Not only him, of course, as our roster of essential musical artists is a long and glittering one. But it's also inarguable at this point that Ryan Cayabyab, or Mr. C as he's often called these days, has become one of the greatest enrichers of Pinoy culture and entertainment with his vast, prolific output over the years, from pop ditties, theater scores, operas and TV specials to ballet music, film soundtracks, church hymns and orchestral pieces.
Certainly, where would our days of wooing, loving, laughing, bickering, dreaming, regretting and accepting be without, oh, to name just a few of the Cayabyab melodies our lives have been graced with: Paraisong Parisukat, Tunay na Ligaya, Tuwing Umuulan at Kapiling Ka, How Can I?, Nais Ko, Kailan, Can This Be Love, Paraiso, Liman-Dipang Tao, Araw Gabi, Iduyan Mo, Once Upon a Life, Sometime Somewhere, Mamang Kutsero, Magbalik Ka Na Mahal, Minsan ang Minahal ay Ako... The list goes on.
In 2004, on his 50th birthday, ABS-CBN honored Mr. C with a lavish concert tribute at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, of which I wrote: If anything, the purest value of "Music Man at 50" lies not so much in its star-studded lineup and greatest-hits cavalcade, but in its ability to resurrect, if only for two nights, some of the touchstone sights and sounds that defined Original Pilipino Music during its heyday in the '70s and '80s.
There was Hajji Alejandro, still dapper and honey-voiced after all these years, opening the show with "Kay Ganda ng Ating Musika," the song that bagged top honors at the first Metropop Music Festival and formally launched Cayabyab on a remarkably prolific career in Philippine music. Young theater actors JM Rodriguez, Topper Fabregas and Sam Concepcion joined Alejandro for this number, but the original "Kilabot ng mga Kolehiyala" had no problem gaining command of the stage.
Memories of that concert came flooding back last Sunday when I had the unexpected privilege, along with ABS-CBN Global's Mickey Munoz and Hong Kong Disneyland Musical Director Rony Fortich, to be invited to an intimate dinner with Mr. C and his family (wife Emmy, daughter Krina and son Toma) at their lovely home somewhere in Quezon City. I had no idea why I was included in the invitation, but I took it as a chance to get to know and touch base with one of the country's towering creative forces. Mickey also promised he'd goad Mr. C to let us take a peek at his sanctum sanctorum, the basement space where he cocoons for work with his piano (and/or keyboard with Mac) and where he keeps his precious library of musical material--a must-see, I was told.
True enough, after the hearty dinner cooked by Mrs. C herself, Mr. C brought us downstairs, opened a side room in his den--and there we beheld a treasure trove of over three decades' worth of notes, papers, lyrics, recordings, musical scores and areglos organized by folders on wall-to-wall shelves. Here, practically, is a collective document of some of the high points and key moments in the evolution of contemporary Pinoy popular music and entertainment.
His arrangements for the albums and concerts of the likes of Celeste Legaspi, Basil Valdez, Lea Salonga, Regine Velasquez, Martin Nievera, from the time they first started working with him? They're there. The original handwritten Katy score? All intact, in bulky sheets. (Look, said Mr. C, Abababa Boogie!) Ditto with the sheets for the musicals Noli and Fili, the hybrid ballet-musical Rama, Hari, the opera Spoliarium, the oratorio Magnificat, the pop Smokey Mountain and 14K phases--nearly everything arranged alphabetically.
And this, he said, excitedly pulling out an envelope, is the original draft of Kay Ganda ng Ating Musika. Wow. A song, of course, that holds pride of place in the Cayabyab canon, having put its composer on the Philippine musical map with a splashy win in the first-ever Metropop contest in 1978. Was Hajji your first choice to sing it? I asked. Yes, he said. "It helped that we were on the same record label--Jem--so it was easy to ask him. Before Metropop, I had joined another songwriting competition where ako din ang kumanta ng kanta ko. E natalo ako [laughter], so I thought for Metropop I should really get a professional singer."
Kay Ganda ng Ating Musika didn't just launch Mr. C on his now much-garlanded career. With its distinctive, symphonic opening fanfare, its sense of surging pride and modern energy, it seemed to herald, too, the flowering of Original Pilipino Music in the '70s, such that the song became, in time, the unofficial anthem of OPM. Anyone who knows local music will not mistake Mr. C's signature hit for any other; those grand, crashing notes in the beginning, announcing the arrival of a bold new voice in the Philippine creative firmament, should now also stand for the indispensable imprint and legacy Mr. C has wrought on his country's musical soul.
Here, from Music Man at 50--a reworked Kay Ganda ng Ating Musika, performed by Sam Concepcion (yes, that's him), Topper Fabregas, JM Rodriguez, 92 AD and Hajji Alejandro himself. First time ever on YouTube--enjoy.