The San Miguel Foundation for the Performing Arts has recently released "Great Original Pilipino Music by Ryan Cayabyab" on compact disc. The disc contains Ryan Cayabyab's choral arrangement of his Filipino hit songs as performed by the San Miguel Master Chorale and the San Miguel Philharmonic Orchestra. At PHP 300, this is a bargain.
The first six songs were all originally performed by Basil Valdez, and prior to this recording had been often imitated by singing contest participants and new recording artists. These were the songs that defined the quality of Original Pilipino Music (OPM) back in the 70's and the early 80's. After hearing these new arrangements, I have come to the conclusion that these were never the songs of Basil Valdez, although he interpreted them well and everyone tried to imitate his version. These songs have always been the songs of Ryan Cayabyab, and he shows them why in this album. With the San Miguel Master Choral and Philharmonic, Ryan gives the songs the spin that transforms these songs into true classics for all Filipino generations to enjoy.
One song "Tunay na Ligaya" was our staple "harana" fare back in college when a group of my friends decided to do a favor for another friend who was wooing a beauty title-holder. We practised for days, and when the moment came as planned, the guy brought the lady to the back of the Pollock Center where the Ateneo campus overlooks Marikina Valley, wine and roses awaited them, as we sung "Tunay na Ligaya". Of course, the lady was tickled pink. The experience was to be repeated for all members of the group, except for me because we realized it was bad luck, the lovers often broke off after some time. Eric Yaptangco wrote a song about it, which became a gold record hit. Now hearing Ryan Cayabyab's fresh arrangement of "Tunay na Ligaya", I can't help but remember those days. In this version, two soloists, a lady and a gentleman, perform the sweetest arrangement of this love song ever heard on this planet. This is an experience worth every peso of it.
"Tsismis", originally from Ryan's ground-breaking "One" album, best exemplifies Ryan's command of the chorale music genre as he imitates the sound dynamics of gossip Phlippine style. This is an art song that has no counter-part in Billboard.
The mood turns to light and bouncy with "Da Coconut Nut", a take off from Ryan's Smokey Mountain project. My friend, poet Jim A. (now based in South Africa) once wrote in the defunct, Midweek Magazine, that Ryan's Smokey Mountain group was singing cliches. Until now I still cannot understand what he meant, because more than ten years have passed since Smokey Mountain, the singing group, was launched, and "Da Coconut Nut" is still as vibrant and as fresh as a newly-picked "buko". And, as the real cliche goes, "it's good to the last drop."
"Paraiso" is my favorite of this Smokey Mountain set. It starts off with the plucked strings on C dominant 9, and then enter the sopranos with that familiar line, "Return to a land called Paraiso.." After the first verse, the tenors come in, and then the entire ensemble syncopates to "Pa-ra-i-so". I swear I heard the sound of angels. And their voices fly off to the heights of the bridge and coda up and down the G clef and finally rest with a grand note. The experience can best be described as ecstatic. That's no cliche Jim -- never was and never will be.
The best song of the album is hands down "Awit ng Pagsinta (Epithalamium)" from the pop-ballet, Rama Hari. The material simply lends itself beatifully to the chorale music genre. Harmony, dynamics, and clarity, all qualities of good chorale music, were rendered perfectly by Ryan and the San Miguel Chorale and Philharmonic on this cut.
I have one reason to stop saying Danding should return his San Miguel shares to the people.