Thursday, January 10, 2008

Silencing the Siren et al

Remember the good old radio days when Kuh Ledesma, Basil Valdez, Joey Albert, ZsaZsa Padilla, Gary Valenciano, Nonoy Zuniga, Jose Mari Chan, the Apo Hiking Society and a pre-bombast Martin Nievera defined OPM music?

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!


frances said...

Yeah, nakakasawa na ang birit. Doing it often takes away its thrill. Can't they all just simply sing? "Champions," and their GMA7 counterpart, "Constellation of Stars," and the latest global birit sensation, Charice Pempengco. Pinoy Idol's coming up and we're in for more biritan.

I have nothing against them as singers. They're all talented. I just don't understand why they have to accentuate their vocal powers all the time.

Amadeo said...

This commentary on the very shrill vocal renditions of many current and popular singers (sadly, many are women) has been long a-coming.

But typically older folks have noticed this for a while.

I harken back to one Oscar awards night where one of the featured singers was Michael Bolton. And a winner of a best song category was an older person whose earlier work was revived by Nat King Cole's daughter in a duet.

Paraphrasing his short public acknowledgment:

I am glad the Academy found this old song still outstanding, where the singer does not have to risk getting hernia when it is sung.

Don't women get hernia, too?

Jego said...

I did wince a little when I saw Charice Pempengco on a US TV show biriting. To whomever is handling her career, I have 2 words of advice: Banig Roberto. Learn from it.

Bryan Anthony the First said...

unsavory it may be, i guess change is as real as britney

love her or hate her, she'd still be there

i really dont know what im saying



Miss F said...

great post! I totally agree. I was in mall of asia the other day and there was sarah geronimo belting out Celine Dion whacko stuff in the huge projector screen. what a way to ruin the night. I like sarah'a attitude but she should know proper control and discipline.

It seems that Filipinos nowadays don't seem to care about musicianship anymore. Good musical arrangement, lyrics, voice, talent, passion, emotion, style, etc- they simply don't care. my theory is that nagiging favorite na nila ang kanta pag laging naririnig sa FM radios.

Mas magaling pa nga ang Aegis at April Boys at si Willy Garte ("bawal na gamot") sa mga singers na to eh *^__^* at least sila nasa tono at may dedication sa craft nila

RentHead said...

Kuh Ledesma and Lea Salonga are no belters but that didn't stop them from becoming the most respected and celebrated musical icons that they are, today.

Karen Carpenter, Laura Nyro and Eva Cassidy interpreted their songs beautifully without belting their heads out. 'nuff said.

cc said...

great post, gibbs. i couldnt say it better myself. i have to add that even the male singers nowadays sound alike. i really miss the days when male vocalists differ in their vocal textures aside from singing techniques. you could distinguish basil from hajji, from rico j, from nonoy. and you could end up liking them all.

now, once you've heard one, you've heard them all!

rhapsody said...

hey gibbs... like this post. Have had many a discussion about the state of singing today in Manila (I try to keep up). How Regine, of whom I'm a HUGE fan, totally set a trend. But while I am really into the birit craze, it can go a little too far. Nothing quite like watching the champions in a concert trying to out-scream the other. On the other hand, there's such a fine, fine line between putting your best foot forward and showing off. Having sat at many audition panels, we don't exactly go "wow" at the best rendition of a Norah Jones hit. So perhaps blame shouldn't go alone to the singer. Blame those who turn it on. Blame the heads that turn. Blame the text voters. The movies even. I mean, Dreamgirls isn't exactly a hit because of its subtle material. Hay... interesting topic, so many ways to view it.

So my point is... you forgot to add Louie Ocampo to your composers up there.

stevie said...

It's a matter of taste. "Yikes!" was my reaction when I first saw Charice on Ellen.

gibbs cadiz said...

FRANCES, constellation of stars? aargh, another atrocity. :)

AMADEO, hehe, let's ask the women. :) thanks for sharing the quote, btw.

JEGO, i'll cut charice pempengco some slack since it's her first time on primetime US tv and she does have to impress. but the birit singers we see on tv regularly who have nothing else to prove to us in terms of talent--they're the ones that get my goat.

BRYAN ANTHONY, aminin mo na, fan ka ni britney, hehe.

MISS F, thanks, great input too. :)

RENTHEAD, eva cassidy, yey! :)

CC, agree! very good point. someone like nonoy zuniga with his cool, cool baritone--hehe, in this day and age, he'd have no career whatsoever. or basil, who could belt in his younger days, but who chose to sing with much more depth and delicacy. aargh, or tumatanda lang talaga tayo? mwehehe! :)

RHAPSODY, my bad. sorry about that, yeah, louie ocampo should be there. :)

STEVIE, amen. :)

the jester-in-exile said...

thanks be the gods that as we men grow older, the less sensitive our ears get to higher frequency sounds. :D

maxx said...

Totally agree with your post. Hooray for Vince de Jesus!!! Never liked Nina since day 1 of her career.
That song by Julia Fordham - Love moves in mysterious ways - Nina is charged guilty for 1st degree murder of the song.

Anonymous said...

Hey. Belting is how Charice got popular here in the US, so why would she change that style? Sheesh, if I wouldn't know better, I bet the people who hate the birit style are the ones who can't do it, hence the jealousy. LOL

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