How often do we find our life’s meaning in the eyes of people we have helped in our little ways? For Lisa Concepcion, coming to Cambodia to teach children in the countryside was the beginning of her journey to self-actualisation. Now, she continues to be a significant citizen of the world through her other passion – singing. Agnes Alpuerto talks with the young Filipina musician.
On a high chair and a mic stand in front, Lisa Concepcion softly strummed her guitar and sang Katharine McPhee’s ‘Terrified’. But no, her song didn’t define what she was feeling as she sang in front of a growing crowd at a promotional event in Aeon Mall. She smiled – the kind that exudes both confidence and humility – and rendered probably the most heartwarming cover of McPhee’s 2010 hit.
Lisa is a 28-year-old Filipina working and living in Cambodia. She came here in 2011 and has been a fixture in Phnom Penh’s music scene since she took a leap of faith to hold a microphone in the public.
She arrived in Cambodia seven years ago as a fresh graduate who “wanted to do something meaningful”. She was part of a church mission from the Philippines that taught high school and college students speech, research writing and professional skills.
“It was fulfilling because I got to influence young minds and I was able to share my ideals with them even when it only lasted for two years. I’m really proud of all my students. They’ve achieved so much since the last time I was in a classroom with them. I have some students who are now ambassadors of youth organisations in Cambodia. I have students who are engineers now and are working in big projects.
“It’s a really wonderful feeling when they got back to me years after that and they told me how thankful they are for all things I taught them.”
In 2013, Lisa found other jobs outside of the mission programme and ventured into different paths – from being a business magazine writer to working as a marketing staff in a social enterprise and taking a communications job in a hotel. These paths, diverse but somehow interconnected, eventually became her life as an expat.
But it was when she got laid off from her work that she finally mustered the courage to sing solo at a public space in a foreign land.
She had a background in singing and playing instruments back in the Philippines. But coming from a conservative family in archipelagic province of Palawan, she never had any show or gig outside school.
Years after she made her first appearance in a Filipino restaurant, she now does at least one show every week or when private establishments ask her to perform. Such gigs introduced her to other local and foreign musicians in Phnom Penh, and opened her up to the possibility of using her talent and passion to something bigger.
“When the Philippines was hit by Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, we gathered musicians in Phnom Penh and tried to raise funds for the victims. That event was called Taghoy (lament). And I played an original song that I dedicated to all the victims,” she said.
After the fundraising event, Lisa and many other musicians held other charity concerts for war victims in the Middle East, for an ailing Cambodian child and for a pagoda in the capital. The money they raised were sent through different non-governmental organisations where some of the performers work full-time.
“Most of the musicians here in Cambodia – expats and Khmers – are concerned about society. We know wars, natural disasters and other tragedies happening everywhere. So we come all together for such causes. We come all together as people of the world.”
For a foreigner, and a woman at that, Lisa’s journey in Cambodia is a beautiful story of finding life’s meaning through teaching and finding a way to bless others through her passion.
“It’s more meaningful and it’s worthwhile because here in Phnom Penh, everyone supports each other. It’s our way of giving back; if not for the people here, we are doing something for the people around the world. I feel like we need to do more of those things. As for me, my purpose of doing music is to spread joy, peace and love and if you do charity events, that’s what you give to the world. That’s something every person can understand.
“And I want to be more relatable. I want to do events that give back to the people. I’ve experienced being blessed, so I want to bless others, too,” the morena singer said before sitting back on her high chair with a mic stand in front, now with Lady Gaga’s ‘Shallow’.