Ryan Cayabyab: The man, the artist

Alexa Villano

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Ryan Cayabyab: The man, the artist
It's hard to imagine a world without Ryan Cayabyab's songs

The Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation on Friday, August 2 announced its new batch of awardees. Among those honored is no less than National Artist for Music Ryan Cayabyab, or “Mr C,” as he is known in the entertainment industry. (LISTEN: 8 popular Ryan Cayabyab songs)

It’s the latest award in a growing list of recognitions for Cayabyab, who many regard as one of the country’s top songwriters. (READ: All-star cast gathers for a cause in Ryan Cayabyab tribute concert)

Accountancy to music

Cayabyab, 65, has gone a long way since his song “Kay Ganda ng Ating Musika” won the 1978 Metro Pop Music Festival. Before he started writing songs that’d resonate with different generations, he was an accountant. 

In an interview with CNN in March, Cayabyab said that his late mother Celerina, an opera singer, told his father not to allow any of her children to enter the music industry.

Cayabyab entered the University of the Philippines and decided to take accountancy to help his father, a widower. The younger Cayabyab decided to take on various jobs to pay for his schooling.

“I was just shy of 16 years old. And I paid my way through college,” Cayabyab said. “In 1972, when I was training with the Philippine Madrigal Singers, they got me to be pit chorus.”

His stint led to a meeting with singer Cocoy Laurel, son of the late vice president Salvador Laurel. He would later act as Laurel’s musical director for some of his gigs. He also played for parties at the Laurel home.

The older Laurel, noticing Cayabyab’s talent, offered him a scholarship.

“[Then] Senator Doy Laurel called me to his office and talked to me,” Cayabyab said. “He said, ‘you’re a musician. I don’t think you are an accountant.’ He said that each of us has a specialization to contribute to our community. You have to be an authority, you have to be the best.”

Laurel and his wife told him to tell his father that they were offering the young Cayabyab a scholarship to any music school he wants. After talking to his father, who said he was old enough to make his decisions, Cayabyab changed his concentration and pursued music at the University of the Philippines, where he got to be mentored by some of the country’s top composers.

He told Esquire Philippines: “My first teacher was (legendary composer) Eliseo Pajaro…my second teacher was Lucio San Pedro, National Artist. My third teacher was Ramon Santos, National Artist. My fourth was Francisco Feliciano, National Artist.”

Although he could play the piano, Cayabyab said he was no Raul Sunico or Cecille Licad in the making. So he decided to focus on music arrangement and composition.

Songwriting, Ryan Ryan Musikahan

In 1978, Cayabyab joined the Metro Pop Music Festival competition with the song “Kay Ganda ng Ating Musika.” The song, performed by Hajji Alejandro, won the top prize.

Cayabyab told CNN that joining competitions developed his professionalism and his ability to use music as a tool to “deliver what is needed.”

“Because I always say why will I write music if nobody is going to listen to it.”

Cayabyab has worked with many popular singers such as Pilita Corrales, Jose Mari Chan, Basil Valdez and more.

Cayabyab said that his work with Basil Valdez was one of the most memorable. He wrote “Paraisong Parisukat” and “Tuwing Umuulan at Kapiling Ka.”

When Cayabyab married his wife Emmy, he wrote two songs as his gift — “Ikaw Ang Tunay na Ligaya” and “Araw Gabi.”

Cayabyab also wrote songs for theater, television, and movies. He said that musical and opera were his biggest challenges to date.

In 1988, Cayabyab found himself in the spotlight with his show Ryan Ryan Musikahanwhich saw him backing up many of the singers who performed in his show. The show aired for 6 years. Around that time, he developed a following and was already training a group of singers who were making waves in the local scene — Smokey Mountain.


“I’m lucky because these things fall into my lap,” he said of the television show. “I didn’t look for them, I didn’t dream about it.”

Mentoring a new generation of Filipino musicians

Despite all the accomplishments, including a Papal award for his contribution to religious music, Cayabyab has never forgotten to give back through teaching music. He established his own school, the Music School of Ryan Cayabyab.

He is also one of the mentors in the music camp Elements. Cayabyab has also been helping the PhilPOP Musicfest Foundation, and is one of the teachers in the workshop.

PHILPOP BOOT CAMP. Photo in 2017 shows Jungee Marcelo, Ryan Cayabyab, Noel Cabangon, Manuel V. Pangilinan, and Patrick C. Gregorio at the PhilPOP Boot Camp press conference. File photo by Vernise L. Tantuco/Rappler



He was also a conductor for the now defunct San Miguel Philharmonic Orchestra and the San Miguel Chorale, which produced 7 albums. 

Cayabyab told CNN that he’s excited for the new breed of musicians including Reese Lansangan, Ransom Collective, and Ben & Ben. “I think the best thing for them is to realize is first access their talent and realize where they can bring their talent,” he said. 

He doesn’t hesitate to teach what he knows so that young talent develops. 

“So, when people say you’re spilling too many secrets to them [and] baka mas magaling pa sila kaysa sa inyo, baka gumaling sila kaysa sa inyo (they might get better than you), [I say]: they should be better than us. What’s teaching for if you’re not creating a new whole army that should be better than any of us in our generation?”

The secret to success is simple for this music legend. “Maybe you stop to breathe, stop to access but go lang ng go. Honing your talent, go lang ng go. Practice, rehearse so that you know how to make the sound better.” — Rappler.com

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Alexa Villano

Alexa is one of Rappler's Lifestyle and Entertainment reporters, covering local entertainment news to a wide range of topics from beauty pageants to reality shows.