rumored to have boarded guests that had the virus,” Laurente recalled. “I went on performing my shows, although we were not able to reach to any of our ports of destination, including Manila. We were blessed that Cambodia allowed the guests to disembark. Incidentally, there were no COVID-19 cases in that ship.”
Laurente laments how this pandemic turned out to be a different downside of being a cruise performer. “Everyone in the world is experiencing and going through something because of this,” he explained. “I have not been working since February on board ships, though I had my last singing stint last March for Casino Filipino.
“I would consider it a favor that I am home with my family, enjoying my time with them and making it a point to be productive every single day. Either I am filming myself doing song posts for Facebook, while I also upload them on YouTube or painting to my heart’s content.
“I know that in my own way, I can reach out to and touch someone’s heart through the messages of the songs that I share with them. More importantly, these posts have been instrumental for me personally in trying to keep everyone encouraged and somehow inspired.”
Being jobless this pandemic has taught Laurente valuable lessons. Admittedly, it was hard accepting the fact that his performances on ships have been cancelled until later this year. Yet, he has learned to accept his fate and, in fact, allowed God to take charge of everything for him.
“It has been hard emotionally and mentally, but you can always choose to look up to God and accept thing as they come, however hard and painful the truth is,” Laurente maintained.
“I have been acknowledging everything as God’s perfect plan for me and for all of us, to realize things and how we should put our trust fully in Him, who is Jehovah Jireh, the great Provider, Jehovah Rapha the God who heals and that our God is always there – Jehovah Shammah.
“This pandemic has taught me to be more patient in waiting until this is all over and being prayerful, seeking for wisdom and for sound mind and not be scared. Amid this pandemic, we can say, nowhere to go but up, and when I say up, I say that we can do this because we can be more than conquerors.
“Let’s always choose to do good, take the high road and take the extra mile to do what right and what is praise-worthy. Let’s be of encouragement and know that our Father is the God of possibility. He knows and we will just obey and take heed.”
The past few months while he was merely at home, Laurente rediscovered another potential, career-making gift apart from his voice. Lately, he has been painting images to keep him preoccupied. As early as when he was only five years old, he started drawing images, then shifted to painting in watercolor by the time he was 11.
He proudly joined inter-school competitions as representative for district level, on-the-spot painting contest. Later, he competed in Manila-wide inter-school contests.
“In college, part of our requirements was working on our plates design problems that were carried out through submission of working plans with rendered perspective drawings,” he shared. “Those were my training experiences, which is why I was not afraid to hold a paint brush, use acrylic and paint on a canvas even if I never had any formal lesson in painting.
“That gift was unlocked during this pandemic. The last time I painted was in 2013, when I was beginning to lose my voice in one of my cruise contracts. We were in Hobart, Australia every week and there I found a huge art shop where I bought my brushes, colors and canvases.”
Painting, apparently, has also been therapeutic for Laurente. “I am just happy that aside from singing, painting keeps me happy and sane, as this is an amazing way of using your time productively while exercising your imagination in expressing your creativity.”
Laurente loves Filipino themes. “I am an advocate of propagating our cultural heritage, be it in music or the visual arts,” he said. “My images are usually paying homage to the Filipina and celebrating her beauty wherever in the Philippines she is, from and whatever festivity she is engaging herself into.”
His nieces – Bethany, Bethel, and Beulah – willingly stand as his usual muses, although he is even looking forward to painting other muses when this pandemic is over. Recently, he was able to sell two of his art works and that proved to be helpful to him.
He has just finished his seventh work titled, ‘Manila Carnival Queen,” before the general community quarantine was again declared. “Lord willing, I’d be able to gather some more for a possible exhibit with a working title, ‘Quarantine Series,’ which is a better title, I guess, than ‘Lockdown Series,’” he said.
Laurente has always managed to unleash the artist in him wherever he is. He may be performing onstage or painting on canvas. Whatever it is, he always keeps a positive attitude.
Back when he was only 11, joining one singing competition after another, up to this day, Laurente has consistently maintained an indomitable spirit that allows him to bravely face whatever is at stake before him, pandemic or not.