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.
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