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A SONG OF ADOBO AND SINIGANG

To be as iconic as Vehnee Saturno, keep writing for Filipinos first


In 1983, a former Xerox operator wrote a song, which became a hit, and soon began making his mark in Philippine music history.

Venancio "Vehnee" Saturno first found success at the Metro Manila Popular Music Festival (Metropop) in 1982. He won first place for "Isang Dakot" and a year later, one of the two entries he sent turned into a timeless hit.

"My first big hit, major hit was 'Be My Lady' (by Martin Nievera) and mula d'on tuloy-tuloy na," Saturno told GMA News Online in an exclusive interview after signing with GMA Records on August 11.

Even before "hugot" was a thing, Saturno was already penning songs for the brokenhearted. He started writing in high school, but had little support from his family as his mother thought music would be a bad influence.

The hardships he went through only served as fodder for his songs.

"Hindi naman ako nag-start sa isang family na 'mayro'n.' Sabi ko nga n'ong bata ako, pipilitin ko na maiba 'yong buhay ko kasi nakaranas ko rin ang makapagtrabaho sa isang company pero 'di ko makita ang future ko," he shared.

"After working for seven years sa isang Xerox company — I started as a Xerox operator — sabi ko... parang pinanganak ako na mamatay ako na walang kabuluhan ang buhay ko."

Facing this crisis, Saturno turned to writing. "Ito 'yong parang hinanap ng katawan ko. So nag-try akong magsulat."

His success at Metropop opened opportunities to work with different artists and labels, with his luck rubbing on to other artists he discovered like Ella May Saison, Ariel Rivera, and Jessa Zaragosa.

Saturno still keeps his ear out for talent and the enthusiasm to write songs for the right voice has not diminished three decades since Metropop.

"Kapag narinig ko 'yon (the right mixture of voice and charisma), excited ako na susulutan ko sila ng kanta. Ako mismo ang nag-iinitiate na, sige gawa tayo ng demo and let's present it to a record company," he explained.

What he wants to hear, he said, is the voice that Filipinos will love.

"Naririnig ko siya na bagay siya sa Filipino market. Hindi ko iniisip na 'yong song ko is gagawin ko for an international market ...  Hindi ko iniisip na i-re-record ito ni Taylor Swift, i-re-record ni ganito...hindi ako nag-iisip ng gan'on. Kasi, minahal ko 'yong music natin — na alam ko na kaya ako sumusulat, para sa Filipino market.

"Lagi kong sinasabi na ang Filipino, sanay kumain ng adobo at sinigang. Sa akin, ang comparison ko, ang mga kanta ko, it's the adobo and the sinigang," he said.

He added that he considers himself lucky that his work have been embraced by foreign artists like Jacky Cheung, Vivian Chow, and Karen Tong. A number of his songs have enjoyed success with the Chinese market and in the future, he hopes that Filipino music will be welcomed by the world like K-Pop is.

"Even without understanding the lyrics, gusto natin (ang K-Pop). Dream ko bilang a songwriter, siguro mapansin din even Tagalog songs...kasi kung Korean natatanggap ng international market, why not a Tagalog song? Sana mangyari."

That certain "kurot" from beautiful lyrics might get lost along the way, but Saturno has faith in great singers like Lani Misalucha and Ella May Saison to convey familiar feelings through song.

"Even without seeing the artist performing, ramdam mo 'yong emotion na kinukuwento niya, na ginagawa niya for the song. Hindi mo siya nakikita pero nararamdaman mo 'yong mensahe," he said.

Three decades later, Saturno is still working on the dream. He's not afraid to work with "bagets" and takes pride in his ability to adjust to the taste of the new generation while still cooking up songs that will deliver the same satisfaction every Filipino gets when enjoying sinigang or adobo at home. — LA, GMA News

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