Dulce: Diva with a Cebuano soul

DULCE is a diva who has not forgotten her Cebu roots. She includes Cebuano songs in her repertoire in her shows here in the Philippines and abroad, for which she received the Dangal ng Wika Award 2020.

Dulce is her stage name. She is actually Maria Teresa Magdalena Abellare Llamedo, born in Sitio Bulsita, Bulacao, Cebu City. She is honest about being born in poverty when, growing up, she had to borrow a classmate’s slippers in order to attend school. When her parents could not afford to buy paper for her, her mother would tell her to use banana leaf as paper, and a coconut midrib as her pencil.

She started to sing when she was only two years old and during her elementary school days, she would already be singing in song contests. She would sometimes lose, partly because her lyrics were not always right as she learned to sing songs by listening to a neighbor’s radio or by watching a neighbor’s television set (her neighbor charged 10 centavos per child to watch shows on TV, and since she did not have the money, she promised to polish the floor the next day).

She insisted on finishing elementary school (she did later on finish high school through the Department of Education’s Alternative Learning System) after which she pounded on doors to be able to sing in bars and clubs in Cebu City. (That time, authorities were not so strict about child labor). She wanted to join Justo Justo’s TV show but was told she did not have the personality and she had a pug nose. In her persistence, she said that one day, she stayed by the restaurant door where he was eating, and there she sang. The voice moved Justo Justo to go out and see who was singing. And her journey to sing to bigger audiences began.

She went to Manila to try her luck at singing at the bars and night clubs there, and to join the “Tawag ng Tanghalan” song contest. She became champion of that contest at age 14, in 1975, and as people say, the rest is history. At her handlers’ prodding, she changed her stage name to Dulce, after she sang the title song of the movie “Dulce Amor” in 1978. Since then, she has sung around 30 movie theme songs but her favorite is “Kung Mahawi man ang Lupa” by Willy Cruz. She also sang the movie theme song of an international movie, “The Sticks of Death.”

“My voice was used but my name was not included in the film as per agreement of the American movie producer and my former management group when I was just starting my career in Manila,” she explained.

Through the years, she has become an accomplished singer as well as TV-movie-stage actress. She has earned several awards for her talent, among them: Grand prize winner of the Fourth Asian Songfest in Hong Kong in 1979; Most Promising Entertainer of the Year, Aliw Awards, 1979; Best Cebuano Recording (“Pananglitan” by Emil Losenada), Cecil Awards, 1983; Grand Prize Winner, Asia Pacific Singing Competition, Hong Kong Academy of the Performing Arts, 1984; Grand Prize Winner, Asia-Pacific Singing Competition, Hong Kong Academy of the Performing Arts, 1988; Model Achiever, Asia-Pacific Global Excellence Award, 2005; Entertainer of the Year, Aliw Awards, 2013, in which she also won best solo performer and best actress in a feature film; Original Pilipino Music Icon, Star Award Music category, 2013; and this year, the Dangal ng Wika Award for her highlighting the Cebuano/Bisaya language in her performances here and abroad.

Dulce has earned the titles of Asia’s Diva, Theme Song Queen and Timeless Diva, all of which is a tribute to her voice and the way she carries the songs she sings. She revealed that though she can carry any tune, for her concerts she chooses songs that she can relate to, that speak to her, and which she turns into her own in the way she interprets them.

As a person, Dulce has no artifice about her: She is what and who she is, in private and public life. Even her pug nose she has retained though there were attempts to have that beautified. Memories of her childhood have probably made her a rat packer, never throwing out anything that comes her way. She does not throw away gift tags, shoe boxes which she might transform into containers for gift giveaways, used wrapping paper which she recycles. (So during this pandemic, she has found the time for sorting things out, putting items in boxes). When she has the time, she crochets, nothing big, coasters and glass covers. Active on Facebook, she has a Friday posting of things Filipino, and she also shares the homilies of Bible Study with Bro. Orly Daiz. She said she is also a “seminarista” of the Emmanuel Ministry Institute.

During the pandemic, she teamed up with Chad Borja and his wife Emy for “Sing Out By The South-Feed the Music,” a daily two-hour fund raising show with different performers and artists willing to share their talents for free to help displaced musicians in Cebu and Davao—Cebu, because she is from Cebu and Davao, because that is where Chad is based now. This was done last June 21 to Sept. 12. After a break, they will resume the fund raising program in October for the same cause. She explained that people in the music industry have really been badly hit by the restrictions caused by the pandemic.

Her latest venture is “Kumares,” a program on PHLVRadio, with Rose (a missionary and home entrepreneur), Emlyn (director, composer, actress and soprano) and Sarah (inspirational speaker, radio host and Christian singer), aired Tuesdays at 11 a.m. It is a talk show that is also broadcasted to the US East (11 p.m. Monday) and West coasts (8 p.m. Monday). The four of them will share their talent to give hope to their listeners.

Dulce is a diva with a Cebuano soul, which is the reason she includes Cebuano songs in her concert repertoire. The Dangal ng Wika award is a tribute to that soul. But she is Filipino too, capable of elegantly expressing the Filipino soul in her singing. For which reason her signature song, her break through song is in Filipino: “Ako ay Nasawi, Ako ay Nagwagi.” It is the Filipino story, and the story of Maria Teresa Magdalena Abellare Llamedo, aka Dulce.


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