Nathalie Tomada – The Philippine Star

November 6, 2021 | 12:00am

Maris Racal was selected to sing Simulan, the Filipino version of the Disney anthem Starting Now for the year-long Ultimate Princess Celebration.

Starting Now was originally recorded by Grammy-winning American singer Brandy, star of the 1997 film Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella.

Because it’s not every day you get handpicked to record a Disney theme song (she didn’t submit any audition video or demo), the actress-singer’s immediate reaction to the project was: “Sobrang kilig ko talaga when I was told I’d be singing the song.”

“At first I couldn’t believe it. Honestly, my first reaction was, ‘Sure po ba kayo, sure kayo sa decision niyo?’ Actually, it was all very sudden. Tapos tuloy-tuloy na, I was so very excited,” the ABS-CBN Star Magic artist further told The STAR in a virtual chat.

First thing she did as preparation was to ask for a copy of the song and study Brandy’s rendition.

The music video, which officially premiered yesterday via, is part of a global initiative celebrating Disney princesses and heroines through content, products and experiences.

“Binibigyan ng tribute yung every Disney princess,” she said, adding that Simulan’s lyrics made references to the trademarks and qualities of Disney princesses like courage and kindness.

Asked how she found the song, Maris, whose favorite Disney heroine is Elsa from Frozen because “she’s very independent at the same time she also (has to fight) self-doubt,” said, “When you say Disney, (you might think) parang mga pambata. But when I listened to it — I’m already 24 — sobrang nakaka-inspire, especially if you’re the kind of person who overthinks and doubts yourself, nakakawala siya ng inhibitions, na gagawin mo ang gusto mong gawin ever since.”

She also said that Simulan is a message to girls out there who are being undervalued and underestimated.

“The lyrics and verses, they’re also about girls and women na-underestimate, kasi parang tingin nila you’re just a girl next door, you have nothing special. But then, they just don’t know you yet. So starting now, parang simulan mo na ang gusto mong gawin, show your true self and achieve your dreams. So, it’s also for people receiving harsh judgement from anyone, whether at school or in their homes.”

Being “underestimated” is something she knows too well.

“Oh yes (I get underestimated), all the time. Kapag kasi nasa field ka ng nagke-create ka ng something, for example, I write my own songs, there are lots of times when I doubt myself. There were also times when my abilities or skills were being underestimated. And I think it’s part of the journey. That’s normal, you can’t please all people.”

Maris now gets to showcase and be acknowledged by peers as a singer-songwriter. Under the label Balcony Entertainment, she recently released her own compositions Ate Sandali (which has more than 32 million views on TikTok) and Asa Naman, which is a nod to her Bisaya roots.

She believes she’s at a place where she has found her voice. “I can say na nagagamit ko na yung voice ko and that I also found my voice. But it was a very long process. Ang hirap na kalaban ang lack of self-confidence, ang hirap niyang i-break yung pagiging mahiyain, or yung may gusto kang i-show but you can’t show it yet because there’s something pulling you back.”

She further reflected: “And it’s a very long process to learn how to be truthful and open about your life. I found that courage in the writing of my songs because most of them, gusto kong marinig ng mga tao, and ma-inspire sila sa message ng song. I think through song-writing and releasing songs, dun ko na relay yung message ko sa mundo because I can express myself better in writing — even better than talking because nag-stu-stutter ako, I don’t know (laughs).”

Nevertheless, she said, “I’m still getting there. Nagpupursige pa rin ako to be a better songwriter. Yung sarili ko na po ang kalaban ko because I’m very, very hard on myself. Super (yes, I’m a perfectionist)… Sometimes, it’s very exhausting. But then, na-realize ko, OK naman because this is what fuels me.”

Meanwhile, Maris is set to drop more upbeat pop songs for the rest of the year. Asked if this is the new direction she’s taking for her music, she shared, “Inaayon ko po siya, I guess, with what people want and what I want personally because I’m into upbeat songs at the moment.

“And then perhaps, sa age din inaayon ko siya because I think hindi na ‘to bagay ‘pag 40 years old na ako (laughs). But then, I can always go back home to piano-driven and acoustic types of songs. That’s what I love about music, you can’t be put into one box unless that’s really your image or that’s what you want. But ang wide ng music, ang dami mong pwedeng puntahan. The only challenge is how to be organized (laughs).”

One thing is certain, this is her go-to for self-expression.

“Lahat ng sinusulat ko, they are my truth at the moment. It could be my personal experience pero iniba ko ang story sa song, or it could be rooted in a feeling, like when I’m sad, I write a sad song… Kahit hindi naman siya ang totoong nangyari in real life, I get to express how I feel. In a way, it’s like a journal of my emotions.”

Besides being busy with her music, Maris is currently in a locked-in taping for a series directed by Antoinette Jadaone, and will star in a film by Quark Henares. She teased that in these upcoming projects, she’ll be playing “dream roles” that are edgy, complex and “very different” from the characters she has done in the past.

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