Ryan Cayabyab, Noel Cabangon to young songwriters: Write in own language

Amanda T. Lago
The two OPM icons explain the importance of writing in one's own language – not only for the songwriters themselves, but for Filipino music as a whole

PHILPOP. The festival encourages entries written in languages spoken all over the country. Photo courtesy of PhilPop Foundation

MANILA, Philippines – When it comes to mainstream Filipino music, English and Tagalog still seem to be the language of choice for most songwriters. A cursory listen to any top 10 OPM playlist should say as much.

But for National Artist for Music Ryan Cayabyab and singer-songwriter Noel Cabangon, Filipino songwriters should write songs in whatever language they feel most comfortable in – whether that’s Bisaya, Bikol Ilokano, Ilonggo, English, Tagalog – even jejemon, if that’s your jam.

Ang aming mantra ay (Our mantra is) you write your songs in the way you want to express them,” said Mr C, speaking at a press conference for the 2020 PhilPop Songwriting Festival on Thursday, July 2.

As Mr C explained, each language sounds different, and has its own inflections, which can dictate the melodies of the songs.

“Imagine if you use your own language of expression you will be able to contribute more to the national music literature of the Philippines, so ang ibig sabihin nun mas unique yung tunog, mas nagiging interesting yung tunog (that means the sound becomes more unique, more interesting),” he said.

“That is also our ticket to being unique in the international sound…lalo tayong hindi mapapansin kung ginagaya lang natin sila (we really won’t be noticed if we just copy them),” he added.

He also said that if K-pop and K-dramas can be so popular in the Philippines, there’s definitely room for songs written in other regional languages.

To keep encouraging songwriters outside of Manila to write in their own language, Mr C and Noel, along with the rest of the PhilPop Foundation have decided to go with the theme “music breaking borders” for this year’s competition. In the past year, they’ve also held songwriting workshops all over the country.

As Noel explained, the move was to democratize the competition, and to encourage more entries from songwriters outside of the National Capital Region (NCR), where most of the entries in past competitons have come from.

“We want to give that opportunity to the song writers in different regions na wala dito sa (that aren’t here in) Metro Manila. We want to be more inclusive,” he said.

New generation

He also talked about the Visayan Pop Songwriting Campaign, a competition launched in Cebu in 2013 for songs written in Cebuano, and how it paved the way for a new generation of composers writing in their mother tongue.

He added that the Vispop competition was replicated in other areas, like Mindanao and Pampanga, and said that this inspires them to break borders through PhilPop – which is a national competition, after all.

“The PhilPop music competiton is also like synergy, synergizing this whole experience and music from the different regions,” he said. “This is the competition that represents the creations from different regions.”

In its last edition in 2018, the biennial competition saw its first winner from Davao: Chud Festejo, who won for his song, “Nanay, Tatay.”

This year, with the deadline for entries set for July 4, the competition already counts around 1,500 entries. Of that number, 300 are from Metro Manila, around 160 from South Luzon, over 150 from North Luzon, 136 from Mindanao, and 142 from Visayas.

The festival will be announcing finalists in the coming months, leading up to its Grand Finals night on November 14. According to PhilPop executive director Dinah Remolacio, they are planning on having a digital concert, considering limitations brought about by the coronavirus pandemic.

With so many music events cancelled, it may be surprising that the foundation decided to push through with the competition, but as Noel put it, the pandemic gave them even more reason to do it.

“Nakita naman natin yung significance ng music nung unang mga lockdown months natin, na yung importansya ng musika, bumuhay sa mga kaluluwa ng mga tao na parang nakakulong (We could see the significance of music in the first few months of the lockdown, that music breathed life into the souls of people who felt stuck),” he said.

More details on the PhilPop Songwriting Competition are available on their website. – Rappler.com

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Amanda T. Lago

After avoiding long-term jobs in favor of travelling the world, Amanda finally learned to commit when she joined Rappler in July 2017. As a lifestyle and entertainment reporter, she writes about music, culture, and the occasional showbiz drama. She also hosts Rappler Live Jam, where she sometimes tries her best not to fan-girl on camera.