The Sampaguitas Bring You Flowers

The Sampaguita is the national flower of The Phillippines and thus a fitting name for a remarkable trio of Filipina singers, Aireene Espiritu, Jenevieve Francisco, and Cristina Ibarra. They met in San Francisco and connected over their shared ancestry and love of song. Their exquisite voices weave together folk songs, protest songs, songs of love and home, and originals on their eponymous debut album, The Sampaguitas, out October 5th from Little Village. It will be celebrated that night at their performance at Berkeley’s Freight and Salvage.

I do not understand a word of Tagalog, but it really doesn’t seem to matter. The beauty of their voices, accompanied by the barest minimum of guitar or ukulele and some beautiful flute work by John Calloway, was really all that was necessary. Some songs sound like prayers, others like lullabies. They’re all mesmerizing. I suspect you too will fall under their spell.

The Sampaguitas is a fascinating story of transplanted culture—only Aireene was born in the Philippines, moving to the U.S. at ten, and she is the only member who is fluent in Tagalog. Cristina, however, grew up in San Diego; her great-grandmother was a founding member of the Filipino Women’s Club of San Diego in the 1930s and was well known for cooking Filipino dishes for visiting Navy sailors longing for a taste of home.

Cristina and Jenevieve have worked together for years in the Hitsville Soul Sisters singing Motown covers and originals. Then all three of them met at a hootenanny and discovered their vocal blend. As Aireene noted, “I’ve been in many bands, but this is the first time with people with the same roots.” It’s a satisfaction you can hear in the music.

Having been part of the Little Village scene from the beginning as a blues/Americana singer, she mentioned her new group to Jim Pugh, the executive director. Since they frequently perform at Filipino cultural and Senior centers, it was an immediate connect for Little Village, a nonprofit record company devoted to supporting music that leads to a more diverse and responsive world.

The result is the bouquet of music you now hold.