Martin Nievera and Pops Fernandez: ‘Twogether Again’ at the Palace Theatre in Los Angeles

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 “That’s the state of how I was taught, was the whole thing of Ohana, wishes family…and that’s one thing that we don’t get enough of in the Philippines; [it is] all about family and same in Hawaii and that’s one thing I’ve always enjoyed is to be able to treat my people, of the people I perform with, the people that I perform for as if we were family. I don’t go up there and become this big God and try and make people worship me. I hate that, if there’s anything about mine in my career I hate most is that. But to be able to relate to my audience to have them be the stars and not me during a two three hour concert that for me is the ultimate mission of my every show – so the upbringing of Hawaii, the atmosphere of the laid-backness of Hawaii but more than anything the Ohana factor, the family factor that became very part and parcel of my act even joking around about family how my mom raised me ala Rex [Navarrete a comedian] never end there; that kind of thing you know when he jokes about his grandmother and his mother being so Filipino is unbelievable. I put all of that in my show, okay so we got a Hawaiian Filipino with the spirit of Ohana and rich in everything.” – Martin Nievera, with Philipp Harth on Fan TV (2010).

AJPress photo by Noel Ty

I have watched Martin Nievera at his solo concerts in Los Angeles, and wondered about his accessibility to the audience. I was not a fan yet. It reminded me of ASAP stars on The Filipino Channel with how they literally made the audience a part of their show. It makes for an unruly audience who would at times interrupt the singing with selfies.

But, after watching Nievera with Pops Fernandez, my initial impression of a flamboyant singer who attracts his audience with his exuberance and enthusiasm turned into an expressive Martin who was balanced with Pops and her serenity onstage.

As Pops came out in her ivory, no shoulder gown, with laced cutouts, Martin admired it by holding up the bottom to showcase the designs, to which Pops tenderly remarked to put it down as she had no slip underneath.

When Pops appeared as the first Filipina judge on CBS’ “The World’s Best” hosted by James Corden in early Feb. 2019, I wondered how she became a talent judge. I, of course, did not know that she has built a formidable singing and acting career, as the better half of Martin’s love team on television and film, his former wife and the forever mother of two “wonderful treasures,” whom he referred to, their sons Robin and Ram. It was my classmate, Rose B., who reminded me of their television show, “Penthouse Live,” that she watched every Sunday for years.

But more than that, Martin has garnered 18 platinum, five double platinum, three triple platinum, and one quadruple platinum albums. That amounts to millions of records sold.

As an ex-married couple, the generosity in their friendship is palpable, when Pops said in a GMA interview with Janet Susan Rodriguez Nepales, “I got a call from Martin (Nievera, her ex). I was doing a video shoot. Martin texted me and asked me if I heard about the show. Yes, I told him. He said that they chose him. I said, Really, wow good for you. But then Martin said, I don’t think I can make it. I can’t make the dates. So he asked me if I could do it instead? I thought that was really touching of him to think of me. I said. That is so sweet of you. Little did I know that I would be the first Filipina to be featured in the show as a judge. It was a wonderful experience. It is a fantastic show. I hope they will do more seasons and I can get together again with the other 49 judges.”

The duo performed at both Palace Theatre in downtown Los Angeles and Samala hall at Chumash Casino on two consecutive weekends.

Samala, by the way, means “recognized by God” with a capacity of 1,500 seats, almost all claimed that evening. At the Palace Theatre, its 1,068 seats were all claimed, leaving the organizers to sacrifice their seats for others.

Palace Theatre in its golden 50 years was located on Broadway, a major thoroughfare and LA’s major commercial district. It was the largest historic theater district listed on the National Register of Historic Places. “This venue was once graced by Charlie Chaplin, Harry Houdini, W.C. Fields, Marx Brothers,” and add to that now, Martin Nievera and Pops Fernandez.

Today’s Palace Theatre has newly installed lighting and sound systems and their songs resonated loudly and a few times, one could feel actual reverberations of the band’s music go from one’s ears to the body, literally.

Nevermind that the sound dynamics have to be tweaked, nor that the fans were into small-talk reunions in their seats, since thousands sat inside the theater, filled with excitement to see their idols, reunited.

One of the opening singers,
Cherilyn Diane | AJPress photo by Noel Ty

The opening acts occupied time, a bit raunchy for my taste that we will leave it at that. But, one singer, Cherilyn Diane, who traveled from San Diego, did not resort to any external props or raunchy dance moves, as she simply sang to the audience’s delight, “I Surrender,” by Celine Dion.

As soon as Martin and Pops appeared in the Palace theater, the minor irritations of gossiping fans, of sound dynamics that needed tweaking and stabilized later, all were forgotten as they sang their opening medley, “Together Again”: “Together/forever/To be together/Forever with You/Together again.”

They captivated everyone with this number, and Martin started relating their journey as a duo on stage and real-life. With how it all began, he sung,  “No One Can Make Me Feel This Way,” and so expressively, he made us believe, “Tell me where I went wrong,” and recounted how Pops did not like him at first, as he was perceived to be arrogant.

Could it be because he was raised in Hawaii, a son of Bert Nievera, who was a member of Society of Seven? Martin got to watch his dad perform every night, at times, three times a night. He knew what a performing artist does onstage.

Martin Nievera serenades Ms. Priscilla Hunt, as producer Trinity Foliente looks on (rightmost). | AJPress photo by Noel Ty

In 1980 at Concord Pavilion, Martin was one of the back-up singers for Barry Manilow and from that stage view, he watched as  Manilow was applauded by fans and that became his dream for himself. “I was 17 years old I’d sang in a singing contest with 4,500 contestants. It’s called California State talent competition, it’s four days long and I think I was one of the only Asians in there singing. There [were] a lot of Asian dancers, Bennett singers, [to make the] long story short on the fourth day I was crowned the overall grand champion of the state of California in1981,” Martin said in a FANTV interview in 2010 with Philipp Hart. 

He shared that he and Pops became a stage team, fell in love, had two beautiful children, who were raised by Pops, and admitted he” messed up.” He then asked the men in the crowd, “How many of you here messed up?” Of course, to that question, no one would fess up. He declared, “They will be my life, the rest of my life. This woman and two children.” 

He then dedicated the concert to Rosie Chua, one of the organizers of this August 10 concert with this song, “Ikaw lang ang mamahalin”: “Sa bawat pag-ikot ng ating buhay/May oras kailangan na maghiwalay/Puso’y lumaban man, walang magagawa/Saan ka, kailan ka muling mahahagkan? (In this cycle of life, there is time to say goodbye, even if the heart struggles, there is nothing that can be done. Where and when can I embrace you again?)”

The crowd went wild when he sang, “Sana ang tibok ng puso ko, sana yakapin mo kahit sandali, (Perhaps with my heart’s beat, perhaps you can hug me just one moment), one could feel the loving expressions. Even if the song was dedicated to his concert organizer, expressions towards Pops and her persona were what he was singing his words to.

Onstage, the expected rancor between ex-spouses was not there, only respect, candor and humor. For every verse and lyrics they sang, “Ikaw ang bigay ng Maykapal (You are a gift from God), or “Ikaw ang Tanglaw sa Buhay Ko, (You are the light force of my life), the fans could not get enough of their chemistry onstage. Though the couplehood is gone, they are thriving as a family and as they entertain their fans, moving them to tears, as well as laughter.

During the Chumash Casino concert that I attended a week later, courtesy of good friends, Martin described Pops as  ”This woman [who] became the most understanding woman in the world. She raised our children by herself, Robin and Ram. He proceeded to belt out, “Baby I love you. This is my last chance for love.”

Perhaps the most endearing numbers for me were the duets of Robin Nievera, the first-born son, with his father and mother. Robin is superb with his acoustic guitar and even his composition, “Home,” that was a fusion of his dad’s rendition of a yesterday song, “Unchained Melody,” sang in tribute to 10 million Filipinos who work overseas and in Los Angeles, over 500,000 now.

When Pops spoke of passing the torch to one of her earlier songs, “The Little Star,” she moved me to tears with her heartfelt love for her firstborn. It reminded me of how I was, giving birth and caring for my own firstborn, a special favorite girl in my heart, Corina, and even more so, my granddaughter by her, Princess.

Pops duets with her first-born, Robin Nievera | AJPress photo by Noel Ty

But as this firstborn sang, “I am not them, I am me,” you know he is asserting his identity, separate in style and skills and talents from his parents, and one who is finding his way around Los Angeles, introducing emerging talents to Hollywood. Of course, he is not them, but he is from them, and perhaps by embracing the musical genes that produced him while in the womb, he can be the next Andrea Morricone, who declares, “I knew music before I was even born. Morricone, born to parents who both were into music, one of whom is Ennio Morricone. Since then, the father and son won an Oscar for their latest film score. I wonder if that is also in the future of the Nievera and Fernandez family, a strong composition, all their own to be sung and to win an Emmy or an Oscar?

Irrespective of that wish, when Pops sang, “I could have said goodbye/if I knew it would be the last time.” It was a very moving concert for me, now that I know their love story and how they manage to still bring out the best in each other, onstage and off, giving each one the generosity and support they need as parents to Robin and Ram.

As the concert ended, Martin went to where the first row fans were seated and sang songs to Mrs. Priscilla Hunt, a respected philanthropist, whom he serenaded. Then, other fans intruded into the song to get their selfies, which Martin encouraged. Indeed, it was Ohana night, all over again, even after 37 years of performing on stage. Martin has made every concert space his own playground, his own home, and his own comfort zone, and became ours as well, even if just for a night.

“I knew music even before I was born.”

Prosy Abarquez Dela Cruz, J.D.

Prosy Abarquez-Delacruz, J.D. writes a weekly column for Asian Journal, called “Rhizomes.” She has been writing for AJ Press for 13 years. She also contributes to Balikbayan Magazine. Her training and experiences are in science, food technology, law and community volunteerism for 4 decades. She holds a B.S. degree from the University of the Philippines, a law degree from Whittier College School of Law in California and a certificate on 21st Century Leadership from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. She has been a participant in NVM Writing Workshops taught by Prof. Peter Bacho for 4 years and Prof. Russell Leong. She has travelled to France, Holland, Belgium, Japan, Costa Rica, Mexico and over 22 national parks in the US, in her pursuit of love for nature and the arts.

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