Local News

Winning notes and musical splendor

April 10 - 16, 2019

Gulf Weekly Mai Al Khatib-Camille
By Mai Al Khatib-Camille

Gulf Weekly Winning notes and musical splendor

Music lovers from across the kingdom flocked to Atrium Mall in Saar to cheer on the kingdom’s local vocal talents including aspiring artists who were recently crowned ‘The Vocalists’ in a popular singing competition.

Age category winners such as schoolgirls Jennika Bangunan, 11, and Lydia Wapshaka, 16, took to the outdoor stage alongside 18 other performers, aged from seven to 30.

The musical event was organised by The Butterfly Effect and Voxshop Bahrain Music Institute and staged courtesy of Lulu Hypermaket, the mall and Nandos, following the successful singing competition offering contestants a platform to hone their skills and showcase their talents on a national scale.

Anita Menon, the managing director of The Butterfly Effect, said: “It was a stupendous success. We had 20 performers, including some of the winners of The Vocalist age categories wooing the audience with their amazing voices. It gave me and my team such joy and a great sense of pride to see them perform once again.

“I feel the competition has succeeded in giving them a platform to move ahead and explore new opportunities as performers.”

Jennika, a British School of Bahrain (BSB) pupil, won the final of the seven to 11 age category singing On my Own from the musical Les Miserables. She took home $400 and will have three vocal sessions with Fred Edwin, founder and voice coach of Voxshop.

“It feels amazing,” said Jennika who lives in Sanabis.  “I couldn’t sleep, rethinking that winning moment over and over again. I’m still showing a smile that pinches the corners of my cheeks!

“As one of the semi-finalists, I was thrilled at the point that I couldn’t stop talking about it. It was so exciting to have been chosen. But, when I made it to the finals, I realised that I was almost there and all I needed to do was try my hardest and aim high.”

Her dad, Genesis Ramos Bangunan, a solutions architect at Ericsson Telecoms, and mum, Quennie, cheered her on at the final along with family and friends who attend their church.

She said: “They were all extremely supportive and some of them seemed even more excited than me! They were all congratulating me once my name was announced and were so proud, screaming my name.

“I felt so loved and my mum and dad posted it on Facebook for all our relatives in the Philippines to see. Everyone had started buzzing with excitement.”

Jennika heard about the competition from her mother who spotted an advertisement and asked if she wanted to audition.

She took a weekly vocal lesson although she enjoys signing every day because she simply loves it. Before singing lessons with BSB teacher Natallia Estenom, she had trained with three teachers from church – Marilou Clavecilla, Frauline Villa and Anna Mabalot, who are all renowned soprano singers and music majors.

Her father believed she had star potential when she first burst into song at the tender age of three. “My father’s passion for singing inspired me and he was my first mentor,” she said. “I was always watching him singing bass in a church choir. He still sings in the same choir today!”

She wowed the judges during the auditions with her version of Think of Me from the Phantom of the Opera musical. In the semi-finals, she sang The Little Mermaid’s Part of that World because she adores Disney songs.

At the moment, Jennika says she has no expectations at all but will definitely continue honing her singing skills. “I’m looking forward to learning and having vocal sessions with coach Fred. I’d like to thank God first of all, for blessing me with this talent, to my supportive family, my seven-year-old brother, Sean, and all my friends who prayed for me throughout this experience.

“The Vocalist – ‘thank you’ for this opportunity it was a fun journey. It was a pleasure having all of these people who enjoyed my performance and cheered me on, as I was only doing what I loved doing.”

Lydia, from Amwaj Islands, also won a similar prize package and is eager to continue down a musical path. She described the competition as ‘really tough’. She’s looking forward to more specialist vocal coaching. “This is yet another good opportunity for me to improve myself as a musician,” she said.

Lydia, from Nigeria, sang Rihanna’s Russian Roulette during the auditions and was shocked and delighted to pick up her prize. “I was so sure my nerves had gotten too much in the way of my audition,” she explained, “but getting to the final was a whole other story. It was so exhilarating.”

At the semi-final stage she sang Bruno Mars’s hit and in the grand finale at the Bahrain Rugby Football Club, she performed I Was Here by Beyonce.

Her parents, Isiaku, an aircraft engineer and Amina, a fashion designer, were with her every step of the way. “My parents are very open-minded with my music and let me take charge for the most part,” she said.

“When I won, my mum screamed and hugged me – I think she even cried a little. My dad tried to act cool but I could see he was just as proud.”

St Christopher’ School pupil Lydia has four sisters – Priscilla, 20, Phoebe, 13, Ruth, nine, and baby Hannah.

She says she takes after her big sister and her mum. “I have always loved to sing and growing up with a musical big sister, but I started performing publicly when my teacher in Year 6 happened to hear my voice and pushed me to perform on French Day.

“Looking back, I’m particularly grateful to her because I doubt that I would have performed in public otherwise. I also think I take after my mum because of our shared love for the performing arts, and I happen to look the most like her.

“I’ve mostly had my mum guiding me. I took a few lessons with Italian opera singer Ivana Padovano before she left Bahrain and although it was for a very short period it gave me an insight into some more technical points of singing.”

She is an active member of her school choir which meets three days a week, as well as with her church’s music ministry.

The adult Vocalist winner, Majda Shanta, 23, unfortunately could not perform on Friday due to studying for her exams at RCSI- Medical University of Bahrain.

She lives in Busaiteen with her roommate Dr Nada Errayes who has been ‘like a sister’ during her six years living in the kingdom.

Her parents, a pilot and a teacher, and five siblings live in a neighbouring Gulf state. She always thought she was a good singer as she started at a young age, performing usually in morning assembly and summer camp. Her uncle plays the oud and inspired her to appreciate music.

She also spends time jamming with her friends at university and its associated music club. She practiced singing Adele’s Someone Like You on the car journey to the auditions and at the semi-final stage delivered another song from the British star called Don’t you Remember.

“It felt honestly amazing,” she explained. “I did not expect it at all. I knew I was kind of good at singing, but good enough to reach the finals? Never!”

In the final, she delivered a stunning version of I Surrender by Celine Dion but was still stunned that she won. “It all felt like a dream,” Majda said. “The rush you get after hearing your name makes it all worthwhile.

“I won $1,000 but that wasn’t what mattered, having my friends around and seeing how happy we all were, was the best part! My amazing friends were there from the auditions all way through to the final.”

She would also like to give a special mention to her friend and unofficial vocal coach Abdulmuhsen Basha and another friend, Dr Mohammed Toorani.

“Honestly, winning wouldn’t have felt this good if it wasn’t for the people surrounding me,” she said. Now, Majda is pressing pause on any musical aspirations to pursue her medical dreams of becoming a qualified doctor.

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