‘I just love being in this country’ — Julia Fordham

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The British singer reveals why Pinoys are such passionate fans, how she did a Filipino re-working of her hit “Happy Ever After,” and what led her to becoming a gay rights advocate. Photo by PAOLO ABAD

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — “The thing about the Filipino people is they’re very romantic,” says Julia Fordham, minutes before she went onstage for her sixth concert in Manila last Friday. “They’re quite determined and very passionate.”

It’s no wonder that Fordham’s catalog of soul and jazz-tinged songs — from “Porcelain” and “Invisible War” to her very popular cover of “(Love Moves In) Mysterious Ways” — has been embraced in a country so enamored with romance.

But Fordham also discovered that Filipinos can also be decisive in what they want to hear in her concert.

“They have nagged me to death [Laughs] and demanded what songs [I should sing],” says the British singer. “There are so many Filipino people who have taken the time to tell me. I actually have listened to the good people of Manila because I wasn’t gonna do ‘Towerblock,’ which is a song from my second album, ‘Porcelain,’ but when I say I have been inundated with requests and demands, and I started typing back to people, ‘You know I wasn’t gonna do that …’ but I think the people from Manila really stepped up their game because they started writing to the crew, the band, and everybody involved in this production so I have succumbed to the pressure.”

During the concert, “Towerblock” was met with cheers by the Filipino crowd. The genteel ballad, which Fordham sung with only a piano accompaniment, fits right into the tradition of delicate declarations of love that we have come to love.

“Towerblock” was part of a set, along with “Invisible War” and “Something Right” similar to the piano-only accompaniment in her 2013 album “Under the Rainbow,” which was a re-recording of her past hits and fan favorites sung only with a piano, showcasing the fine timbre of Fordham’s voice.

“I feel very honored and humbled by the fact that the Filipino people have embraced my songs, my voice, and my music,” says Fordham. “It’s not just ‘(Love Moves In) Mysterious Ways’ which I had the privilege of singing but also m any of own songs like ‘Girlfriend’ and ‘Invisible War,’ which are kind of out of the mainstream bracket, it’s not the kind of singing or presentation which I call the 'showbiz finish' ballad, they’re [more like] leftfield moments.”

The singer adds: “I always sort of say this means that the Filipino people must have great taste and emotional intelligence [Laughs] because they accept my less than central way of singing and being in the world. I love it, I just love being in this country, I love the food, I love the generosity of spirit, I feel part of the community when I’m here, I really do.”

Fordham was in Manila for six  days, which gave her time to rehearse with her all-Filipino band for the concert. She also did a Filipino reworking of the South African chant in “Happy Ever After,” which became “Masaya, tayo’y isang pamilya.”

She had the idea to do it when she was visited by a group of Filipino schoolchildren during her rehearsal. She became familiar with the word “Kapamilya” after a guesting in “ASAP” and decided to incorporate the word in the Filipino version of the chant.

“I have to tell you, it about killed me trying to write that and come up with it [Laughs] and get the right pronunciation,” she says.

Fordham also became excited when she realized she was performing in Manila during Pride Month. She has been a very vocal LGBTQ rights advocate and even recorded a song, “I’ve Got Your Back” for “Status Unknown,” a short film about a lesbian couple trying to get married despite being in two separate continents.

“The first time I heard a homophobic comment was when I was five and I was in the school playground,” recounts Fordham. “A boy called another boy a ‘homo’ and I asked him what that meant. He said it means that the other boy likes boys and I said to him ‘Well, what’s wrong with that?’”

Fordham had been asked about whether or not she was gay when she first did interviews for her self-titled debut album in 1988 because she had short hair.

In a 2015 interview with Attitude she said: “I was very influenced by the dancer and choreographer Lloyd Newson of the DV8 Physical Theatre group. Lloyd is gay and he said to me, ‘It would be a wonderful gift to the community if you don’t make a big deal of going ‘Oh no, I’m not gay and just don’t say anything.’ That made such sense to me at the time.”

The singer has since been passionate about LGBT rights and has even performed in a pride parade in San Francisco. “I think that all humans and their souls inside, whether you’re born as a boy and you feel like a girl, or you’re born as a girl and you feel like a girl, or if you feel like you’re attracted to someone of the same sex or the opposite sex, that is your soul speaking or calling,” says Fordham. “I just personally feel that that is how I try to be in the world, accepting of everybody … unless it involves cruelty to animals or children!”

JuliaFordham-3650.jpg Julia Fordham's June 22 concert at the Newport Performing Arts theater marks her sixth performance in the country. Photo by PAOLO ABAD

JuliaFordham-4137.jpg Fordham brought guitarist Colin Ryan with her onstage. The rest of her band and her backup singers for this concert are all Filipinos. Photo by PAOLO ABAD

JuliaFordham-4338.jpg Fordham was in Manila for six days, which gave her time to rehearse with her all-Filipino band for the concert. She also did a Filipino reworking of the South African chant in “Happy Ever After,” which became “Masaya, tayo’y isang pamilya.” Photo by PAOLO ABAD

JuliaFordham-4240.jpg Fordham also brought onstage Ito Rapadas of NeoColours (who opened the concert) for two songs, "Where Does the Time Go?" and her Michael McDonald duet, "I Keep Forgetting." She tells the audience, "Apparently it's not enough that you have this amazing Filipino band, you also have to have another amazing Filipino singer." Photo by PAOLO ABAD

JuliaFordham-4421.jpg The full set also included "Lock and Key," "Genius," "Girlfriend," and her version of "Someone To Watch Over Me," which was included in the soundtrack of "Mr. Holland's Opus." Photo by PAOLO ABAD

JuliaFordham-4582.jpg For her finale song, "Stay," the British singer made the audience stand up and dance to the music. Photo by PAOLO ABAD

JuliaFordham-4568.jpg Julia Fordham asked her numer one Filipino fan, Odilon Luciano, to lead the audience in one of her last songs. Photo by PAOLO ABAD.

JuliaFordham-4542.jpg On what makes this trip different, Fordham says: "This special moment I had with local schoolkids and I really felt connected to them because we sang together, once I knew they were coming, I re-wrote the South African chant [in 'Happy Ever After'] to Tagalog so that has made this sixth visit to the Philippines the most memorable. It’s been amazing." Photo by PAOLO ABAD