Jocelyn Enriquez
Photo courtesy of Juan L. Ortiz

It’s been almost 20 years since Jocelyn Enriquez was a staple on radio airwaves and dance floors throughout the Bay Area and eventually across the country. Her irresistible freestyle hits like “Do You Miss Me?” and “A Little Bit of Ecstasy” landed her on the Billboard 200 charts and global tours, and marked her as a beacon for bubbling artists soon to follow: FilAm R&B acts like Kai, Buffy, One Vo1ce and Pinay (Enriquez was a founding member). Enriquez was the first Filipina-American to find mainstream success and helped define a brimming Bay Area scene that may have fizzled out as soon as it sparked, but whose music still continues to be played at family parties, cotillions, and the occasional bar (that is, if you follow the right DJs) to this day.

On July 20, Enriquez returns home to headline the a special throwback edition of UNDISCOVERD SF, the season opener to the festival’s third season. We spoke to Enriquez on a call from San Antonio, Texas, where she currently resides with her husband and kids, on uplifting the Filipino culture and community through music and coming back home to the Bay Area to celebrate with her kababayan, or family.

TBB: You’re widely known as the Queen of Freestyle — after all these years, is that something you still feel like you own?

Jocelyn Enriquez: Honestly, for me, it’s still like, ‘Really? That’s so weird (laughs)’. It really is a homegrown story in which I was just a girl that wanted to pursue a singing career and I just happened to be at the right time and right place to where it all happened. I was a college student, I recorded in November right before Thanksgiving and in three days, WiLD 107.7 (now WiLD. 94.9) wanted to break it. It was crazy. So really, I just being caught in the moment. Even now, it’s humbling to hear the pride of the community, to be looked up to as a pioneer.

TBB: Was music something you were pursuing at a young age?

JE: Around the age of 8 I went to a prestigious girls music school in the Bay Area called the San Francisco Girls Chorus. I actually have classical training; We would sing four-part, eight-part music and I loved the intricacy of harmonizing. So I found friends that loved to sing, that also appreciated four-part harmony and we were like, hey, let’s put together a group. It was very casual — we didn’t have a goal to get signed or anything, it was just something we loved to do, that was part of our pastime growing up.

But I was also involved with a lot of organizations — YFEC (Young Filipino Entertainers Club) which was established in the Daly City area to give an opportunity to young performers as an after-school program rather than getting involved into trouble. We would just have production seasons and we’d perform at Serramonte Del Rey, or different organizations, the Pangasinan group, the Batangas group. They would have coronation nights or fiestas and we would be the band that they would hire. If you were around then, I was some way, somehow affiliated back then. Anything that had to do with entertaining, I would be there.

TBB: At that time during the height of your career and finding mainstream success, did you feel any pressure at all to represent the Filipino community?

JE: I never looked at it that way because honestly it was literally an overnight thing. I mean from walking into the studio and just sharing my goals and also nurturing me into the industry, going into the studio and recording “I’ve Been Thinking About You,” it was literally three days. The turnaround was so quick, I couldn’t even think. And even at that time, I was still doing both (recording solo and with Pinay) because it didn’t really hit me that I was going to be touring. It was such an overnight success that it didn’t dawn on me.

It’s still surreal to me after all these years. I’m just trying to remain grateful and humble about it because it is a beautiful thing, and I hear different stories of how my music has impacted lives

[and] represented our community. And that’s a big responsibility, and I was just trying to make sure I represented well — whether that was being Filipina, even now being a mother of four, a wife to a pastor, it’s just being proud of who God has made me to be and then some. It’s humbling and what an honor and a privilege to have represented our community in such a large caliber that I never dreamed of or expected.

TBB: Do your kids know about your career and all that you achieved at that time?

JE: I know that they were aware but because it’s been out of sight, out of mind, they see me as mommy. There’s actually a story I have of my daughter. We took her to an event in Houston, about two to three years ago, they were launching a local Filipino channel, so we thought we’d take her, it was their opening celebration for the TV station. She asked me if people would want to take pictures with me, if they’d ask for autographs, I said I really don’t know. It was a red carpet event and I came downstairs to the lobby and the first thing I hear is, “Ay! It’s Jocelyn! My idol!” (laughs). Our oldest Matthew, he was a little young when I was well into my career so he remembers bits and pieces of my career but the two little ones — who are 8 and 11 — have no idea other than what we show them even on social media. And so, it’s a trip. It’s not like I have another life per se, but it’s a life that they’re not familiar with.

TBB: You actually released a single last summer, “To Love Again.” How did you find you find your way back into music?

JE: I don’t know if the right concept is ‘comeback,’ honestly. Because regardless of what has happened between now and the silence of my hiatus for the last 20 years, I actually have been doing music. I just didn’t do it on stage. And a lot of life happened in between — But I always had a passion for music someway, somehow. I thought about Christian music because I love singing Christian music. But the Lord kept opening up doors to do the music that I loved and “To Love Again” actually was birthed because of a performance I had done at the Greek Theatre. At the time, for me, it’s like, why would anyone want me to perform again, it’s been so long! So, I’m singing, “Do You Miss Me,” I’m singing, “If You Could Read My Mind,” and in my mind, I’m thinking, ‘This is so awkward! Try not to be out of breath!’ But it came rushing back! The feeling just re-surged back in me: The love of performing again. The love of people singing back your songs to you on stage. These were songs that weren’t heard in over 15 years and yet people remember. And to me, it clicked: This was my chance to love again. Another story to begin.

TBB: Does that mean fans should expect more music from you? Obviously the industry and recording in general has changed in the last 20 years.

JE: I used to record out in Union City, so my dancers and I would rehearse a lot in the South Bay. My brother actually texted me last weekend, he just passed by the old record label which is now just a bunch of stores, like a mini-strip mall. And that’s 20 years ago, whereas now, if you have a keyboard or a computer, you can actually make music on your own. I have a son who does music as well, as a hobby, he’s actually one of my songwriters now and he helps me prep up music for projects that I’m doing.

It’s funny how the process is now, I literally don’t have to be in the studio and because I know what sound I’m looking for, we just go back and forth, conference calling. It’s so much different now and a lot quicker — the turnaround time is a lot faster than what it was before. It’s one of the cool things I’m learning now as I’m doing music again, so I’m learning again and of course appreciating the history for me how music has evolved. I think a lot of this really has been preparation for what is happening now, how we do music now with my son and my producer. And so, we’re just really being thoughtful in what put out. We are going to go international with “To Love Again” so I’m excited about that, but we also do have songs that are in line.

TBB: What does it mean to you to headline UNDISCOVERED SF’s season opener?

JE: I can’t help but smile at the people who work really hard to put this together. You know, as Filipino-Americans it really is a time as a community to celebrate and cause an awareness of our community — not that we need to be loud and proud about it because our art, our business opportunities, our gifting, our food, the way we treat one another speaks so much more volumes. UNDISCOVERED is, for me, a place that I’m going to get to go home to and be among my kababayan. To be able to celebrate our culture [and] support the entrepreneurs of our time now and to encourage them, to say good job, to tell them keep going, how can we help. I’m so thankful and grateful — and a little bit scared because I want to make sure I’m not awkward — of our community and the opportunity to have a place to call home and a place for our kids to learn about our culture. Again, I live in Texas now so I don’t have that accessibility that a lot of people have in the Bay Area, but this is a proud moment. And we get to celebrate together as a family, as a community and so I look forward spending that stage not so much with my audience, but with my family.

UNDISCOVERED SF: Jocelyn Enriquez, CRSB, Triple Threat DJs, DJ Bitesize, plus more
598 Stevenson Street
July 20, 2019
4pm-10pm, All ages

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.