In their heyday, no one shrieked, shouted, ululated--they sang the notes with grace, style, feeling, creating an era-defining sound marked by intense melodiousness and lyricism. Pinoy music in the '80s and early '90s was by and large a pleasing counterpoint to the worldwide dominance of Madonna, Menudo, Michael Jackson and the New Wave. You could indulge your native emo-ness in the first (though that word wasn't in the lexicon yet), and rock to Tears for Fears in the second.
Kuh and company were helped along by the country's best contemporary songwriters, then also at their peak: George Canseco, Willy Cruz, Ryan Cayabyab, Ernani Cuenco, Rey Valera, Vehnee Saturno. These musical artists wrote songs that married broad commercial appeal with higher aspirations to craft and art. Cruz and Canseco's string of movie themes for Viva melodramas, for instance, many of them sang by Sharon Cuneta, elevated commissioned music and gave the country an entire songbook of newly-minted classic tunes.
Then came Regine Velasquez, and all hell broke loose--aurally, that is. Undeniably talented, the wispy lass from Bulacan took everyone's breath away with her BIG voice and powerful way with belting. In the West, Whitney Houston was riding high, with Mariah Carey nipping at her heels. Regine was to be their local counterpart. In time, her take-no-prisoners brand of vocalizing would become the popular benchmark for good singing, spawning an entire generation of young singers, many of them products of singing contests like her, whose collective claim to fame seems to rest on their generous talent for wailing and caterwauling.
It's unfair to heap the blame on Regine, of course. Perhaps the times were just a-changing. Nevertheless, the spectacle of noisy, strident over-singing by almost everyone nowadays appears to have reached epidemic proportions.
Composer, lyricist, and musical arranger Vince de Jesus, for one--someone who works within the industry and knows what he's saying--isn't about to take this sitting down. He's putting his musical authority and expertise to good use (his latest garland is a Luna award for "ZsaZsa Zaturnnah, Ze Movie") by taking aim at singers who inflict their vocal exhalations on us indiscriminately.
Here's what he says about Nina, "The Soul Siren," in his Multiply blog:
"The first one to play was Nina's LIVE version of THROUGH THE FIRE (Originally performed by Chaka Khan in 1984). The first thing I noticed was the arrangement--it was exactly the same as the 1984 version. I'm not surprised anymore. "Why change it, right? It worked the first time so let's just ride on with the popularity of the original." And then of course, the inevitable happened: she started singing... err... screaming and wailing and shrieking, trying her best to sound like Chaka Khan. She was kinda successful because she sounded, well... chaka. Ouch. Maybe she thought she was in a singing contest and screaming was her only way to get the judges' attention. She surely got mine. Nina's dynamics were predictable and commonplace. Kunwari kakanta muna ng pabulong, kunwari "hurt" siya, magtutunog affected and then KABAAAM! She goes into a hysterical display of vocal histrionics that really blows my mind. I've never witnessed a cat getting run over by a speeding car but now, thanks to Nina, I can imagine how it would probably sound like. (What is she on?) Then just when I thought the song was over, I hear the backup singer or singers come in (minsan parang nag-iisa ang backup, tapos minsan parang dalawa, tapos isa na naman--parang hindi nag-practice kaya hindi sila sabay-sabay). Man, they were as FLAT as a Maya pancake. I'm pretty sure the song is in the key of A-flat (just like the original version) but the backup were singing several microtones lower. If I were Nina, I would stop singing and shout at the backup singer/s "Ano ba kayo? Hirap na hirap na akong abutin 'tong lecheng high note na ito kayo naman... puro FLAT! You're all fiiiiired!" and then continue with my singing "Through the FIIIIIRED!" (Note: When my three beagles, Rooster, Oona and Ozzy heard Nina scream "Through the fiiiiiiiiiiiiire" they started barking frantically in unison. Good to know my dogs have breeding.)"
A slam dunk, isn't it? But he doesn't stop at snide and snark. Vince goes a step further by offering some tough but good advice:
"One thing I DON'T UNDERSTAND with singers nowadays is they cannot resist the temptation of showing off. "Hey, look at me! I'm a singer! Waaaaah!" Singing is not about wowing your audience with high and loud notes all the time. Learn to appreciate the low notes because they are also part of the story, a story with melody--which is the song. I've recorded many singing contest winners and they all have the same problem--they still feel they're in a singing contest. Lahat na lang dinadaan sa sigaw. Here are some things I learned in my 22 years in the industry:"
You have to go to his blog to read the rest.
Delicious, dead-on, timely, valuable words. Hey "Champions," are you listening?
Here's the track that got Vince all steamed up. Warning: If his rant had you screaming in laughter, this one may cause you to gnash your teeth.
PLUS: Sitti and the whole bossa nova craze also get a drubbing here!