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Filipina Serenades the Streets of Italy

Filipina Serenades the Streets of Italy

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When the world becomes too loud for comfort, most of us cover our ears, turn away and carry on with our lives. Others allow themselves to be swallowed by the mundane bustle and drown in the process. And then there are those who take refuge in their artistic universe that shield them from all the noise and commotion. They have the power to see the spark, feel the rhythm and hear the beat visible and audible only to them. In this article, The Filipino Expat Magazine interviewed Jenika Louisse Duran, capturing the hearts and ears of passersby through busking.

The autumn air was a celebration of aromas of cheeses, hazelnuts, mushrooms and the world renowned tartufo bianco d’Alba. The annual International White Truffle Festival 2021 was in full swing. In the midst of all this excitement, Jenika Louisse Duran, 29, arrived at Via Maestra street at 4pm. She was on tenterhooks. The sight of Noah standing with his guitar slung over his shoulder, smiling and calm, gave her the comfort she badly needed. Ignoring the noise, she positioned herself in front of the mic and signaled Noah to strum the first chords of the song True Colors.

Her voice floated in the air catching some glances from passersby. Some stopped, others marched on. After several songs, their audience was still sparse. Jenika closed her eyes and crooned the intro of Whitney Houston’s I will always love you and that did it, her audience quickly doubled.

“To sing on the street has always been on my bucket list,” confesses Jenika in our Zoom conversation. That  autumn afternoon, her bucket list became one task short. For four hours, she sang her heart out keeping her audience under her spell, even leaving some in tears.

“An Italian woman came to me and said, ‘I don’t understand English but your voice pierces through my heart.’”

Jenika Louisse Duran, Filipina Busker in Europe
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“It was through a friend’s Instagram that I found Noah, a professional busker from Turin. I sent him my video and when he saw it, he told me we had to jam,” shares Jenika. They didn’t even have the chance to meet in person before the gig, nor to rehearse. Jenika´s mom begged her not to do it, scared of what the reaction of the crowd might be. “I convinced her it was my dream. In my later gigs, my mom would watch me from afar, always excited and nervous.”

Jenika grew up a shy girl, a prey for bullies. To shield herself from all the negativity, she took refuge in music. At the age of six, she knew she could sing. When her mom went to Italy to work, she was left to take care of her two siblings while finishing a degree in Nursing. Soon after, her siblings were petitioned to live with their parents, leaving her to her grandmother. She worked as a nurse at San Lazaro hospital in Manila.

In 2018, she got a job as a caregiver in Malta, a quicker way to be closer to her family. When she got her Maltese residence card, she bought a plane ticket to Italy. “We finally have a complete family photo together,” brims Jenika, who now works as a babysitter on weekdays and a busker on weekends.

After Alba, Jenika and Noah performed in Turin before a huge crowd. A number of Pinoys came to watch.

 “It is fun to have our kababayans in the audience. They are a jolly lot so it is easier to attract more people.”

Jenika Louisse Duran, Filipina Busker in Europe
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The rousing turn-outs for both busking gigs made Jenika an instant celebrity, thanks to the videos of them on social media. Her YouTube channel enjoys thousands of views and her subscribers have been growing. She and Noah were invited to perform at weddings and private events in other parts of Italy. Last September, she was in Germany for a concert organized by a Filipino group.

One year after her first busking experience, Jenika performed solo at Via Maestra.

Busking alone proves to be a challenge as building a crowd is not easy especially in a cold weather. And once you have the crowd, you work harder to keep them watching. “Busking is not
easy. It is unpredictable. Today you have a big crowd, tomorrow, only a few. Money is not the same either. I earn 100-300 euros performing for two hours.”

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Busking taught Jenika to appreciate singing on the street and her respect for her fellow musicians has grown even more.

“It is a profession and buskers are artists. They also pay taxes. We busk, we don’t beg. We perform because we want to share our passion. The most beautiful thing is, we support each other.”

Jenika Louisse Duran, Filipina Busker in Europe
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At present, Saturdays are still busking days for Jenika, mostly with Noah and sometimes, solo. And from the streets, she is set to conquer the concert stage this year as offers to be the front act singer in Milan, Rome and Barcelona keep coming.

When Jenika wrote “Do Busking” on her bucket list, she never imagined it would come to pass.

She never had a clue that it would be a life-changing experience. That every time she opens her mouth to sing in the middle of a noisy street, there is always one heart that she can touch. “Our life is like a book with different chapters, and if this comes to an end, I can say that I am fulfilled. I have made people happy.”

This article was first published in TFEM’s Spring 2023 Issue
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