pop music

The Ballad of Red, the latest champion of Northern Philippine music

Ahikam Pasion
The Ballad of Red, the latest champion of Northern Philippine music
'The North is in need of a new sound, and pop music will lead the way in introducing Northern artists to others,' says the young musician

DAGUPAN CITY, Philippines — The champion of the first Amianan POP Music Songwriting Festival took up composition as a balm to teenage depression.

Redino “Red” Gumayagay is a 25-year-old who initially wrote songs to battle his demons.

Capo
SINGER. Red as a toddler. Photo courtesy of Red Gumayagay.

When Red sunk into a bout of depression and anxiety in his teens, it was then that he discovered another gift of his – songwriting.

Wala akong mahanap na kanta during that time na makaka-relate ako, kaya I decided to write my own songs,” he said.

(I couldn’t find songs at that time that I could relate to, so I decided to write my own.)

Armed with a pen, paper, and his trusty Samsung Young, he began recording these songs.

Sa Android phone lang talaga ako nagrerecord, scratchy yung boses. Ginagawa ko lang to ease what I feel,” he added.

(I would only record with an Android phone, and my voice would sound scratchy. I’d only do it to ease how I was feeling.)

He added that his songs could maybe help others with their healing too, as they had with him. Soon, some of his friends and even strangers began listening, and he began joining various songwriting contests.

But his biggest win, and his greatest loss, had yet to come.

First movement

In a leap of faith, Red joined the 2017 NYC Online Songwriting Contest hosted by 5050 Songs. Red wound up winning with his song “Arise.”

“It’s about me trying to break out from that unfortunate phase,” said Red, referring to his earlier depression.

As part of his grand prize, he was set to go to New York City and produce “Arise” in the same studio where music legend John Lennon made his final recordings, but his visa was denied.

The officer did not mention the reason behind his disqualification, but Red suspected he may have applied for the wrong type of visa.

“That time, I applied for a business-type visa, and introduced myself as an artist whose purpose for flying to the USA was to record my song,” he said.

He later found out that his hunch was right.

Fermata of despair

Red felt humiliated. When he won, he had sworn he would never regress to his old, depressed self again, but the visa issue brought him right back to rock bottom.

He went home empty-handed and miserable, embarrassed to have let down the people who were rooting for him.

But unlike earlier, when he would write songs to ease his pain, he ended up cursing music instead. 

“I found my life shattered,” Red said.

Thinking of himself as a failure, he took to alcohol to drown his sadness. He withdrew himself from people, became more reserved towards his family, and even contemplated ending his life.

Wala akong direksyon noon (I had no direction then),” he said.

But little did he know that the fire in him wouldn’t completely die down. Embers remained aglow, waiting for the right spark.

Crescendo

Mid-2018, still fuming about his visa application, he resumed writing songs. He used the anger in him to fill his notebook and his phone with furious music. 

He began to write angry, bitter songs – far from his usual hopeful and determined compositions – and posted them on his YouTube channel which, at the time, still had very few subscribers.

However, despite the change in mood of his songs, people still appreciated his music. It was then that he realized he couldn’t remove music from his life, no matter what phase he was going through.

“‘Di ko matanggal. Music is in my blood, innate na sa akin,” he admitted to himself.

(I couldn’t shake it. Music is in my blood; it’s innate to me.)

For months, he continued writing songs, emptying himself of the negativity he had long bottled up.

One day, a fan commented on his then-recently published song, saying that he missed the older songs Red used to compose. He was referring to Red’s heartful, mellow, uplifting songs. Other fans also began showing concern towards Red, sensing something was wrong. They began showering him with support. He even received a message of gratitude from a subscriber who also used to feel depressed. He said Red’s songs had helped him to move on.

This awakened something in the young songwriter, and he realized he needed to go back to his roots, to remind himself of why he got into music in the first place.

Soon, he began recording songs again – this time, using an upgraded Android phone. He also resumed joining local songwriting contests, slowly but surely. He would win some, he would lose some. 

Red promised that 2019 would be the year of redemption for him.

Second movement

Around December 2020, Red, along with friend Nicole Hope Salvador (who eventually joined TV5’s Born to Be a Star), won the Department of Health Region 2’s Mental Health Songwriting Contest. Red used his portion of the cash prize to purchase his first-ever condenser microphone.

MIC. Red’s first condenser mic. Photo courtesy of Red Gumayagay.

Red had also befriended one of his competitors in the DOH contest, Ruth Lee Resuello. Resuello was founder and manager of Northern Root Records (NRR), based in Tuguegarao City, Cagayan. He ended up signing a management deal with her in January 2021, which resulted in a noticeable improvement in his song production.

With newfound allies and backed by a rising recording label, Red made it his goal for the year to put at least one of his songs on Spotify. He pulled this off with his song “Simping for You.”

Red, Resuello, and Kidapawan-based artist Bro Justin then started collaborating and producing songs as the trio Never the Cool Kids (NTCK), and took the AHON Songwriting competition by storm with their single “Alon.” Later, they also bagged the Friedrich Naumann Foundation’s Freedom Song 2021 competition with their song “Make it Louder.”

“Make it Louder deals with the importance of the right to suffrage,” Red shared.

Resuello then told him of the Amianan POP Songwriting Festival. Red, however, was hesitant. Despite being born in Isabela, he was not fluent in speaking Iloko.

He eventually decided to join after he began to receive more support from his family and his recording studio, who reassured him that he could do it. Mustering his years of experience and his ups and downs, he then composed “Arapaap,” which means “aspirations” in English.

“It’s a sequel of Arise. Napakalayo ko pa pero itutuloy ko pa rin. Fight song yung ‘Arapaap,’” he said.

(I was still so far away from my goals but I still persevered. “Arapaap” is my fight song.)

He was declared the grand champion.

Pianissimo

Having conquered the North, Red is setting his eyes on an even grander dream.

READY. The latest champion of Amianan music. Photo courtesy of Red Gumayagay.

Philpop siguro gusto kong salihan sa susunod,” Red said, laughing. 

(I’ll probably join Philpop next.)

He intends to promote Amianan music further, along with Amianan POP founders and fellow Northerners Davey Langit and Ebe Dancel.

Kulang sa North ay kumbaga bagong tunog, and pop music will lead the way para makilala tayo,” he said.

(The North is in need of a new sound, and pop music will lead the way in introducing Northern artists to others.)

“With the help of NRR, we are planning to have a podcast to feature artists with no opportunities,” Red said.

Slowly making his way back up, he had an epiphany.

May purpose siguro kaya hindi natuloy yung New York. Hindi pwede shortcut. We should promote local music industry muna before breaking global,” he said.

(There’s probably a greater purpose as to why I couldn’t come to New York. I couldn’t do the shortcut. We should promote the local music industry first before breaking globally.)

In the end, Red leaves a strong message for people chasing their dreams: “The universe loves a stubborn heart.” – Rappler.com