For my birthday today, I would like to feature YAEL PINEDA. She is one of the many people who had touched and inspired my life in so many ways. As a performing artist, a friend, a companion and a mother, she holds a special place in my heart. I am writing this post on a more personal note because there’s no other way to share how great of a person she is if not for my experience.

So many people ask me that for staying in my company for over 10 years, how do I do it? How do I relive each moment like it’s my first? And how do I tell the story over and over as I do it every day?

Well, 10 years ago, as we speak, I have met a bubbly, funny woman by the name of Yael. Called Mama Yael by many, Maria Celeste Pineda had truly inspired me first as a cheerful friendly soul. She was ready to give the warmest welcoming smile to anybody and I thought she is the best fashionista to hold the most precious asset of being happy and soulful.


Last pose for the Circle of Life at the Festival of the Lion King in Hong Kong Disneyland

Mama Yael, though the Catholic church didn’t allow her to be baptised as such because it was a Hebrew name, is one of the most phenomenal vocalists I have ever known. She is a powerhouse that is able to sustain the quality of her voice at its greatest. Being the storyteller for the Festival of the Lion King at Hong Kong Disneyland back in 2008, hearing her share the meaning of the song, “The Circle of Life” left a huge impact on me.

Despite a demanding range, she delivers beautifully each random time that I watched. With her rendition of the last song, blending with what Jesse Hamilton, Larry Coke and Jing Fegi could bring on stage in addition to the skillful cast of chorus dancers, fire knife dancers and aerialists, The Festival of the Lion King had grossed out hundreds of shows. They were always catering to a full house until today.

Shenzi is one of the three hyenas in the Lion King movie that are Scar’s allies. She was originally played by Whoopi Goldberg.

Not long time after that, Yael’s hard work propelled her to opening for the Lion King Broadway in Singapore in 2011. This becomes her second with a record of opening in Sydney, Australia as the first one in 2003. Her gifts had expanded by swinging between playing Shenzi and Rafiki.

Lion King fans know how opposing these two characters are.

Both roles have different characters and I love portraying them, Yael speaks in performing it to thousands of spectators constituting 75 million people (and is still counting) recorded to have seen the show as of 2014.

The unbelievable part though is that despite this much achievement, Mama Yael remains down-to-earth. Whenever we have casual hang-outs, she would never bring any of the fame or that of work-related issues unless asked.

As a budding artist then, I took the courage to ask her about her background.

I got the courage to find out how she started and as she told me this the first time, it gave me goosebumps. The cause of all fame was her mother. She recalls that cliché as it may sound, her mother, Sandy Alano Pineda, was her biggest influence.

She was a performer herself as part of the Bayanihan National Dance Companythe Philippine National Folk Dance Company. She represented the Philippine flag to a lot of political guests. That was around former President Ferdinand Marcos’ time when Imelda Marcos, the first lady, had invested on performing arts. She considered this as one of her many projects to keep these VIP’s entertained when they came to visit. Proudly, the Bayanihan National Dance Company stood as the best and was in demand for dozens and dozens of many political events. Yael, as a young girl, loved seeing shots of her mother each time she performed. All of her performances were documented in an album. And ever since then, she dreamt to be on stage. 

How she started

Yael dressed up in a national costume for T’Boli, an island in South Cotabato, Philippines

At the tender age of 3, Yael started performing with her mom. Bayanihan National Dance Company was her starting point where she was imparted of the training favouring Philippine heritage of cultural dances. Named after a famous singer, Celeste Legazpi, Maria Celeste Pineda’s (Yael) performing career soared from there.

My mom always taught me, “Even if you’re in the background, shine!” And I just shine my brightest light as I can whether I’m at the fore ground or background. As an artist, you give, so you give it onstage!”, Yael shares.

This had left a mark in me. I thought, this was the best advice I could ever take as an actor. The stage wouldn’t be complete if not for the roles of every actor involved in the production.

For so many years, I had portrayed a role of a starfish, surfer, ambasadress, puppeteer, mushroom, cheerleader…. there are just too many to mention. There are so many times I am taken aback about how to portray it after doing so multiple times already that it gets boring. But this very statement from Yael had truly helped me a lot in finding a way to share to my audience the story I would like to impart.

Undeniably, 90% of all the trainings I have done, propelled me to impress my choreographer and my director. But the element of shining wherever you are, in whatever you do, gave more to me than to my audience. The sense of self-achievement.

Her biggest break

Her dream of becoming like her mom came true. She traveled around the world as part of the Bayanihan from 1984 to 1994. Little did she know, her quest in becoming a world-class talent was just beginning.

Philippines, with more than 7,000 islands, owns a great deal of heritage when it comes to its folk dance. It has the Wikipedia listing the most number of cultural/folk dance than any other country in the world.

Almost a decade after continuously auditioning here and there, honing her skills as a triple threat on stage, Yael got the biggest break of her life. She was offered to join the Opening of Broadway’s, The Lion King Musical in Sydney, Australia in 2003. There she soared high as ever. Touching lives with her talent. Delivering good-intended messages through her songs.

The thing is, she was a dancer first. So, when you hear her sing, it’s so sturdy, well-sustained and it comes beautifully with a flow. She lets her voice out with the right gesture that gives the lyrics an even stronger motive. This particular skill seals her officially as a triple threat.


See the lion, Marina Bay Sands and the beautiful scenery altogether? Yep, it’s the best spot to capture Singapore’s trademarks!

In 2011, I visited friends in Singapore and fortunately, The Lion King Broadway Musical was there at that time. She was a superstar already but she gave time to hang out with us. This woman was up and about showing us how to ride the bus, what the most beautiful spot is to take a photo of Singapore’s tourist trademarks and most of all, she encouraged me to walk barefooted to experience how clean Singapore is! Super down-to-earth! I can’t emphasise how humbled I was then with how real and simple and how she lives her life joyfully each time. No wonder at 47, you wouldn’t see any wrinkle on her face!

When I asked her what are the qualities should an actor/performing artist have to meet success in show business:

Don’t get it into your head. Sometimes you have it, sometimes you don’t. When you have it, work it! Bring it!

Mama Yael looks after the welfare of any group she’s with. Hence, the label Mama. She shares life’s lessons when solicited, she respects space when it’s needed. But the one thing I love the most is, she encourages every body to come together. Whether it’s for a cook out night, a simple movie casual get-together, a bowling match or darts competition, she’s very lively. What a light to be with.


Yael considered learning different South African languages the most challenging part of her career as part of the Lion King Broadway Musical

With that much inspiration from her mom, she turned out to be naturally nurturing to all. She imparts to us that there’s no other source of our talents except God. And to be skilful in our craft is Him working on other people through us, I remember her saying before. So whatever challenge may come attacking your talent, it’s something that we need to shine through.

Being under contracts overseas is not easy. At the beginning I felt homesick a lot. I missed my family, I was wary whether I am doing the right thing of leaving a white-collar job for something that involves a choice from the heart… I was young. And at that time, I believe God had put Mama Yael in  my life, particularly in 2008, to be part of the foundation I am yet to build.

Now, I am a mom myself and I am imparting the same things her mom had told her to my daughter. No kidding! I always encourage her to shine and so she has her “The Brave Show” where she’s free to just act, sing and dance.

Working with so many people in the industry makes you able to filter. And this has to be said, there can only be one Yael. I have never met anybody so humble, so loving and so talented. Such a beautiful person inside and out.

Her mantra is simple: Love and kindness. She is always grateful to God for her talent and she molded herself into perfecting the skills and gifts God had bestowed on her each time.

When she was young, her mom had sent her to piano and vocal lessons. She shared that she would often skip because she was young and she would rather play outside or do something else because she got easily distracted. Now she admits “Oh, how I wish I had paid more attention!” But she never stopped helping herself. She takes time to learn her materials, study her music sheets and portray her best each time onstage.

The more you do the role, the more you get the chance to work on the character. So even if I’m not onstage, I work it each time ’til I find my niche.  And still remain open to changes. 


With a great demand for Yael to be onstage, it made me curious how she is during non-working days. Her answer was simply, cooking and spending time with her family. She would gladly do office management if she won’t have to perform.

Giving out to aspiring performers though, she would give out coaching lessons on the side. After enjoying her time with her family and friends, she would volunteer in church just to give back to God the passion He had blessed her with.

In between shows, she keeps herself educated by researching on different artists. She watches actors and actresses do their interviews and finds inspiration from them. She aims making a better version of herself by eliminating the drive to please people  or meet their expectations of her.

It’s a fact that we can’t please everyone so what I do is perform the best that I can and just give. Give it onstage!

And now, as I have rendered a decade to performing arts, no, I don’t know when I will be able to give it up. But I am constantly praying for God’s will to happen to my life. He’ll put me to places where I need to be just like how He worked on Mama Yael’s.


I have a deep regard for your time. It's when I write and cook that time becomes non-existent. I love learning and while you think I am the kind of lady who has a lot of things to say, just take it that I was sharing what I had learned with full impact over a cup of Joe.

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