MUSIC

Yumi Lacsamana on composing “Dati,” “Kilometro,” and other Pinoy pop hits of the 2010s

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The award-winning singer-songwriter tells the stories behind her favorite works. Illustration by JL JAVIER with photos from VIVA ENTERTAINMENT and UNIVERSAL RECORDS/YOUTUBE

This article is part of CNN Philippines Life’s ongoing series on P-Pop and its origins. 

When award-winning composer Yumi Lacsamana signed with Viva Entertainment in 2011, her dream was to be a singer.

While she had previously dabbled in songwriting, the challenge after getting signed was to stand out from the other talents in the entertainment agency’s fold. “Sa dami ng artists na hawak ng Viva, sino ba kami para pansinin? So you need to make or do something na mapapansin ka nila,” says Lacsamana over a Zoom call.

So in 2013, together with her collaborator and Thyro Alfaro, she submitted a song called “Dati” to the 2013 PhilPop Music Festival and took home the grand prize that year.

Since then, Lacsamana and Alfaro have been credited for penning numerous chart-topping hits as the song-making duo Thyro & Yumi. As in-house composers and producers for Viva in the 2010s, the duo pushed for a new sound in the industry, which was heavily influenced by R&B and dance-pop — a feat that has earned them the title as pioneers for the burgeoning P-pop movement of today.

“Some of the people na nagi-interview sa'min, [tinatanong nila] "What's the formula of doing a hit song?" And hindi namin alam,” says Lacsamana. She shares that while there is no one way to guarantee a hit, what you have to make sure of is that you find your own style when it comes to songwriting.

“Kasi noong naging hit 'yung ‘Dati,’ hindi namin 'yun na-expect. Parang, "Ah! So ‘eto pala 'yung gusto nila." So nagkaroon kami ng idea na ang gusto nila is medyo R&B-pop and you have this makulit na melody and makulit na lyrics. Kasi natural sa amin 'yan eh. Kasi sinulat namin 'yung "Dati" for us.”

And we see their influence today, with some of their songs like “Kiss (Never Let Go)” and “Dyosa” going viral on TikTok early on during the pandemic. Comments on the videos point out that the songs were “ahead of their time.”

Below, Lacsamana shares some of the stories behind her favorite work.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

“Kiss (Never Let Me Go)” (2011)

Written and performed by Thyro & Yumi

Nagkataon na kami ni Thyro before, when we write songs, we didn’t care kung ano bang sasabihin ng iba, which is right because ito yung tipong song na gusto namin. And just to give you an example, "Kiss (Never Let Me Go)" — that's our first collaboration together. And that was released 10 years ago, March 2011. Meron din na mga followers na nagustuhan ‘yung song. Kaya lang the song, yung market is too high for the masses because it's R&B, it's English, and the concept is sensual. It's not for the masses talaga. Come this year, it went viral on TikTok. Kami, after ten years: "Really?" Even kami ni Thyro na nag-usap kami — would you believe it? Akalain mo, after ten years, this song. Noong medyo nag-viral siya, what came into my mind siguro was "Are we ahead of our time?" Sinasabi ng friends namin na baka nga kasi ngayon lang na-aapreciate ng mga tao.

"Dati" (2013)

Performed by Sam Concepcion & Tippy Dos Santos ft. Quest

Words and music by Thyro & Yumi

Noong 2013, andyan pa rin ‘yung pangarap mo na ikaw yung kumanta ng song. Tapos noong sinabi sa amin na we got in [PhilPop 2013] and finalist nga kami, they asked us kung sino yung gusto naming kumanta and we said, "Baka po pwede kami ang kumanta ng song." Sabi nila na parang hindi yata pwede. Noong sinabi nila sa amin ng Universal na pwede kaming kumuha ng ibang artist, ang nasa isip namin is Jay R and Kyla first because our song is '90s and meron kaming tinap na era at that time sa kanta mismo sa lyrics kung makikita niyo. So sabi nila, we couldn’t get Kyla at that time because Kyla was about to give birth. And aabot naman kaya lang Kyla was not that confident to face the camera kasi kapapa-anak lang niya baka hindi pa siya ready na bumalik. 'Tas sila nag-suggest — “Ano yung tingin niyo si Sam Concepcion?” Sabi namin, actually pwede.

Ang problema namin noon, sino yung babae? They gave us Julie Anne San Jose. Sabi namin: “Julie, she's okay pero hindi namin naririnig si Julie sa kanta.” Pag dating kasi sa song, meron kang tunog na hinahanap. Julie is a brilliant singer pero hindi siguro siya yung hinahanap ng kanta namin. So nag-research ako. Sabi 'ko, "Just give us a couple of days and we will try to find and baka kaya niyong kuhanin ‘yung makikita namin.” I found out that Tippy [Dos Santos] and Sam — they are friends from way way back, since they were 12 or 11 ata. And they have this movie “I Do Bidoo Bidoo,” so I watched that and tiningnan ko if the chemistry is there. They [also] did "Peter Pan [A Musical Adventure]" together. Sabi ko, I think we found the right girl for the song. Kasi kailangan maging natural like how I am with Thyro, and Jay R [with] Kyla, [na] they are very comfortable working with each other, and 'yung boses nila, perfectly fit. Nung sinabi namin na we want Tippy they said yes kasi hawak din nila pala si Tippy at that time. So talagang naga-align 'yung mga gusto namin. Then nadagdag kasi walang rap 'yang "Dati," so actually Mr. C [Ryan Cayabyab] suggested, "Ok lang ba sa inyo kung magdagdag kayo ng rap sa 'Dati?'" and feeling namin bagay sa kanta so kami naman, "Opo, susubukan namin."

And then 'yan na, we got Quest to do it and Quest said yes right away kasi, friendship card (Laughs). Noong nalaman niya na kami 'yung gumawa nung kanta, sabi niya "Ayoko, ‘di ko na kailangang pakinggan. Yes agad ako." Sabi namin, "Sobra naman 'yung tiwala mo sa amin, pero sige." When we finally recorded it and heard the final master of the song, we fell in love with it. 'Yung parang, "Oh my god. I can't believe it." I think we made the right decision na sila 'yung pakantahin. Siyempre, nandun pa rin 'yung dream na ikaw 'yung kumanta, pero baka kasi talagang it will not work for the song. As a songwriter, that's our baby. And if you want that song to fly, you need to let it go. Kailangang mong i-let go 'yan and hayaan mo siyang lumipad kung saan siya dapat. Minsan kailangan mo talagang makinig sa mga taong nasa industriya.

"Triangulo" (2015)

Performed by Thyro & Yumi and Jeric Medina

Words and music by Thyro Alfaro, Yumi Lacsamana, and Julius James (Bojam) De Belen

Kasi we tested the waters kung kaya pa ba namin manalo ng contest. And we believed na "Triangulo," [would do it]. Ang story kasi niyan is kumbaga si Thyro ang nagsimula talaga niyan. Dati, isang tao lang ang kumakanta niyan. Sinulat 'yon for an artist pero hindi siya nakuha or natuloy. Ang nangyari, Thyro asked me na tulungan ko siya kung ano pwedeng gawin so naging duet siya. And ok, why don't we make it a trio? Like what I said, gumagawa tayo ng kantang wala na at wala pa. So the concept of a love triangle song, nandiyan na 'yan lagi. Ngayon pa man.But wala pa na love triangle na nandoon ang tatlong tao singing or stating their own perspective: POV ng nasa gitna, POV ng past, and POV ng present. Doon kami nag-[decide] na "Bakit hindi nating gawin na tatlo ang kumakanta para maramdaman ng mga tao kung ano nga ba ang nararamdaman ng tatlong taong involved sa story. 'Yung naguguluhan, 'yung bumabalik, and 'yung pakiramdam ng present na "Teka, ako na lang ulit" and ‘yung nagugula "Sino ba ang pipiliin ko?" The wordplay of "kahit ilang beses i-try i-try i-try and gulo gulo gulo" and sa totoong buhay, it's confusing. Magulo siya talaga. And siguro that's the magic of “Triangulo.” 'Yung 'yung isa sa pinakamatalino — kung pipili ako ng isang kanta na pinakamatalinong gawa, "Triangulo." 'Yung pinag-isipan.

"Kilometro" (2014)

Performed by Sarah Geronimo

Words and music by Thyro Alfaro and Yumi Lacsamana

Produced by Thyro Alfaro

Nagkaroon kasi kami ni Thyro ng initiative to do a song for Sarah [around] 2014-2015. Isang beses nagco-coffee kami, sabi namin, "I think si Sarah no kailangan na niya ng bagong tunog.” Doon sa pag-uusap na 'yon nabuo ang kanta namin na "Kilometro." Without Viva knowing it that we were doing something for Sarah. Na parang pinagplanuhan na namin, ginagawa na namin na parang guinea pig. Kumbaga, let's try this sound. Ito, bagay 'to kay Sarah. So we did "Kilometro" specifically for Sarah. Wala kaming ibang nasa isip kundi si Sarah lang ang kakanta nun. Parang, sinong kakanta nito pag hindi nila 'to tinanggap? Ako na lang? Tayo na lang.

Fortunately, meron akong schedule with Sarah for recording kasi we did a song for Manila and si Sarah yung kakanta. And then sabi ni Sarah, "Yumi, baka naman gusto niyong sumulat ng song para sa akin kasi balak ko sanang mag-release ng bagong album this year." Doon ko na siningit na "Alam mo Sarah, meron talaga. Gusto mong marinig?" And sabi niya "Sige." Meron nang demo! So nang narinig ni Sarah, first... May disclaimer kasi ako kay Sarah na, "Sarah, ok lang kahit hindi mo magustuhan ah. Kasi 'eto naman 'yung feeling namin na bagay sa 'iyong sound. But let me know. I need your honest opinion about this song." First note or first...kasi 'yung (Sings) “Gagawin ko ang lahat upang” — 'tapos nung nag-intro, nagliwanag 'yung mukha ni Sarah. Sabi ko, "Oh my god she likes it!"

After that, hindi ko malimutan 'yung araw na 'yon. Kasi suntok sa buwan 'yung kantang 'yan. Noong sinabi ni Sarah doon sa A&R namin sa Viva Records, sabi niya — hindi pa niya tinatapos 'yung kanta ha. Pi-nause niya, sabi niya "Sir, gusto ko na pong mag-set ng meeting with Boss Vic and gusto ko nang simulan 'yung album because I think I've found the right song, the perfect song." Kasi first time maririnig si Sarah na ganito. So ang Viva, natakot sila sa totoo lang. To release the song. And they [were] looking for another song na kakagatin, 'yung pang-masa, the way they know how. Alam mo 'yun? ‘Yung doon na nakilala si Sarah, doon ganun. But I think lahat ng pinagtanungan nila na "Ok ba ang kantang 'to?" lahat ay sumang-ayon. Nag-agree sila na "I think 'Kilometro' will be a good single for this album.” And even Sarah, siya din gusto niya 'rin 'yung "Kilometro." Sugal siya. Suntok sa buwan. Pikit mata lahat talaga kami. Even the label. Na, "Ok. Let's just trust the song and Sarah's stature sa industry na sana pakinggan." And it became a hit. From that moment, Viva trusted our call. Siguro sabi ng Viva, "I think they know what they're doing and we just need to trust them."

'Yung kantang 'yun 'yung isa doon sa nagpakilala sa amin. Tsaka kung papano rin siyang nagawa, 'yung lyrics. Kasi 'yan 'yung kantang talagang nakipag-apir kami sa sarili namin. Bumilib kami sa sarili namin. Na alam namin nang nagawa namin 'yung kanta na, "Ang ganda nito!" Mahihinayang kami kung hindi siya ire-release, kung hindi siya tatanggapin ni Sarah. Pero tinanggap.

"Dyosa" (2014)

Performed by Yumi Lacsamana

Words and music by Thyro Alfaro and Yumi Lacsamana

Produced by Julius James (Bojam) De Belen

That's very different from what we usually do. "Dyosa," sinulat niyan 2012 for Vice Ganda dapat. I watched "It’s Showtime" before and naga-asaran sila Vice and Anne. (Sings) "Sabi mo noon, kamukha ko si Anne," diba? That was specifically for Vice Ganda dapat. And then Vice, umalis siya muna for the meantime sa Viva so hindi siya natuloy and nabaul ulit siya and napunta siya sa files na "Ok, let's just wait kung saan 'to pupunta." And then [the film] "Diary ng Panget" came. 'Ayun. Tapos sinulat ko siya specifically, nasa isip ko lang 'yung LGBTQ. Kasi parang growing up, ang dami kasing "Hindi ka masyadong presentable," and...Diba kasi dito sa atin, kailangang maganda ka, kailangang maputi ka, kailangang matangos ang ilong mo, kailangang maporma ka pero you just need to believe in yourself. Your self-confidence. Kahit ano pa 'yung itsura mo, you have that within you. 'Yun 'yung gusto ko talaga nung time na 'yon, na "tingnan mo ako ngayon. Sabi mo noon, ganoon. But I think I have this inner confidence in me and I will show it to you and we are all beautiful in our own way and I just need to be confident. And at that time nung na-release ko 'yon, hindi naman ako 'yung bonggang bongga na ang ganda ko. Makapal lang talaga 'yung mukha ko (Laughs), pero naging confident lang ako. Sabi ko sa Viva dati na ayoko na ako 'yung kumanta niyan kasi baka i-bash ako or anything. It's not me. Pero sabi nila, "No. You're the perfect person to sing that song." Sabi ko, "Ok sige po." And I'm glad I did. Hindi ko na alam. After that, maybe it's meant to happen and I thank God for minsan mga ganung klaseng pagpu-push. You just need that kind of push.

"Matututunan Din Nila 'Kong Mahalin" (2020)

Performed by Yumi Lacsamana

Words and music by Thyro Alfaro and Yumi Lacsamana

Ito, underrated 'to. Masasabi ko siyang underrated pero every time ngayon, may mga taong "I love your song [na] 'Matututunan din nila 'kong mahalin' kasi nakaka-relate ako." Lalo na sa mga single. Alam mo 'yung mga broken-hearted. Ito pinaniniwalaan ko, when you are happy, you will just listen to happy songs or dance or gagawin mong background music. But when you are sad, you will look for a specific song that will match your feeling. Na lahat ng kanta — pag malungkot ka, lahat ng kantang makaka-relate ka, pakikinggan mo. At hahanap ka ng kantang pakikinggan mo. This specific song, mas naappreciate ko siya kasi hindi lang siya sinabi sa akin na "Ang ganda ng kanta mo. Lagi kong pinapakinggan kasi maganda siya." Hindi ganoon yung natatanggap ko. Ang natatanggap ko, "Gusto ko 'yung kanta mo kasi feeling ko ako 'yung nagsasalita." Because my first line doon sa [song], ay "Hindi ba ako kagusto-gusto?" That first line, sabi nila, unang beses pa lang nilang mapakinggan 'yon, it hits them na "Oo nga no. 'Yun talaga 'yung tanong ko." Lalo na sa mga single na tao. 'Yun yung umiikot na, walang chorus na naulit.

Lahat ng imposible, or kung ano ‘yung mga naisip namin ni Thyro while writing it , inilagay namin. Maagos ang buhangin, wala nang sinag ng araw, or pag natulak ko ba ‘yung bundok, or pag nakatapak ako sa ulap, matututunan ba nila akong mahalin kapag nangyaring lahat 'yan? So that's impossible to happen. Kapag nangyari lahat na 'to, may magmamahal ba sa 'kin? Usually that's the question of the people na tinatanong nila 'yung work nila. If they are, kagusto-gusto ba ako? Ginamit kasi siya sa movie na "Jowable." Yung kantang 'yon, specifically doon sa character na bida. It's very special to me and papaano nakaka-relate ang mga tao, hindi ko alam na matutuwa ako na makaka-relate sila or maawa ako dahil siyempre gusto ko happy kayo pero I'm also happy kasi tinamaan kayo sa kanta ko. Kasi that's the joy of being a songwriter. Na merong mga tao na pinipili nilang pakinggan 'yung kanto mo kasi nakaka-relate sila. Kasi feeling nila, sila 'yun.