“Langit natin ay makulimlim/Hinahampas ka ba ng hangin?/Bumibigat ba ang iyong damdamin?/ Kayang-kaya mong bumangon
May awit sa aking puso/Sabi Niya’y ‘wag kang sumuko/May unos man o delubyo/
Kaya mo yan
-from Kaya Mo Yan, words and music by Adjeng
THE season-appropriate, stormy imagery aside, every Filipino suffering from some form of mental illness—depression, anxiety, paranoia, eating disorders—can relate to the feeling of being buffeted by internal winds, as well as the solace that faith and spiritual direction can provide.
At age 43 (albeit a very young-looking 43), singer Adjeng, aka Adrienne Sarmiento Buenaventura—who’s also a songwriter, wife, mother to two kids, and a 22-year-veteran of the Manila band scene since she graduated from Miriam College in 2000—has pretty much seen it all. “I’m not coming into my career as a newbie na walang alam,” she says with a hearty laugh in her powerful alto voice. “I’ve learned a lot of life lessons from paying my dues.”
“Paying her dues” has meant her own mental health struggles as a young singer, broken relationships—and a health scare where she faced the possibility of losing her voice, after cysts were discovered in her vocal cords. “It felt like the lowest point in my life, and I had to let go of everything I thought was important,” she recalls. Adjeng calls it her “Road to Damascus,” when God, she feels, literally worked a miracle in her life and made the cysts disappear. The doctor was amazed, but gave her a piece of paper with the fateful words, “May resume singing.” She became a Christian after that, and after years away from the scene to marry her high school sweetheart and raise their children, she relaunched her career last year, 2021, with a catchy digital single, O Sige Lang, released on April 9.
Eight singles and over a year later, Adjeng has been enjoying tremendous airtime on Spotify, YouTube music, and iTunes, and is poised to return to live performances in time for the holidays. This, despite the pandemic lockdowns that had her, businessman husband Rodrin, 14-year-old daughter Adrianna, and 8-year-old son Rodrigo hunkering down at home. “I’m afloat and thriving in this pandemic because I clung to my faith and my music,” she says. “I knew I had to hold on to important things very real to me, or I would have become very emotional. The family became closer, but also had to unpack a lot of things.”
Inspired by her favorite band, BTS, and how they authentically interact with fans on social media—Jungkook is her bias, “na alam ng asawa ko,” she squeals—Adjeng made her own presence much felt on Facebook and Twitter, tastefully posting “without oversharing, which can also be toxic naman,” she notes. Even her public relations and marketing company, Amplified Entertainment, isn’t shy about sharing her real age, and isn’t about to pass her off as a young songbird.
Inspired by her favorite band, BTS, Adjeng made her own presence felt on Facebook and Twitter, posting ‘without oversharing’
“I’ve seen how BTS does it, so I’ve become okay with behind-the-scenes stuff,” Adjeng says. “When you see me munching on something, that’s real. I’m not pretending to be anything else, kakain ako ng kanin kung gusto ko. And that authenticity resonates with people. Especially now that I’m a wife and mother, it’s about being comfy in my own skin. With enough boundaries, this kind of openness has helped me grow in friendship with people who are just as authentic.”
Adjeng posts song covers, even when she’s hardly made up and in her house clothes, as well as thanks for blessings and words of encouragement for her followers. “Happy Friday to all the dreamers who are also doers,” reads a post, for example, plugging her latest single, Be Kind, a catchy R&B song that exhorts people to not take the feelings of others for granted: “You call, and then you won’t? Am I the victim this time? With me, sugar, won’t you be kind?” “Let’s take time to #BeKind to each other, and to ourselves,” she posted on Facebook. “And let’s allow God to align our hearts’ desires with His plans.”
She does believe that entertainers can become advocates for more than just entertainment. “I can’t speak for others, for whom music is already its own reward. I look up to other artists, but when I find out they have something else to share from deep inside that makes them relatable, tao lang, I’m blown away by such facets of musicians with a message. I want to be the same.”
Thus, it seemed a perfect fit when MindNation, a mental health organization specializing in teletherapy for individuals and corporations and with outposts in Manila, Singapore, Dubai, and Geneva (mindnation.com), tapped her to become their musical ambassador last September, just in time for Suicide Prevention Month—and ahead of Mental Health Awareness Month in October. By September 30, she’s launching the anthem Kaya Mo Yan, encouraging listeners to hold on to their faith amidst life’s storms. MindNation has since labeled their girl a “musician with a mission.”
“It’s not easy to talk about mental health, to be vulnerable in front of people we want to please,” Adjeng says. “We live in a curated world. You want na bida ka, you don’t want to appear weak. But because of my experience, I’m past the people-pleasing stage. People nowadays feel that this is a race, and you have to be the star, you have to be ahead. It doesn’t make sense to stay in that mindset. Everything is humanizing when you realize we all have battles to fight, and we can’t always be strong.”
In fact, Adjeng is enthusiastic about actually trying out MindNation’s teletherapy herself, with Rodrin and the kids. “We’d like to try the counseling ourselves, so it’s experiential, and I can understand where the therapists are coming from.”
She still gets pointed questions like, ‘Di ba you’re a mom na?’ ‘I mean, is there an age limit for making music? I didn’t know that’
The biggest challenges, she says, remain “the battlefields in my mind.” She still gets pointed questions like, “Di ba you’re a mom na? Di ka busy?” “I mean, is there an age limit for making music? I didn’t know that. Then again, the more I’m told I can’t, the more I do it.”
The best part of the last year, however, has been being urged by her vocal coach, the renowned Kitchy Molina, to start putting out the songs she has written herself. “You’ve been releasing these collabs with songwriters, but the years you’ve worked have afforded you the privilege of making your own music,” Molina told her. “Stop staying in your comfort zone, and step out.”
“I actually wrote Be Kind nine years ago,” Adjeng says. “Iba ang kilig when it’s all your own stuff.”
Her parting message is a simple one, Adjeng admits, especially because in Kaya Mo Yan, she was talking mainly to herself: “Accept it when you need help. It’s when you don’t ask for help that things start crumbling around you.”
Listen to Adjeng’s “Be Kind” on YouTube: