Composer Soliano debuts album at 81

This story was first published in The Straits Times on June 5, 2013

At the age of 81, musician and composer Rufino Soliano is finally releasing his debut album.

Best known as the retired head of the Singapore Broadcasting Corporation Orchestra, he will launch Endlessly, a 12-song CD of his own Latin-inspired compositions, at live music venue Blu Jaz Cafe tonight.

Despite his frail health - he was discharged only last Friday after a week's stay in hospital for a viral infection, low blood pressure and pneumonia - Soliano insists that the show will go on, and will even play the vibraphones on four songs from the album at the launch event.

"When I play my music, I become a different person," says the soft-spoken man when Life! met him at his daughter Kathleen's home in Pasir Ris on Monday.

Soliano, who has five children, 10 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, says all the tunes were inspired by members of his family.

He began working on the album in 2011 to combat a bout of depression, which came about after he had a stroke in 2010 and had to be hospitalised several times. He also has a heart problem dating back to 1983.

Housewife Kathleen, 55, encouraged him to start composing again to aid in his recovery and he was soon back at the keyboard.

"The doctor told me that he did not have any medication for me for the depression. But when I started writing, I forgot about everything else and I got cured. I finished composing and rearranging all the songs in a week."

Soliano, who was born in Singapore to a Filipino father and Eurasian mother, says most of the tunes were inspired and named after his grandchildren. One of them, Jordan, 12, will accompany him on the bongos tonight.

Five of the songs feature singing from his nephew, Alan Shandosham, in his late 40s, and niece, Michelle Soliano Lew, 50, and the rest are instrumentals.

The album also includes rearranged versions of his old songs, including Esmeralda, composed in 1964 and inspired by the birth of his youngest daughter, Jacinta, 49. The song, which features Malay lyrics, was formerly sung by veteran Malay singers such as Kartina Dahari and Ahmad Daud.

Soliano's performance tonight will be his third public appearance after he retired from the Singapore Broadcasting Corporation, now MediaCorp, in 1993. He performed at the Down Memory Lane charity concert-cum-dinner in 2009 and made a brief return to television for Bandstand Elektra, a music show on MediaCorp's Malay channel Suria, last year.

He started out as a percussionist in 1960 when the broadcasting service was still called Radio Malaya Singapore and worked his way up to be the leader of its 38-piece orchestra.

Along the way, he played with international music icons who performed in Singapore, including trumpeter Louis Armstrong, singer Shirley Bassey and Rat Packer Sammy Davis Jr in the 1960s and 1970s.

He now walks around with a cane and, according to Kathleen, his family members will carry him up the stairs to the second floor of Blu Jaz for the album launch tonight.

The CD, jointly funded by the National Arts Council, Universal Music Singapore and his friends and family, will come with a 40-page booklet written by him, Kathleen and Jacinta, a hotel room sales consultant. It chronicles his life and career in the local music scene.

Soliano says he expects to see many of his old friends and colleagues from the entertainment industry at the launch show tonight and hopes that they will dance to his music.

"That's why I love Latin music. It never fails to get the listeners moving."

This story was first published in The Straits Times on June 5, 2013

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