Ryan Cayabyab is still making the soundtrack of our lives

Now a National Artist, the maestro looks back.


Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Ryan Cayabyab is having a very good year.

In October, the legendary musician and composer — popularly referred to as “maestro” — was named a National Artist for Music by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts. And after four decades of providing the soundtrack to contemporary Filipino life, from hits like “Kay Ganda Ng Ating Musika” and “Tuwing Umuulan,” to the long-running T.V. show “Ryan Ryan Musikahan” (now enjoying a revival on Jeepney TV and YouTube), and serving as mentor to generations of artists and musicians, in projects like Elements Music Camp, and even reality shows like “Pinoy Dream Academy,” the honor doesn’t just feel earned, it’s almost overdue.

In the same month as the National Artist honor, he was also shortlisted for the Best Original Score award at the 12th Asia Pacific Screen Awards, for his work on the film adaptation of “Ang Larawan.” At 64, the maestro is enjoying another career peak.

Related: 8 Pinoy pop culture moments defined by Ryan Cayabyab's music

This month, he ends the year strong — the Lea Salonga album “Bahaghari: Rainbow,” a collection of Filipino traditional songs that he produced, is being released. Cayabyab, after all, is never one to rest on his laurels.

CNN Philippines Life sits down with the maestro as he looks back on four decades. Below are edited excerpts from the interview.

Preparing for this interview, I read a lot of previous interviews you gave and one quote really stood out for me. In 2006, you told Marra PL. Lanot this about your career: “It’s not just luck. It’s choosing things correctly and being aware [of possible effects and consequences]. It’s deciding what path to follow and what action to take based on your strong feelings.” When did you become aware of the different paths in front of you and that you had the power to decide?

The truth is, I think I’m very lucky because things fall into my lap. I never had to seek after what I wanted to do — things always fell into my lap. That means, all I had to do was [decide], will I take this or not?

I’m very lucky because when things come, [they're] things I would’ve never expected. For example, I had a television show in 1988. Who would have thought? Me? Hosting a show? [Laughs] And I just said, “O sige let’s do it.” Because the person who was talking to me was saying, “We’ll try it only for a season. If the bosses like it, we’ll just renew.” There was no contract. It wasn’t like a yearly contract. I didn’t even realize there was a season because it just went on and on. There was no termination until such time in [1995] when the producers said, “Ah, we are closing shop.” After [seven] years!

The Smokey Mountain project, for example, this American producer comes from out of nowhere and asks for a meeting. It was just an exploratory meeting. He was just saying that there are so many talents here in the Philippines and it’s a natural resource. He was saying, “Why hasn’t the government [harnessed] this natural resource to make it an export item?” What he was saying is, it’s natural talent and all you need to do is a few adjustments, the learning curve is short because they know what to do but educate them a little more so they’re not exploited — so that’s his idea.

Another example, out of the blue, Danding Cojuangco calls and says, “Can I have a meeting with you for a project?” The same year I was offered the San Miguel Foundation of the Performing Arts [in 2000], that same month when Mr. Cojuangco talked to me, that was the same month that we were given our “extraordinary ability” visa from America. We were supposed to move. It came at the same time. When I met Mr. Cojuangco, I told him, “We have this pending [trip]. We’re leaving in April.” He just said, “Just decide what you want to do.” So we went to [the States] but we returned immediately, because I wanted to do the project.

I’m lucky because these things are not usual. Everything I told you, I would’ve never thought of doing anything like that but they came. There are so many things that fall into my lap but I think it’s very important that I’m able to choose what I want to do.

IMG_0443 bw.jpg Photo by JOSEPH PASCUAL

But how did you know which path to take? Do you have a guiding principle that helps you decide?

It’s all gut. Gut feel meaning, “Oh, I haven’t done that.” The principle usually is, “I’ve done that. I don’t want to do that anymore. Let’s do something else.” Usually it’s like that. I don’t want to duplicate stuff I’ve done before, except if it’s a regular job like teaching. I was teaching in U.P. for about two decades.

So at 18, when you chose between accounting and music, that was gut feeling as well?

It was something that I wanted to do but I couldn’t. The reason why I took up accounting was because when my mother died, she explicitly told our dad to not allow any of the children to take up a career in music. She was an opera singer. She was a musician and she knew how difficult it was.

You have to understand that being a musician during that time — in 1949, when she gave birth to my eldest sister, she would have been 32 years old. Manila had just come from devastation, from World War II, so a lot of people didn’t have work. Most of our parents, their parents told them to get jobs as employees, because during that time, they were rebuilding Manila, there were companies coming up and that was the way [to get by]. They were asked to take careers as professionals, doctors, nurses, accountants, lawyers, etc. — that’s the usual path.

So all of us, all my cousins, everyone in my mother’s side, there were no artists, everyone took up banking, finance, accounting — anything that has something to do with being an employee of an institution or something.

Except you.

Well, no, I took up accounting. The story is like this: When I graduated from high school, I started to work as a pianist for a bank’s chorale group. I was 15 years old, turning 16. I auditioned and I got the job as a pianist of the choir — that paid my way through college.

Two years later, I met Cocoy Laurel. I was about 18. During that time he was a matinee idol, paired with Nora Aunor, actor-singer. He did theater, he did movies, he sang.

And he got me to be his music director and he introduced me to his family. So I was in their house almost everyday, rehearsing or when there were gatherings at their house, I’d play.

One day, the father, Senator Doy Laurel, calls me to his office and says, “Why are you taking up accounting?” So I told him the story about my mom and then he told me stories. “You know, in a community, all you need to do is do your part, do what you’re supposed to do.” He was saying, “Did you notice that when you get your clothes, and wear them, and go out of your house, the clothes smell good and you feel confident? Whose work was that? That’s the work of your labandera. And if she were a good labandera, she would help in creating that confidence in you and you didn’t know that but that’s part of your life. That’s her work.”

He went on, “Janitors, their work — if you go into the classroom and your chairs weren’t in line and the floors are dirty, you don’t feel good and you can’t concentrate.” What he was saying was each of us has our own work in the community, our specialty work, so all you have to do is to be the best at what you’re doing, and to become an authority. Because if you’re an authority, you will gain the respect of your community and everything else follows. So that became my mantra.

What a great way of putting it.

Yeah, the reason why he called me to his office was precisely that. “What are you doing? Why are you trying to be an accountant? I don’t think you’ll end up a good accountant. You’re a good musician, you’re a good pianist — I can see. You make a lot of people happy by playing the piano.”

So the clincher was: “Okay, Ryan, you go home tonight. You talk to your dad. You tell him the senator and Mrs. Laurel are offering you a scholarship in any music school of your choice.”

I went home, told my dad. My dad said, very simple, “How old are you now?” I had just turned 18. He said, “You’re old enough to decide for yourself.” That was the turning point. That November, I entered the UP College of Music.

IMG_0539.jpg Photo by JOSEPH PASCUAL

Something I’ve always found interesting is, throughout your career, you’ve always taken unconventional paths. There was always a high level of difficulty in a lot of things you did — executed with mastery, of course, that made it look easy. I’m talking about the a capella album [“One”], the jazz arrangements of Filipino folk songs [“Roots to Routes: Pinoy Jazz II”]. Earlier we were talking about the importance of being aware of the path you take, what were you trying to do by choosing those paths? Was that a conscious effort? To be a certain kind of musician?

No, when I decide on those things, it’s because I want to do something that I want to do for myself, not for an audience.

I’ll tell you about the circumstances around the a capella album from 1981. So I entered the UP College of Music in 1973, but because of so much work outside, I did a lot of tours so that entailed a lot of leaves of absence … [So] it took me 10 years to get that degree. In 1981, I finally finished most of the requirements, except for one, the recital, which I did in 1983.

In 1981, my composition and theory teacher offered me a job to teach at the university, to start as a lecturer. I thought, “Ooh, I’ve never done that before.” Mataas ang tingin ko sa academe so naisip ko, “Wow, I’d love to do that, I’d love to teach college students. I’ll teach them everything I know.”

I thought, “Oh, I’m teaching and I’m not going to do a lot of work in the industry.” So what I did, was to create this album for me, it was like my birthday gift [to myself], at 27, and it’s like, “Oh this is what I’m leaving the industry. Goodbye, industry! I’m going to become a teacher.” At the time, I spent about ₱43,000 on the entire album. That was what my money could afford.

Why did I record something like that, a capella? I was fascinated because a couple of years back, when I was doing a film, I did an experiment. Instead of some parts having live instruments as background music, I used voices. I liked it and in 1981, I thought, that would be something, if we did a full album of a capella music, of Filipino songs.

We did several Filipino standards and then wrote three new ones, and included “Kay Ganda Ng Ating Musika.” That’s what happened. In 1981, I came up with an album that was very unusual. I was so sure record companies would say, “It’s not commercial. We won’t make money off it.” But I did it anyway and it became a critical success. And of course, later on, because it was “critically-acclaimed,” it sold, after the fact. It sold and I got my return of investment so I was happy.

Sometimes, it’s very important that you’re doing something rare, something that not everyone can do. It’s not really “something that nobody wants to do” or doing something against the flow. Sometimes, it’s “not everyone can do this so I’ll do it.” Something like that.

You received a Ten Outstanding Young Men award in 1978, at the tender age of 24. Some people, when they receive an award of that stature at a very young age, they end up chasing that early peak for the rest of their life. How did you make sure that it didn’t define you and that you kept growing beyond those early glories?

I always treated those honors, for me, as not the most important thing. They’re not the be all. That’s not what you’re running after. From the very start, you’re not really running after those awards. I always say that if it’s going to be given to you, it’s going to be given to you. If it’s not, then it’s not — why run after it? For me, the most important thing, after having learned what I’ve learned very early on, from the senator, it really helped how I looked at things — at the same time, I’m also very fatalistic. It’s this balance of accepting what comes, because it will come anyway if it’s for me, and at the same time trying to really do things that you want to do, that will make you happy. Kasi I weighed what I can do and sometimes, I tell you, I’m amazed. As you go along the way, naiipon ‘yung learnings so you say — it becomes easier — “Ah, I should do it this way, because I already did this and it was bad.”

I always told people, when they would ask “How did you get those ideas?” … There’s only one way. Those ideas are already out there. All you need to do is lock into them. You just have to be on the plane, you have to be there. If it’s a vibration, you have to connect with the vibration. And if you actually are in the same vibration already, it just flows naturally … I think it’s been there for a long time, maybe it was just hanging in the air, maybe I just locked in with it.

Spoken like a true genius. [Laughs] Some people can spend a lifetime waiting for a vibration that never comes … Earlier, you were talking about your T.V. show. And I was just thinking how you’re one of the few behind-the-scenes figures in local music to become a personality in your own right. Have you always been comfortable in the spotlight?

I’m generally kasi friendly. I like having fun. I like to eat and I don’t really care about the medals and all that. I don’t care so much so when people see me, in palengkes or any place I go, [they see that] I’m enjoying myself. I don’t think about it that way, “I’m an icon” — no. It’s just that, when people come up to me and say, “Can I have a photo with you?” Parang, sige, let’s have a photo. But I never ever think about it as … artista? Parang ganon?

I had really low self-esteem when I was younger. I never ever thought — especially in the physical looks department — I never even thought that somebody would like me or physically get attracted to me. That’s how I felt all this time. That’s why when my wife [came into my life] … I was 31 when I got married. I did not really have a lot of relationships. Siguro, first of all, because I didn’t think of myself as somebody attractive to other people … Maybe now I feel a little more comfortable with myself. [Laughs]

But yeah, I never thought of it that way. Maybe that’s why I had more time to concentrate on what I wanted to do because I didn’t have [distractions]. I see people, importante na may girlfriend at 15 or 16, ‘pag pasok ng college naghahanap kaagad ng girlfriend. And then years later, may relationship and then mag-brebreak, and then after the breakup, that’s only when they discover themselves. [Laughs]

What I’m saying is, the reason why I had all the time to do my craft and actually fall in love with what I’m doing is because there was not so much of that. So until now, I carry that. It’s not important for me. What’s important is I’m happy inside, I like the things that I’m doing.

IMG_0558.jpg Photo by JOSEPH PASCUAL

Let’s talk about your T.V. show “Ryan, Ryan Musikahan” which I’m now just watching on YouTube, Facebook, and Jeepney TV. How did the idea for it start? What was the concept?

In the early ‘70s, I met some friends who loved to jam, but it became more of a pastime during martial law because you can’t get out of the house you’re in if it’s already 11 ‘o clock. For sure, hindi ka makakaabot sa bahay mo at mahuhuli ka. There was a lot of jamming — it was the Musikahan of old. I got used to that, accompanying singers and playing the whole night. And getting drunk. [Laughs]

I was never conscious about being up there in the front because I always had this thing, parang meron akong bina-block sa loob ko, I’m blocking that feeling of being artista. It didn’t sit well with me. I’m here because I like teaching, I like sharing what I know, and I like playing music. That’s all. That’s enough. When I’m doing that, I’m very happy.

So the format for that show was perfect, because it let you do that.

That’s what we were doing, jamming. When I was approached by a friend of mine from the network — remember that was right after martial law, they didn’t have programs and they were just looking for things to fill up their nights, and during that time 10:30 p.m. wasn’t considered prime time — for me, I thought, “This is easy. Not difficult at all.” All I had to do was rehearse and sing.

The most difficult parts were doing the spiels. I was not used to it, especially when they said, “Can you memorize this?” We would have to do take three or take four. Eventually, I said, “Please don’t make me memorize. Just give me what I’m supposed to say and I’ll just talk.”

You know why I didn’t feel like an artista? It was not artista work. It didn’t pay like it would pay an artista. You didn’t become a household name like, say, Christopher De Leon. It wasn’t like that. I always thought that it was just a pastime.

In 2006, you did “Philippine Idol” with Pilita Corrales and Francis M, which was a big deal at the time, despite it only lasting one season. And after that, you did “Pinoy Dream Academy.” What appeals to you about the format of talent competition shows?

It does not appeal to me. In the past, I was offered something like that again and you know … it’s just for T.V. They have to create a feeling and an uneasy feeling is very welcome to them. They want fans to fight. They want all these messages running through saying this guy is good and that guy’s not good. Everyone can say anything about anyone.

Of course, when I did it for the first time, when I saw somebody say — and it should not bother me at all — but when somebody I didn’t really know would say something like, “How can Mr. Cayabyab say something like that?” … My family and I went to the States in 2003 and we were amazed by “American Idol.” We came back another year and everyone would stop when it was “Idol” time and we’d get to watch and it’s exciting. You’d hear Simon Cowell say the nastiest things ever. And the people would say, “Walang hiyang Simon yan. Grabe siya.” And of course, it’s all about T.V.

When I did [“Philippine Idol”], I was not the nasty one but it looked like I was the nasty one because the producers talked to us, the judges, and they said [to me], “Your direction from us is you have to say the truth. You have to say what you see. With your reputation, please do not sugarcoat. You just say what you see truthfully. Everything will depend on the reaction.” So the entire season, that was in my head, so that’s why I was there during rehearsals, because I wanted to make notes. Sila Francis and Pilita were not there during rehearsals so when they would blurt out their reactions, it’s spontaneous. Ako, I really had to study them. I had to study how they could improve.

But anyway, when the nasty things [about you] come up, I really said, “It’s not worth it.” You’re being paid this much and then people will say these things about you? But it’s part of the game. When you accept something like that, you have to understand you’re in the lion’s den. So now, at this stage, I’m 64, I don’t want that. I want to be happy. [Laughs] I want to share happiness and be positive.

IMG_0565.jpg Photo by JOSEPH PASCUAL

One of the great things about you is you’ve always gone out of your way to mentor young people, from Smokey Mountain to the Ryan Cayabyab School of Music.

We had Elements Music Camp. We had the bootcamp for Phil Pop. We go around doing a capella workshops. We love doing it, you know. I love doing it to the point that there was one professional who told me, “Aren’t you afraid that you’re sharing everything you know? And they’ll get the tricks of your trade and become better than you? Tapos talo ka nila?” Sabi ko, “Eh di mabuti.”

You know, I believe, especially the young people, sila ‘yung magpapagalaw ng future ng industry eh. If you don’t tell them everything you know … I mean they have the capacity to learn of course, but the learning curve will be shorter if you share with them your experiences. “This is how I did it, it usually works this way bla bla bla.”

Anyone who I’ve taught, who I’ve given ideas to, will always react differently, will always treat what they learn differently from the way I learned it. The product will definitely be different because their experiences are different. For sure they’ll twist and turn it into something else — and that’s for the better. Everyone benefits because somebody came up with something new, a new idea, a new product, a better song. That’s the whole point.

When it comes to singers, what do you look for in a voice? What makes you jump up and think, “Wow, I’m listening to someone special.”

You know for me, first, it’s the natural vocal quality that excites me. If somebody has a certain vocal quality that I haven’t heard before, that’s what makes me excited. Second na lang ‘yung technique because technique you can learn, everybody can learn that. But the natural sound? The God-given? The natural physiological built of the vocal cord? You don’t find the same kinds of cords in so many people.

So what excites me is if there’s a certain sound that’s just, “Wow.” A sound like a Bituin Escalante. When she opens her mouth and she has that full-bodied sound? Or a Basil Valdez, because there’s no one who sounds like him, who sings that easy, flawless type of delivery. These are people who have fantastic naturally given gifts.

IMG_0591.jpg Photo by JOSEPH PASCUAL

Let’s play a game. Tell me the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear these names.


Pilita Corrales

Asia’s Queen of Songs.

Celeste Legaspi

My kumare. Now, we are so close, parang family ‘yan. She is the ninang of my daughter and I am the ninong of her son. Family ang turing.

Basil Valdez

The Philippines’ number one baritone. Balladeer.

Kuh Ledesma

Ice queen. [Laughs] That’s what she was thought of before but you know what, I call her now the soul queen. I’ll tell you something. A lot of us had difficulty working with her [in the past] because she wanted it only her way. She was cold … But only recently did I see what a warm person she is. Just two or three years ago, I thought, “Oh, I’ve been misled. She’s a very nice woman!”

Lea Salonga

Perfect. I mean if you’re asking me? Perfection. Why? Because she works hard at it. She’s the only one I know who will not wing it. She will make sure it’s going to come out perfect.

Regine Velasquez

I’m a fan — that’s really what I want to say. From before pa, we always admired her ability to sing and make the song hers, whatever song it is. This is the reason why I’m a fan.

When you became a National Artist this year, you officially became the third National Artist connected with “Ang Larawan,” after Nick Joaquin and Rolando Tinio. How was it like working with them on the 1997 production?

For the 1997 production, Nick Joaquin was only an observer because he bequeathed the material to Rolando Tinio. He personally handpicked Rolando Tinio to write the Filipino version. Working with Rolando was so easy because there was no ping-pong. Everything I gave, he would work on. It was so easy working with him.

Of course, being the director, the actors and actresses really had to work hard. It was easy for him to say, “Mga dumi lang kayo.” [Laughs] That’s why if you’re [the type of person who’s often] late, you don’t have the authority to be late [with Rolando Tinio].

Are you that strict on your productions too?

Me? No, but I remember people so I just won’t get them anymore. Ganon na lang kasi if I know a person’s going to be difficult to work with, I don’t want to work with them.

In the ‘90s, there was another sort of revival of your classics when the Eraserheads did “Tuwing Umuulan” and Barbie’s Cradle did “Limang Dipang Tao.” Rock and grunge aren’t known for formal musicality and technique — how did you feel about those bands at the time? Did you like their takes on the songs?

Actually, when my songs are covered in an unusual way, I find them very interesting. I believe that when people do their covers, at a certain time, it’s because they want to communicate it to their milieu, to their time. When the Eraserheads did “Tuwing Umuulan” and it became a big hit and then Regine [Velasquez] did “Tuwing Umuulan” and it became a big hit, I was extremely happy with the turnout because they were so different.

Especially the Eraserheads? I’ll tell you how they did it. They couldn’t get all those chords right. You were saying something about formal musicality? 'Yun na nga because in “Tuwing Umuulan” you have this series of chords in the middle that went from one chord to the next and of course in rock, they only usually manage three or four chords.

Because the effect of rock is they want to explore more the feeling, the rhythm, the words. Rock is really a revolt against status quo. Rock is born out of that. It is to go against the grain of what everybody else is doing — that’s what rock’s philosophy is all about.

And so since it was difficult, the chord progression, what they did was they played Basil’s version, they recorded it on one track and then they followed it with the chords. And then they put their drums there and everything, that’s how they did it! The reason I know that is because there was a point in time when they were recording it when they asked, can we have this middle part be the Basil Valdez part? You know, it flows into that and then when it goes into “Buhos ng ulan…” it goes into us again? Hindi pumayag ang Vicor. [Laughs]

Wow, that actually sounds really cool. Very Kanye West.

Yeah, could be! Might’ve been something … And then you have Barbie’s Cradle when they did “Limang Dipang Tao.” I was happy because she made it more popular. For a long time, it was only from that recording or from choirs singing. It was a chorale piece like “Kumukitikutitap.” It was only popular with the choirs before.

They brought a punk energy to it.

Yeah! Nagkaroon ng ibang dimension. That’s what they do, the young musicians.

I need to tell you one incident that’s so funny. I have this Elements Music Camp wherein most of us, songwriters, get together. The second year we had Raimund Marasigan of Eraserheads [and Sandwich], you had Urbandub’s Gabby Alipe, then you had Ebe Dancel, South Border’s Jay Durias, Jett Pangan of The Dawn. They all said, “Come, let’s give Mr. C a surprise tribute. We’ll [do] ‘Kay Ganda Ng Ating Musika’ then we’ll shoot it.”

So they got together in a rehearsal studio and somebody was filming their rehearsals. This is the funniest thing ever. I was shown the video of the rehearsal. The real thing didn’t materialize because during the rehearsals, they were trying to get the chords and halfway along [the rehearsal], Raimund Marasigan stands up and says, “Ayoko na. Ang daming chords.” [Laughs] They couldn’t manage to get the right chords. [Laughs] So that thing never materialized but they showed me the video. It was so funny. And sweet. [Laughs]

IMG_0666.jpg Photo by JOSEPH PASCUAL

Speaking of “Kay Ganda Ng Ating Musika,” it’s one of those songs that hold a special place in the national consciousness as a sort of unofficial anthem for OPM. What were you thinking when you wrote that song?

I was thinking I wanted to win that contest. It was the first Metropop Song Festival and I was thinking, what theme should I write? I want to win this contest. So I decided on something about music. At that time, if you said contest, the sound is festival, celebratory.


Yes! You have to have that impact. That was how we used to think before. Now, with PhilPop and Himig Handog, that’s not how it is anymore — see how things change? During the time, that was the way to do it.

Much of the material I do, there must be a reason why I do it. I never thought before that I’d write for myself. It was always because, “I’m writing because Basil asked me to write three songs.” “I’m writing this because it’s a theme song for a movie so it has to be the right blend because it’s the theme song.” “I’m writing this for a musical, so it has to have the feel of a musical.” The way I would write music is with a goal. So if you join a contest, you want to win a contest and you have to find ways to win it. That’s how I thought before.

Who among the young musicians are you excited about?

Right now, because I’m working with young songwriters, and songwriters who sing their songs, there’s so many of them but in the past six years, we’ve discovered people like — and I’m very excited always to hear what new things they have — Davey Langit, Thyro & Yumi. It’s so funny because we discovered them years ago and this year, parang there’s a turnover of new people, just in the past year. You have Ben & Ben, people like Autotelic, The Ransom Collective, Moira Dela Torre — I mean, these people were in our camp before.

It’s why I’m always excited to discover these new people and to tell them, “This is how we did it. You regurgitate it. Bahala kayo sa buhay niyo and then you turn up with your own ideas.” So what we do is we encourage them. We give them confidence and here they are, they’re so confident. And that’s their own sound ah! We didn’t have anything to do with that. That’s theirs.

That’s why I was telling you. We teach them everything we know and then they turn out with their own sound anyway because that’s their own sound. That’s what we’ve been doing.

Even our a capella background? Oh my goodness. Do you know that we have a champion in that a capella program who’s won twice and is now regarded as one of the top five a capella groups in the world? They were pitted against The Real Group, Pentatonix, The Idea of North and then the Philippines, Acapellago ang name nila. Can you imagine that? They’ve been winning in Asia and last year, they won in Austria.

That’s why when people say, ‘What’s next for the Philippine music industry?’ ‘Yan.

This is going to be my last question, sir. Having met your wife Emmy in the UP College of Music — somebody who’s very much her own musician — how important has it been to spend the last few decades with someone who understands your craft?

It’s like flying a kite. I’m there in the air and she’s here on the ground, pulling me. It’s very clear to her and I’m very lucky because she understands my craft, my artistry, the kind of work I do. And she has to contend pa with our two children who we didn’t even think would go into music, who went into music without any additional prodding.

[My daughter] Krina was supposed to go to Ateneo [de Manila University] for theater and then she said, “I don’t want to go anymore. Can I audition to the UP College of Music?” And in the process, she graduates summa cum laude. Talo pa kami! And then she got her masters.

And then my son graduated from Ateneo doing Communication Arts, and then after a year, he says, “Hmm, can I go to music?” So now he’s on his second course and sabi niya, “I’ll look for money to pay for my tuition in UP.” Now he’s third year going on fourth year. Right now he’s with the Ateneo Chamber Singers. They’re competing in Spain right now.

Following in the footsteps of his sister, who likes performing jazz [Baihana] and likes writing arrangements also, his group is called Debonaire District. Their thrust is Filipino folk songs in jazz.

Like his old man.

Oh, yeah. [Laughs]