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PhilPOP music festival honors OPM and expresses hope for industry's future

July 16, 2012 5:05pm
Saturday, July 14, marked a celebration of Original Pilipino Music (OPM), as well as an earnest hope of better things to come for the industry, as the first Philippine Popular Music Festival (PhilPOP) finals took place.
The PhilPOP finale was staged at the sprawling and dazzlingly lit Plenary Hall of the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC). From the time the event started at around 7:30 until it ended more than three hours later, all performances were tributes to Philippine music.
This is because besides being a competition, the PhilPOP is also an event that honors both past and contemporary OPM.
Event host Ogie Alcasid—whose coat jacket was studded with large musical notes—started things up with a medley of OPM hits such as “Kailangan Kita” and “Bakit Ngayon Ka Lang.” The performance featured the Ryan Cayabyab Singers and the Hotlegs dancers.
One of the best moments of the show was a number called "Classic Cs" which featured songs composed by George Canseco, Willy Cruz, Ernani Cuenco, Jose Mari Chan, and Ryan Cayabyab. It was performed by the Ryan Cayabyab Singers, contemporary singers Christian Bautista and Erik Santos, and established OPM singers Sharon Cuneta, Regine Velasquez and Basil Valdez.
Meanwhile, comedy duo Jose Manalo and Wally Bayola performed a hilarious take on Rico J. Puno’s “Macho Gwapito,” which happened after a moment of silence and video tribute for Comedy King Dolphy, who died on July 10.
Another powerhouse number, performed before the PhilPOP winners were announced, featured another round of memorable Filipino tunes, this time based on the now-defunct Metro Manila Popular Music Festival (MetroPop), where PhilPOP’s goals and visions were based on.
Singers who participated included OPM legend Hajji Alejandro, Kitchie Nadal, Barbie Almalbis, Gloc-9, Rachel Alejandro, Bituin Escalante, Frenchie Dy, Gian Magdangal, Kris Lawrence, and Bugoy Drilon. Songs that were belted out included “Salamat, Salamat Musika,” “Ako ang Nasawi, Ako ang Nagwagi,” “Anak,” “Till I Met You,” “Isang Mundo, Isang Awit,” and “Ewan.”
PhilPOP champion Karl Villuga (center) performs “Bawat Hakbang” with crooner Mark Bautista (3rd from right) and co-members from The Akafellas. Photo courtesy of DDB Philippines
Giving Filipino songwriters a chance
But of course, with the PhilPOP being a competition in the first place, the performances in between the contest pieces were only but very welcome bonuses for people watching the event. The spotlight, after all, was focused on the 14 songwriters vying to be the first winner of the PhilPOP.
According to the event’s organizer, PhilPOP MusicFest Foundation, Inc. was launched to give Filipino songwriters a chance to create new songs and spark “a renewed awareness, enthusiasm, and pride” for OPM. The competition also aims to promote the new Filipino songwriters and singers.
The foundation recognizes the importance of music in nation-building, thus the efforts that were put into ensuring the actualization of the festival.
“Masaya ako that we are able to stage the (1st PhilPOP) Festival. After so many years, medyo natulog ang OPM,” said PhilPOP overall chairman Manuel V. Pangilinan. “So we’re happy to be part of this effort to revive OPM, for the sake of the Filipino.”
The PhilPOP was launched on February 15, 2012. Nearly 3,000 compositions were submitted in a span of nearly three months, according to PhilPOP. And from those entries from Filipinos all over the world, only 14 finalists were picked to showcase their compositions and become the 1st PhilPOP champion.
In the end, it was finalist Karl Villuga who emerged as the first PhilPOP champion and million-peso winner for his composition entitled “Bawat Hakbang,” which was interpreted by crooner Mark Bautista and a cappella group Akafellas, of which Villuga himself is a member.
Villuga, a financial consultant, has been a member of the Akafellas since 2001. He has composed songs for the Akafellas, but is relatively new to songwriting contests, the PhilPOP being his second attempt.
Villuga said he dedicates the song to people who at some point in their life lose hope because of struggles. He also urged them not to lose hope. “This song not only applies to God, but to friends, to family,” he said. “Akala mo lang naiwan ka, pero nandiyan lang sila for you.”
As for his victory, Villuga said: “You know, I really couldn’t believe it. I’m just very happy that I won. More than anything, it’s a very good time for me now. It’s the best time of my life.”
Toto Sorioso bagged second place with “Tayo-Tayo Lang,” which is about his experiences as a singer with no one in the audience listening to him. He was the winner of the 2010 Filscap songwriting competition for a song he wrote about the victims of typhoon Ondoy.
Third place was awarded to veteran songwriter Soc Villanueva for “Kontrabida,” interpreted by Sam Concepcion. Villanueva is behind the well-known hit “Kung Ako Na Lang Sana.”
He said the festival’s batch of relatively new songwriters pose a good kind of challenge for veteran songwriters like him to hone their skills and keep up with the new generation. “With the songs that you’ve heard tonight, I think this is the start na medyo maraming mangyayari sa OPM,” he said.
“Pag may bagong pangalan, may bagong ideas din,” he continued. “The more amateurs that get into the game, the better.”
Meanwhile, James Leyte’s “Brown,” aptly interpreted by the band Brownman Revival, won the People’s Choice Award—decided by the most number of text votes—and earned the genuinely amateur composer (this was his first time to join a songwriting competition) P200,000. “Brown” is about a man who meets his brown-haired ex.
Brownman Revival drummer Dennis Concepcion expressed joy over Leyte’s victory. “Vindication lang and justification na nanalo siya,” he said. “Kailangan ng Philippine music ng bagong breed na magpatuloy, to take up the torch.” 
“Walang criteria para maging songwriter. Wala kang kailangan na certification para magsulat ng kanta,” he continued.
Leyte himself advised aspiring songwriters to keep at it. “Just keep making music, since magaling naman tayong mga Pilipinong gumawa ng kanta. Just keep those lyrics flowing,” he said.
The second- and third-placers received P250,000 and P500,000, respectively, while the People’s Choice awardee received P200,000.
Other compositions—belonging to different musical styles such as ballads, alternative rock, hip-hop and R&B—that competed in the PhilPOP were Mike Villegas’ “Negastar” (sang by Cathy Go), Noah Zuniga’s “Dulo ng Dila” (Jay-R and DJ Poblete), Kennard Faraon’s “Slowdancing” (Nyoy Volante), Gary Granada’s “Minsa’y Isang Bansa” (interpreted by himself), Byron Ricamara’s “Takusa” (performed by Rocksteddy), Thyro Alfaro’s “Himig ng Panahon” (interpreted by South Border’s Duncan Ramos and Luke Mejares, as well as by hip-hop and R&B artists Yumi and Loonie), Edwin Morallano’s “Kesa” (sang by Daniel Gorospe), Trina Belamide’s “Big Time” (performed by all-female trio Baihana), Keiko Necesario’s “3 A.M.” (interpreted by foreign singer Marié Digby), and Krist Melecio’s “Piso” (sang by Joey Ayala).
The board of judges was composed of musicians Noel Cabangon, Ely Buendia, Jim Paredes; composer Louie Ocampo, Universal Records managing director Kathleen Go, disc jockey Chico Garcia, and Maynilad chief finance officer Randy Estrellado.
PhilPOP Executive Director Ryan Cayabyab expressed happiness over the contest’s results and talked about what can be done for next year. “We’ll see every step along the way and find out how we can improve it and if there will be (a festival) next year,” he said.
Meanwhile, Pangilinan was optimistic about PhilPOP’s future. “[N]ext year, we’ll probably have a bit more time (to prepare),” he said. “Kailangan ituloy ito year on year.” –KG, GMA News
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