By Marivir R. Montebon
New York City
The lovely and petite Kay Habana, who once enthralled Montreal, offers two beautiful things now that she is in New York: an angel’s voice and her delectable dishes.
You can imagine a sweet operatic voice emanating from the kitchen, as she whips up delightful food, the most sought after of which is the chicken pork adobo. Such is a rare combination of talent that soothes the soul.
On August 11, the Performing Arts Philippines Inc. recognizes Kay as Ms Performing Arts 2013 at the Renaissance Newark Airport Hotel in Elizabeth, New Jersey.
Kay sings with the San Lorenzo Ruiz Choir of NYC, which serves the Our Lady of Pompeii (Manhattan) and Mt. Carmel (Astoria) communities. She has produced an album “Sacred” which features, among others, a duet with tenor Rogelio Penaverde Jr. of Panis Angelicus. It is a remarkable, stunning rendition, enough to create goosebumps.
Kay’s singing stints included the Suites by Sondheim at the Alice Tully Hall of the Lincoln Center and the CD launch of Bituing Natatangi at the Philippine Consulate on 5th Avenue.
She lives in the Pelham area of the Bronx, and dotes on her only son, Kael. Being a mom she said, is the most rewarding of all her undertakings. “This little one makes me feel much needed. The privilege to nurture and love this tiny human being makes me feel humbled everytime.”
By September, Kay will release her CD and her home-made ice cream, two things I am excitedly awaiting to have.
Excerpts of our interview:
1. Who has been your mentor and coach in singing? What values you acquired from this teacher?
In all honesty, I didn’t really acquire any formal training in singing. I just started performing in public at a very young age. It was when my elementary school teachers discovered that I have this “freak” voice that they suggested to my family I join singing contests. It was only during those competitions that I associated myself with many various coaches who’ve helped me chisel the art of performing, both in singing and folk dancing.
However, if I’d have to pick one person who stands out to this very day as an influence, it would be my Tita Edith (Ms. Editha Fedalizo). Tita Edith is the pianist of The Panday Tinig Chorale Ensemble of Montreal, the choral group I belonged to when I was still living in Montreal. I learned so much from her not just about singing, but life in general. I was just a young teen back then when I was still with Panday, a choir eclipsed by members who were much older than me. But with Tita Edith, I easily coalesced into the group. She made it so easy. I enjoyed grown-up conversations with her about the run-of-the-mill of life.
2. Favorite singer. Why?
My favorite singer… Sarah Brightman. She continues to inspire me. She hadn’t had formal voice training herself, but she sings like an angel. And in this competitive industry, at her age, she’s still very much out there. Of course, who can’t fall in love with that sweet British accent?
3. From Guimaras, you moved to Canada and grew up there. What is the difference in the lifestyle of living in Guimaras and Montreal? Was the transition difficult?
Frankly, it wasn’t something I wished for. I lived a very happy and blessed life in Guimaras. I was content in the company of my sister and grandparents whom I love so dearly. Then out of nowhere, I was told that I’d move to Canada and live with my mom whom at the time, I hardly knew. Of course, for a kid, it was very difficult. I can almost vividly recall the transition to have been horrifying. An anguish.
Forget that I had to learn French and that I had no choice but to speak it in order to get around! (Laughs). It took about 4 years to overcome the homesickness, and 3 years out of the 4, I cried practically every day and night, no exaggeration there. In the end though, I understood God had a bigger plan for me and my life. So yeah, now, I can definitely say I’m grateful for that “move”. It has rewarded me with experiences so rich, beautiful, and fulfilling without which, I wouldn’t be the person I am today.
4. Why did you move to the US?
My move to NY wasn’t really planned. I had intended to come here for my auntie June who was battling ovarian cancer at the time. She and I were very close, thus, I wanted to be with her, to take care of her. We spent some precious time together until she eventually went home to the Lord.
Then I caught sight of what NY could contribute to me in terms of career, that I could further nurture my singing craft here and put it to really good use. My grandparents are here, too, that was a deep-seated reason. Besides, I was always told, “if you survive NY, you survive anywhere else.” I wanted to challenge myself. And it’s been a good one, thus far. Overall, I find this city to be rich in arts, culture, and hey, I look around me and everything I see vouchsafes an education that is unsought. What more can one ask for?
5. What made you decide to choose the singing career?
I can’t fully say that I chose singing as a career any more than it continues to choose me. (Laughs). I think I’ve tried numerous times to escape it, but it re-introduces itself to me, time and time again. And believe me, I feel so blessed.
Singing, specially here in NY, has been worthwhile. The people have been very kind and receptive, too. I mean, I sing classical/opera songs. I know that not too many from my age group can appreciate that kind of music. But I’m humbled that there’s still a lot who appreciate what I do. That makes me happy and that pushes me to better my craft. I owe it not just to those who value my kind of music, but it’s a form of give-back to GOD who has loaned and entrusted me with this talent.
6. You have a catering business, which means you love the kitchen and cooking as well. Who is your inspiration for this? Who mentored you?
I have been catering since 2003. I was just quiet about it the whole time. I’m naturally a shy girl, and I get so embarrassed having to run after prospective clients. I was happy with the word-of-mouth kind of referrals. I didn’t feel that I needed to advertise. I only came up with the official name “Kaon” recently, with help from a couple of close friends. My friends were the ones who suggested that I introduce my catering business to the public. Glad I did. Business has picked up. And I don’t get to sleep anymore.
Cooking, I believe, came naturally to me. I loved to stay in the kitchen with our cooks when I was a kid and just watch them concoct different dishes. Let’s just say, anything and everything interested me. I was a boring kid. I enjoyed staying home, always wanting to learn the grown-up stuff… from cooking, sewing, washing and ironing clothes, and painting. Well, all these came after my first love—reading.
I can remember my Auntie Fely being the only one who was eager and happy to stay with me in the kitchen to watch me devise my peculiar-yet-tasty culinary experiments.
7. What special dishes are we to expect from your kitchen?
Well, I’d like to think that everything I create in my kitchen is special, in that, each dish is prepared and cooked with genuine love. I believe that when you put in a lot of love into your cooking, the love intrinsically betides. One can’t explain it, really. It’s just there.
But Chicken-pork adobo and crab cakes are among those many dishes I pride myself for. Don’t forget my SweetHabana Icecream, too. I’m hoping to have ‘em out in the Fil-am markets and restaurants pretty soon. I’m crossing my fingers and toes.
8. What projects in the arts are we supposed to see as upcoming?
I’m trying to hatch a mini-concert with my friend and colleague, Mr. John Pio. We’d like to give our audience a fusion of pop and classical music. It should be interesting and challenging. I’ll be pitted right next to my friend who can sing almost anything. He is, without a doubt, one of the best voices we have in the tri-state area. I’m truly proud of him.
Moreover, please don’t forget to grab a copy of the album that I produced not very long ago, entitled “Sacred”. It features my tenor friend and colleague, Rogelio Penaverde Jr. Part of the proceeds will benefit the Carmelite Community in the Philippines. I’m also working on my solo album which is set to be released sometime this fall.