And finally, one of the best things I got out of PhilPop was my very first big band song. How many people get to hear their song performed live by a big band? Then again, come to think of it, I guess it's not something every songwriter dreams of. Not a lot of people are exposed to the big band sound after all.
Well, I wouldn't consider myself a fan of jazz, and I didn't grow up listening to this genre, but there were a few Barry Manilow songs that stuck with me: Cloudburst, Bandstand Boogie and Avenue C. I loved the sound of the big swing drums, the rhythm and feel, the bright tones of the instruments.
Two years ago, I got to listen to AMP Big Band for the first time. AMP is the Asosasyon ng Musikong Pilipino (Association of Filipino Musicians) and one of its members, renowned musical director Mel Villena is now the band's leader and main arranger. The venue, then called Ten-02 and now known as Skarlet's (located along Scout Ybardolaza near the corner of Timog), was packed with people - a quarter of which was the band itself, since there were about 18 musicians. When they started to play, it was all goosebumps for me. Glorious, rich, soul-penetrating, amazing. How could it not be? You had an 18-piece band made up of the best musicians in the country, all of whom were there to play not for the money but to feed their souls and the audience's too. And that they certainly did.
I was an instant fan. Upon finding out they didn't have a website or Facebook Fan Page, I opened one for them (visit it by clicking HERE) and brought Mel in to be administrator as well. I feel proud to be part of this group's history somehow, if only in this tiny way.
And so when PhilPop came along and I was trying to think out of the box for a song to submit, AMP Big Band came to mind. And I was so restless with excitement I kept pacing my little condo hallway and came up with the chorus right there and then.
The overall groove was the first thing to come to mind. That intro of Avenue C and Sing Sing Sing, and what Mel later on explained to me was like a "call to the dance floor", that was my main inspiration of my song "Bigtime," a song I now describe as a cross between "Candyman" and "Beh Buti Nga." I wrote the song in Tagalog, which was more difficult for me, but I felt it would work better as a PhilPop entry this way.
I went all out on this song. I asked Mel how much it would cost to record the song with the least number of musicians that would create that big band sound. It would require 10 musicians, a big studio, plus Mel's arrangement. Pricey, as anyone would guess, but a price I was willing to pay and a risk I was willing to take. I wanted an entry that would blow away the screening committee, and a song which, in case it never made it to PhilPop, would be something I would still cherish and be proud of. I told Mel I had a good feeling about the song, so I just went for it. And part of my excitement was seeing that Mel was excited about the project, too!
Taking the risk paid off - bigtime! The day of the recording alone, I was giddy with excitement. I even brought my parents along, since they had become friends with Mel and wife Nori, too, plus my dad loved the big band sound even more than I did. This was something they just had to be part of.
I couldn't get over it! I had the best musicians in the country playing on MY song! Click on the video below (or click HERE to watch on youtube) for a short behind-the-scenes video and to hear part of the song.
I must say Mel did an excellent job of arranging the song. I purposely gave him a rough demo that was very "loose" and "open" that would allow him to work his magic. I knew he would do a great job, and yet he exceeded my expectations.
I would hear much later on various accounts of how "Bigtime" made a mark on the judges because it was so different from all the other entries (not to mention those with trained ears were wondering who in the world would be crazy enough to spend on live musicians for their demo without any assurance of making it to the finals!) and how they were so surprised when the composers of the Top14 songs were finally revealed that the song was written by me. Exactly the way I had wanted things to go.
I do hope this isn't the last time I get to work with Mel and his fabulous group. Maybe I'll have the privilege of writing more songs for them in the future.
Only a contest like PhilPop could push me beyond my comfort zone and come up with this piece of work I so love. Thanks for this, PhilPop, and for all the other blessings that have come with my participating. What a ride! I do hope this contest becomes a yearly thing so that more and more songwriters get the chance to be showered with blessings as well.
Another thing I am thankful to PhilPop for is the experience of working with this awesome female trio. It's hard not to become an admirer once you've seen and heard them sing live.
You'll get an idea of just how good they are by just watching their numerous videos on youtube. No fancy microphones or effects, just an ordinary video camera and awesome live performances. You can tell these girls really have a passion for what they do by the number of videos they've uploaded showcasing their growing repertoire. Here's one of my favorites. You'll be impressed at how tight the vocals are, and it also shows their fun and "kuwela" side.
Krina Cayabyab (center) is the group's musical director, vocal arranger and sings Soprano 1. I can't imagine the kind of pressure that may come with being maestro Ryan Cayabyab's daughter, but Krina has definitely showed us that not only has she inherited her father's musical genes, but she's made a name for herself and can definitely hold her own.
Artista-pretty Anna Achacoso-Graham (right) sings Soprano 2, and the group's soulful and sexy Alto is Mel Torre (left). The group recently won Best Jazz Band in the Boy Katindig Jazz Competition held last month. Krina also won Best Instrumentalist in the competition.
Months before this all happened, I was thinking of what kind of entry to submit to PhilPop. I wanted to come up with something very different, and when the idea of writing a song for a big band, Baihana immediately came to mind. Since Krina was disqualified from joining the contest, I didn't have to worry about her submitting her own entry performed by Baihana and having to compete against that, so it was perfect. I was so excited about the idea of an Andrews Sisters-kind of vocals to go with a big band arrangement. I sent Krina a message, telling her what kind of song I wanted to do and to ask if Baihana would record the song for me, and I was thrilled to see they were just as excited, without even having heard the song!
When my composition "Bigtime" was done, I sent both Mel Villena and Krina a copy of my rough demo, in which I decided to sing all 3 parts so that the instrumental arrangement could be built around it. As the recording date was approaching, I told Krina I'd write the notes down so they could already start rehearsing the vocals. Before I could finish the piece, Krina sent me an email with an attached Sibelius file, asking me to check if she had correctly written down the notes. My jaw dropped. I was so amazed not only by her skill but also with her enthusiasm and hard work. She could have just sat back and waited for me to provide them with the piece, as I said I would. Instead, she listened to my pathetic rough demo and wrote down every note she heard. I was slightly embarrassed that she actually went through all the trouble, but at the same time I found it so endearing that she and her group mates were just as excited as I was for the project.
Recording day came and I wasn't sure how to record them, since it was my frist time to work with them. Would they record their individual tracks separately or together? After some deliberation, I told them we'd first do a guide track using just one mic where all three of them would sing so that the feel of the vocals would be there, and then each of them would sing along to this guide track one at a time. That way I could adjust the levels of each voice as needed.
Well, the recording process turned out to be much simpler. They sounded SO good using just one mic that there was no need to record them individually. Their vocals were so tight, it was actually like recording one person who had 3 separate voices. Amazing! They saved me time and money. Yahoo!! I couldn't be happier! The vocals went perfectly with the big band arrangement. I was so happy!
And then I got to see them perform live for the first time at 70s Bistro in Anonas one evening. After having worked with them and seen them perform live in front of an audience, I can't help but be a fan. I watched their concert at the Music Museum last Friday and had a blast.
More power to you, ladies! I do hope I get to work with you again in the future.
TO BE CONTINUED...
One of my favorite PhilPop blessings: weight loss.
Knowing that PhilPop would be televised, and knowing that one gains about 10 lbs on TV, I was determined more than ever to lose some weight. I had made a number of attempts over the past couple of years to exercise in the hopes of losing some weight - extra weight that has come with the slowing down of metabolism with age - and my attempts had only been discouraging. Working out continuously or brisk walking and semi-jogging for 40-45 minutes and not losing a single pound made me feel it was all a waste of time. I started buying bigger clothes instead.
But big clothes can't hide face fat, so who was I kidding? I had to lose some weight and I wanted to. I searched the internet for options to increase metabolism and came across this page. I had never heard of Shaun Hadsall, but I took the time to watch his videos. A 14-day Rapid Loss Plan sounded like something I needed and could certainly use in time for PhilPop. It seemed doable and seemed to make sense. The concept of High Intensity Interval Training was new to me, but something I was willing to try.
Here's a photo of me with Mr.C at the presscon of PhilPop in June, and this is how I looked before the exercise and diet program.
After 2 weeks, this is how I looked in time for PhilPop Finals Night, which was when this photo below was taken (by my friend Gino Cruz).
I lost 8-9 lbs in just 2 weeks - and it might not sound like a big number, but I had never lost that many pounds it that span of time ever in my life! In fact, I had never lost that much weight ever. I lost about 7% of my starting weight and lost 1-2 inches around my waist and hips. I fit into my old pants again! And so far so good... it's been about a month and a half and I haven't gained the weight back.
I've also learned a bit about Tabata, which is good news for people like me who are generally lazy about working out. Imagine a 4-8 minute workout that's more effective than all those 45-minute exercises I used to do! So this is what I do now to maintain this weight. It's very much in line with that 2-week program I followed. Plus of course I still try to stick to the diet principles the program recommended.
So there you have it: vanity gave me a much needed push, got me reading about these exercise and diet options. I'll certainly do my very best to keep myself looking and feeling this way. Thank you for my new look, PhilPop!
TO BE CONTINUED...
July 14, 2012 was Finals Night for the first PhilPop. It was also the birthday of the PhilPop Music Foundation's Chairman, no less than Manny V. Pangilinan. How often does one get "invited" to his birthday party?
Well, I suppose this wasn't exactly his birthday party - he must have celebrated with people close to him over dinner before the show started. Still, those of us who stayed for the event's after-party were thrilled to see he was there, too. We thought he might have left already. And it was still his birthday. I think you can see in all our smiles how happy we were to have this instant photo op with him (pati si Direk Rowell Santiago nakisali na rin). So thanks, PhilPop, for making this day memorable from start to finish.
TO BE CONTINUED...
It can be hard to see the silver lining behind hurtful comments and lies, but my award-winning photographer friend Joel Garcia made me realize it one day. Indeed, these detractors gave me a reason to speak my mind and I ended up with a huge article in the Manila Bulletin. You can read the article HERE. Free publicity! Some people have to pay just to be heard or seen.
PhilPop has made me see that there are limits to what one can do in terms of connecting with other people and reasoning with them. In other words, it really is impossible to please everyone. You speak the truth and take the time to explain things as clearly as you can, thinking well, if I can understand something so basic and simple, surely other people can do the same. Apparently that's not always the case. There will always be people who are either not capable of understanding or simply refuse to understand. So much hostility and anger in them, too! And I am amazed at the amount of energy they put into so much negativity instead of using that time and effort to improve their craft and be productive in their lives.
The most successful people in the world all have detractors, so now I just tell myself I'm in good company. =)
And speaking of success, my friend Henry posted this table on his Facebook wall. Perfect for today's blog. I don't know the source, but kudos to the one who made it. There's a lot of truth in this.
I'd send each of my detractors a copy of this in the hopes that it would change them, but then again, what for? I know now that it would be totally useless. I see their traits right there: they blame others for their failures, they exude anger as a result, and think they know it all. They will not change. And it isn't my place to try and change them.
All I can do is be grateful for the lessons (and the free publicity) these detractors have given me. As the saying goes, what doesn't kill me will only make me stronger.
TO BE CONTINUED...
My friend and fellow finalist Mike Villegas hit the nail right on the head when he said "I didn't place but boy, did I win!" I feel exactly the same way about PhilPop. So many good things have come out of it despite not coming home with that beautiful Orlina trophy.
I've already named two of them the past couple of days: making new friends and the honor of having a song of mine become part of a great collection of new songs.
Reconnecting with some of my peers has also been one of my many PhilPop blessings. Lord knows there are many of these guys I hardly get to see (except on Facebook!) so it's always great spending time with them when I get the chance.
On the day of the Press Conference, I walked into that resto at Resorts World not knowing who else I would see there. I wondered who else made it to the Top 14. I was engaged in conversation with Karl (if I remember correctly) when I heard a loud voice behind me go "TRINA BELAMIDE!!!" I turned and saw it was my dear friend Mike Villegas. I jumped up from my seat and he and I screamed at each other and hugged and jumped for joy. Boy, this was bigger than our individual reactions finding out we had made it to the Top 14! Mike was with twin brother Angelo, also a great songwriter. So happy to see my favorite twins!
Mike and I first met when we both made it into the Top 12 of Metropop 1996. My song was "Shine" (it won 2nd Prize that year) and his was "Bagong Umaga," which coincidentally was the very first song performed and opened that whole Metropop season, just as his "Negastar" was also the very first song performed for PhilPop. We've been good friends since, and that's what we've been telling the newbies in this contest, that the friends you make at contests like these become not just your business contacts but sometimes, too, your friends for life. We were together again in Metropop 2003. This time Mike's song "Pretend That I Don't Love You" won 2nd Prize and his wife Bayang won the Grand Prize with "Malayo Man, Malapit Din" (what a night for that couple!).
Soc is one such friend, too. We were fellow finalists in Metropop 1997 where he won 3rd Prize with "Delicado, Delicadeza." He's become sort of a family friend because we ended up buying his Starex when he moved to Perth, Australia, which is now where my brother also lives and where I was able to spend a day with Soc and his wife Arleen the first time I went to visit my brother.
Gary Granada was my fellow finalist in Metropop 1998 (wait a minute... sunod-sunod ko palang naging kalaban at kaibigan ang mga ito! Realized it just now!) and he won the Grand Prize with "Mabuti Pa Sila" - a song that was technically overtime, so the organizers actually consulted with all of us finalists one meeting to ask if we would require Gary to shorten his song to fit the time limit, to be fair to everyone. All of us felt his song was too beautiful to touch so we opted for him to leave it the way it was. Ayun, nanalo tuloy. But that gives you an idea of how supportive songwriters can be towards competitors. We have so much respect and empathy for one another, so the friendships formed are at some other level that we don't necessarily have with other people.
People ask us what keeps us contest "veterans" coming back when we've already had our share of the limelight. Well, a P1M prize is certainly attractive, but it's also all the camaraderie and the opportunity for us to connect and reconnect with kindred spirits. PhilPop has given me the opportunity to make new friends and hang out with colleagues with whom I have a shared history.
More on my PhilPop blessings in blog entries to come.
TO BE CONTINUED...
I bought mine the day it came out, which was the day of our technical rehearsals at PICC, one day before Finals Night. I couldn't wait to hear what songs I was up against. I'll admit I felt my chances of winning slipping away. LOL! All the songs were well written and well produced. I was so impressed with my competition! 14 good songs and only 3 winners. Having had the experience of screening songs and judging in other contests, I can be really objective and not be influenced by knowing who wrote the songs. And there were at least 6 songs other than mine that I would pick out to fill those 3 winning slots. Not a good feeling to have the day before the competition! But boy did I feel proud to be part of such a collection of new songs.
Let me say a little something about each song in the album.
3am by Keiko Necesario. 1 of only 2 English songs in the album, written by the only other female composer in the competition. Fresh, radio-friendly, current, easy on the ears and very honest.
Bawa't Hakbang by Karl Villuga. Beautiful message coming from a sincere place, simple but effective arrangement by Arnold Buena, it soared at the right moment. Early on I told Karl "Afraid ako sa kanta mo." I thought it could win and I was right.
Bigtime by me! Mel Villena did a fabulous job arranging this for me and I had the best vocalists (Baihana) and cream of the crop jazz musicians from the AMP Big Band record for me. A dream come true to have this under my belt now.
Brown by James Leyte. Loved that it had a story/scenario that was painted clearly. Great vocals by the composer himself and wonderful reggae performance by Brownman Revival.
Dulo Ng Dila by Noah Zuñiga. Well-written song that I love singing along to, and vocalists Jay R and Deejay Poblete sang so well without oversinging, I loved the stylizing they did. Clear message, great lines, one of my faves in the album.
Himig Ng Panahon by Thyro Alfaro. Thyro's the youngest contestant at age 20. I thought the lyrics were very skillfully written, lots of internal rhyming, which is hard to do. Catchy melody too, great singing and harmonies. This was another song I thought could win.
Kesa by Edwin Marollano. Definitely a favorite of mine from the collection. Loved the feel and groove of the song, and this Daniel Gorospe guy can really sing and put in all sorts of emotions. I love the song's positive message (and I find myself singing it to myself when having a bad day), love the production, love it, love it! If I had been one of the judges, this would have been one of my winners.
Kontrabida by Soc Villanueva. Listening to the first couple of minutes of the song for the first time, I thought the song was nice at best. Well crafted, as Soc's songs always are, but so-so in appeal because I couldn't see yet where the song was going. And then I heard the bridge. "Ako ang dating bida sa puso mo/ Dahil sa pesteng bagong bida, ako ngayon ang kontrabida." Oh. My. God. "Walanghiya ka, Soc!" I told him shortly before the announcement of winners. Brilliant twist there. He deserved to win.
Minsa'y Isang Bansa by Gary Granada. Well, it's Gary Granada so how can you go wrong? The guy is a genius! I must say there are other Gary G works I like better ("Saranggola Sa Ulan" is my favorite), but I love the chord progression of this song and of course the words were well-written - another Gary G masterpiece.
Negastar by Mike Villegas. The first time I heard the song in full was at band rehearsals and I just had to applaud. Loved Cathy Go's raspy vocals and told Mike I loved the song's modulation. "Huwag kang Negastar" - definitely a line we'd all find ourselves telling certain people we know. Right?
Piso by Krist Melecio. One of the songs with the strongest hooks. I was already singing the chorus after our Press Conference in June! I love the heavy world music drums. Joey Ayala was perfect for the song - you would think he might have written it himself.
Slowdancing by Kennard Faraon. Perhaps rather simple sounding to a not-so-trained ear but I actually loved the chord progression used. It's not the usual 4 chords people pick out to loop for a song like this.
Takusa by Byron Ricamara. First time I heard just the chorus at the presscon it made me laugh. And then I listened to the song in full for the first time when I bought the CD and found myself laughing again.
Tayo-Tayo Lang by Toto Sorioso. I first met Toto about 12 years ago. He was a fellow finalist for Himig Handog Sa Bayaning Pilipino in 2000. Toto was a newbie then, but since that time he's won the Grand Prize in the FILSCAP songwriting contest and now 2nd Prize for PhilPop. Don't let his shy and can't-hurt-a-fly demeanor fool you. He's a force to reckon with! A great performer too! And what a song. Inspired by his experience of lonely gigs where practically everyone has already left. Beautiful song, heartfelt singing by Ebe Dancel, wonderful arrangement and production.
Listen to a sampler of the whole album here: http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=4044938434233
The album is available in Odyssey and Astro stores. You can also purchase online here: http://www.mymusicstore.com.ph/album/baihana/1019833/Philippine_Popular_Music_Festival_2012:_The_Fourteen_Finalists.html
Buy a copy now and please help support OPM. This album's worth your money, I promise.
Today, a month and one day after the Philippine Popular Music Festival Finals Night, my new friend Karl Villuga, who has so far won the biggest prize in Filipino songwriting contest history, flies to Singapore to start a new life there. This has long been his plan, even before joining Philpop, so not even this victory, which has given his group the Akafellas a welcome boost, can keep him from leaving.
I had met Karl before Philpop but never got to know him or spend time with him before. It was my friend Jhett Baroma, also a member of Akafellas, who told me Karl had also made it to the Finals. Jhett had pestered Karl to submit his song, which Karl reluctantly did on the deadline of submission. I guess Karl had suffered so many rejections before and didn't really believe his song had much of a chance.
So he was just beside himself at the Press Conference to present the Top 14 selected out of almost 3,000. Which is not to say he was the only one who was excited. All of us were and very much so. But a big part of my excitement was for Karl. I'd turn to him every so often with wide eyes and smile and go "Eeeeee!!!" and he would close his eyes and have this silently giddy oh-my-god look. He would shake his head often in disbelief. You could tell he meant it when he said this was it for him, being chosen for once as one of the country's best, and that anything else good that would happen would be a bonus. Sobra akong natuwa sa kanya.
Karl had performed a cover version of my song "You've Made Me Stronger" a couple of years ago and posted on YouTube. I was glad to see that in spite of this kind of admiration for my work, he was comfortable enough around me to not call me "Ma'am Trina" or say "po" - thank God!
His humility, humor and comfort around an "old-timer" like me (parang ang tanda!) made us instant besties. Backstage, I asked him to keep my cellphone and pressed powder in his pocket (ginawang alalay, LOL!) Minutes before the announcement of winners, we sat together. Aware that this could be the last time we were hanging out, he made the most of the moment by "interviewing" me and asking for songwriting tips, comparing notes when it came to working on songs. When we talked about the problem of writing songs on the piano and I saw that he could relate to the problem of having one's hands fall into the same chord progressions, I told him "Eh alam mo na 'to eh!" In other words, who was I to be giving him tips? This guy already knew how to write songs! He had the talent and just needed a break.
Minutes later, he got the biggest break any Filipino songwriter could ask for.
Driving to Cavite the next day and listening to the PhilPop album in my car, I found myself crying when "Bawa't Hakbang" came on - and I do mean crying to the point where I had to remove my shades, dab my eyes with tissue and blow my nose. Knowing about Karl's struggles to succeed in music, his frustrations in life that inspired him to write this wonderful song that now, by some twist of fate and by God's will, made him win the Grand Prize, all the happiness I felt for him and the sadness of knowing he would be leaving for Singapore for good...wow, I'm getting teary-eyed again just thinking of it all.
PhilPop could not have picked a more deserving winner. We'll miss you, Karl! Keep those good songs coming, okay?
My name is Trina Belamide and I'm a songwriter and record producer.
GreatSongsToSing is my online store and I thank you for dropping by! Do comment on my blog posts. I'd love to hear from you!
Learn more about me on www.trinabelamide.com.