Meet the Philpop 2018 semi-finalists from Visayas and Mindanao

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MANILA, Philippines – Issues of representation – or therefore lack thereof – have been hounding the Philippines since time immemorial. It's an issue that's especially felt in the music industry, where songs in languages other than Filipino or English rarely make it into the mainstream. 

It's a glass ceiling that song writers, producers, and singers from different parts of the country are trying to break by introducing and producing music from the Visayas and Mindanao. It's a simple concept, really: songs in other Philippine languages or songs by Filipinos not from Metro Manila deserve space in the ever-expanding world of OPM. 

Rappler caught up with the Visayas and Mindanao-based finalists of this year's Philpop Top 30 to talk about their dreams, what making to the country's premiere song-writing competition means, and why their presence matters. 

How did you find out that you were in the top 30? How did it feel?

Edgardo Miraflor Jr. ("Loco de Amor!"): I was in Canada at that time, so I never thought that I would be part of the top 30. They tried to contact me on my phone, but my roaming was not activated. They were contacting me for days. I don’t usually check my email either. So, out of nowhere, I received a call from Philpop. When I replied, they said that it was a good thing they were able to hear from me. I got home on the 24th, So I didn’t actually attend the bootcamp. I just arrived today and when straight to here. I only changed my socks.

Donel Trasporto ("Laon Ako"): EJ [Elmar Jan Bolano] and I are co-collaborators. He told me that we made it to the top 300 and said that we couldn’t post anything at first. So we were in the top 100 until eventually we both received an email. That was how we learned that we were part of the top 30.

Therese Marie Villarante ("Unang Adlaw Na Wala Ka"): I also collaborated with someone. I was in a coffee shop with a friend when they called me up. When they said that they were from Philpop, I had to ask again since I couldn’t believe it. But when I saw the confirmation email, I became very happy. I called my co-collaborator to tell him the news as well.

Barry Villacarillo ("Perfectly Imperfect Human"): It was on a Saturday. I was on the sofa, watching TV. And then out of nowhere, there was a notification from my Yahoo Mail. It said, “Philpop: Congratulations…” That’s all I knew. Then I clicked on the link and it told me that I made it to the top 30. My smile just began wider and wider when I made it from top 300, to 200, to 100. I kept on saying “oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh.” And my mom was just wondering why was I so noisy. But later on, my mom was actually surprised then I shared the news to my dad and my sister. My sister feels that God has blessed us so much this year. She got pregnant, our home in Cordoba, and me being in the top 30. We feel very blessed.

Ferdinand Aragon ("Di Ko Man"): The secretariat called me, it was an unknown number, so I thought it was just my cousin or something. I was in the hospital, binabantayan ko ang relative namin. I got a call and I thought it was from a gallery or something. I was also expecting a call from an art gallery. And then she sounded so PA, "I'm from Philpop..." and then she told me I can't tell anyone so I was just keeping a straight face the whole time. After the call ended, I stared blankly. And then I told my mom. I never expected to be part of the top 30 because it's Philpop. It's such an honor to be part of it.

Therese: Also to add, the people from Philpop talked to us very calmly. We had to contain our excitement.

Teodoro "Chud" Festejo III ("Nanay Tatay"): We found out via email and phone call. 

Marvin Annethony Corpuz ("Malilimutan Din Kita"): Same. I was called, and at first I didn’t believe them

Eamarie Gilayo ("Away Wa'y Buwagay"): Same. Email first then a phone call.

Jovit Leonerio ("Away Wa'y Buwagay"): Phone call from her. (Eamarie, they're collabs.)

Jeremy Sarmiento ("Korde Kodigo"): Same thing, email and phone call.

Kyle Pulido ("LGBT (Laging Ganito Ba Tayo?)"): Same, phone call and email.

Chud: Excited but you don’t know what to do because you can't tell anyone. They mentioned it in the email and phone call that it is strictly confidential.

Marvin: When they called us I thought that I was being pranked. I asked if he was my friend, but in reply he said “No, we’re not friends! I am from Philpop.” My friends loves pulling pranks on me. I knew that it was legit when they sent me an email. My brain started accepting the fact that I was in Philpop for real. I was at the parking lot in a mall at that time. I remembering going inside the mall thinking how will I share this news to other people since I wasn’t allowed to tell people. Although deep down I just wanted to scream from the top of my lungs.

Eamarie: At first it didn't really sink it, it took a week before it really sank in but I was happy. But nonetheless it took a while.

Jeremy: Same thing, I was happy. I was teaching at that time, we were in a meeting. I was happy when I heard the news although I had a hard time telling other people the reason of my happiness.

Kyle: As for me, I was in the middle of work. I was teaching then. Then in a middle of a lecture, I got a phone call. Once I heard the sentence “This is from Philpop…” I started saying “Oh my god” repeatedly. I stepped out of the room. Then I was jumping from happiness. They told me the details and here I am in front of you guys.

What it does it mean for you to be part of the top 30?

Edgar: They say Philpop is the Olympics for songwriters. In my career as a songwriter, I’ve been through a lot, from winning in Dream Academy, being a part in this music festival, etc. All throughout the years, wanting be a part of Philpop really topped my bucket list. Since I’m getting older, of course there are 50 things I want to do before I die, and one of it was Philpop. And last month, I was also called to play in a music festival, which was also on of the things under my bucket list. I really thank God, despite of being mischievous, he has never stopped blessing me. I am thankful.

Donnel: This means a lot for EJ and I because we started playing around [with music] – like just a bit of background, si EJ is the musical genius. I once served as a public servant in our town, and as the former vice mayor, one of the positions I held was being the chairperson of the tourism committee. I was planning at that time to gather different artists and hold events in our town. EJ was one of the most talented kids in our town. We’ve dreamt of writing songs. The first song we collaborated on was a Christmas song that we performed during the opening of lights in our municipality. The second was the festival theme song. Then we joined the Ilonggo music festival in 2016. I am a frustrated singer, but I love music. I may not be good in signing and cannot understand technicalities, but I can listen and know what good music is. I also write. I needed somebody like EJ to collaborate with so that my words would be made into music. That is my dream. Philpop is a dream come true for both EJ and I. We both tried to join last 2015.

EJ: We were part of the 150, but I was not able to be included in the top 30 at that time. So I said that I should try collaborating with others. And that’s where I saw kuya. I have always wanted to be part of the music industry ever since. I am a singer, pianist, and musical arranger. But I have only discovered lately about my skills in songwriting. When Philpop started, I told myself that I would try to join it. I was in third year college at that time. Afterwards, I was invited by Kuya Donnel to write a Christmas song. After that, I discovered that I can do other things besides from singing, playing the piano, or arranging the music. I can compose songs as well. It was a very good collaboration with kuya.

Donnel: So we've been dreaming for this opportunity. On my part, for my words to become music and for EJ, to be able to be recognized as a music genius at a very young age.

Ferdinand: In Cebu, I am a fine arts graduate and a visual artist, technically a painter. But I am able separate the visual aspect and the musical aspect. Songwriting for me is something I was never confident in. It means so much to me to be in Philpop because it is a form of validation that maybe I can do this, maybe I have a gift in songwriting. I have observed that in songwriting, unlike art, you can't just give a mediocre job and expect people to accept it as long as you have the "name." But in music, have to make it perfect in order to be accepted. You as an artist, you really have to finish your work.

Therese: I understand that Philpop really is a songwriter's dream, but it means so much more for this batch because they actually open doors really for Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. It means so much for me to be able to tell my own story in my own language because there are some things that I cannot say in Filipino or English but can really express in my own language. I already said this in the interview a while ago but I just want this printed. For me, what I really love about this batch this time around is that we're all on the same stage together. Once the songwriting is over, it is a matter of listening to each other, validating each other, and knowing that the differences in our language and the difference in our experiences. It really also showcases the significant similarities that we have together so I really love being a part of this because I'm proud to be Bisaya and this is Philpop! This is a national songwriting competition and everybody deserves to be here. It is not a question if there are a lot of good songwriters in Bisaya or in Hiligaynon, but it is really us looking for a place. So if you give us an open door, then we will show up. I love that this time, Philpop is listening to everyone right now.

Barry: It’s not even about the competition, we're not really that competitive. When we see each other, it is all about the journey. It is the experience and not the money. It is all about expressing one another in different languages. What is great about it, is that it is actually a pretty long journey because for me I started from the first 900, 500, 300, 200, 100 and now I'm here. I was actually competitive when I was in the top 900, 500. And then when I reached top 30, I didn't even think about being competitive, I kind of lost it.

Donnel: It [being competitive] transformed into the will to be understood and to be heard. Like for us, that simple word in the song, "Laon," triggered the curiosity of everybody. Everyone afterwards was asking what was that or what kind of language is that. That is our way of telling our own identity, where we're from

Therese: It is also an opportunity for people in Manila to learn our own culture.

Edgar: It’s about the journey because sooner all of these monetary compensation will be gone, but the memories and your song, I can leave something that will lasting behind. Someday we will get old, we will die, and everything, but our song will live forever. As long as they hear your song, you will always be remembered. It will be your legacy. 

Why is representation important? What does it mean for you to make it?

EJ: So that other cultures from different parts of the country could be recognized.

Donnel: Music is a universal language. It should be our way of telling our stories.

Edgar: In the end, it’s all about the music. It’s about the song.

Therese: It’s about understanding each other, and at the same time helping people be proud of where they come from because our language is also our history, our story. Representation is important. It’s knowing each other better.

Donnel: It’s also about giving opportunities to other artists in other parts of the country. The Philippines itself is composed of many islands, composed of many languages, and many culture. But we can be one through music.

Edgar: [Using an] analogy – like in the piano, there are different colors and different keys, but in the end it’s not about the ebony or ivory, it’s just the music, the piano. Which is the same for Philpop, it’s about representing each region but in the long run it’s all about our contribution to culture and music, to arts and OPM.

Therese: Being proud of where you come from and you say "we're here! we matter."

Chud: I joined the bootcamp in Davao and even before that, I had mixed feeling on joining Philpop bootcamp and the actual contest. My songs doesn’t sound like the usual songs heard on the radio or in mainstream pop. So I tried for Philpop and surprisingly the feedback was positive. Philpop made us choose our best song. I also realized that the mentors invited to the Davao bootcamp didn’t look for that “pop” sound. That’s when I knew that i had a chance. Then there I was able to enter the top 30. That’s when I also realized that Philpop was open to any genre of music. It was a really good thing for me. If ever this sound breaks into mainstream music, it would add variety to today’s music. Lately electronic is what’s in right now. I also want the topics in songwriting to be widen. Then hopefully other people would be inspired to write songs that are different.

Marvin: His (Chud’s) songs are eye-openers.

Chud: I became more inspired to go with what I really like, especially in writing songs. It makes me happy.

Kyle: I really needed to join the top 30, to be apart of it, since I am a high school drop out. My family looks down on me because I was a drop out, I wasn’t doing anything with my life. I needed to prove myself to them. I wanted to make a career out of music and writing. Sir Jeremy told me himself that I needed this. That’s why I joined. I was able to prove that I could do it.

Eamarie: Representing Mindanao is such a big term for me. Since Mindanao is a big place where there are different languages, different sounds. Our song is Bisaya but I think that’s [too] little a representation of our region. And I guess Philpop opened up a national scene to people who do not speak in Tagalog or English, in Bisaya and other languages. It opened opportunities to other people.

Chud: And another thing is that there are many musicians in Mindanao and Visayas, but in people's mindset, their sound is different in Luzon. So you're left to think that since you're sound is different from what they like, you get discouraged. It’s as if there's a limitation. Philpop had the same realization because of their bootcamp, more people submitted from different regions. They're confident that their sounds can be a part of OPM.

Jovit: It means a lot since our entry is the only bisaya song from Mindanao. And most people I know, when they hear the term "OPM," they will assume that it’s the music in mainstream pop. The real definition is Pinoy music, music from the Philippines. But most people expect that it’s the music from Luzon, at least the people I know. So it really means a lot, it’s about time that the whole country will listen to other languages.

Chud: We’re not here to change what’s there, we just want to bring diversity when it comes to Original Pilipino Music. 

– Annabella Garcia/Rappler.com