What it’s like to be working with the best

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Group 1 members are Ebe Dancel, author Jim Paredes, Herbert Hernandez, Yumi Lacsamana, and arranger Marlon Barnuevo

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – October 20, 2019 – 12:00am

MANILA,Philippines — I was intimidated at first, I must admit.

I was invited to attend a songwriting workshop by the Filipino Society of Composers and Songwriters (FILSCAP) two weekends ago in Subic.

I’ve attended many songwriting workshops as a teacher/mentor. Just three weeks ago, I was in Lingayen doing one for PhilPop were 30 kids attended.

But this invitation from FILSCAP was different. I was not going to be a mentor. I was going to be with some of the top songwriters in the Philippines and would collaborate with some of them during the workshops. Weeks before when I got my invitation, I already had my apprehensions and had voiced them out.

How would seasoned and successful artists sit down and collaborate when all of us already have our own tried-and-tested styles and ways of doing what we do? Most songwriters can be very protective o their secrets in writing good songs. Would people be able to set aside their pride and egos and work together and come up with something decent? I was not sure. Besides, some of us were meeting for the first time ever. Would we be able to establish rapport immediately to have enough time to do the work required?

It was called the FILSCAP Master Camp. Sixteen songwriters, plus staff, media to document the event, and officers of FILSCAP all met at Kamana Sanctuary and Spa in Subic. It was a great location to relax and be inspired. We would spend four days writing there. The first morning we all got together, Trina Belamide, a fellow composer and one of the proponents of the project, announced there would be four groups of four songwriters each and one arranger (tracker). For the next two days, each group was required to write and submit at least one song. If we were on a roll, we could write more.

The first group I was in had Yumi Lacsamana, Ebe Dancel, Herbert Hernandez and myself. Our arranger (tracker) was Marlon Barnuevo. We met at Marlon’s Casita by the sea after breakfast where he had his laptop and gadgets that could make any song sound decent enough for a good presentation.

I entered the casita with an open mind. I swore that I would be active but would listen to everyone. I was also a bit scared that these young people I was working with would find my ideas trite or passé. We started by focusing on what we wanted to write about. I suggested we write a love song but with an angle not yet too exploited. I suggested that particular, though random, experience where you have a five-second interaction with a stranger, that it can feel like an eternity has happened between the two of you. We talked about a setting like the Shibuya crossing where hundreds of thousands of people pass daily. Or a huge shopping mall filled with people on a weekend.

Immediately, someone suggested the phrase “Walang hanggang sandali” to describe that moment. We also adopted it as the title. Before we knew it we were throwing melodies and lyrics around, editing and changing words and phrases for better effect. It was an exciting process. We all felt open, and gave way to each other while, at the same time, we were all actively contributing to the creation of the song. Our tracker was playing chords as we were creating the musical phrases. It was like building something brick by brick. After about four or five hours, we knew we had a song.

Marlon played it on the piano while Yumi sang it. It was beautiful. We were all ecstatic. It was a good song. While Yumi was recording her tracks, we were continuing to edit the lyrics. The final outcome was more than wonderful. It felt and sounded like a great song with a powerful recall. We felt so proud and happy. We were even jumping with joy. We were thankful that we bonded well. We formed a group hug and our spirits did the same. Our hearts were full.

We had fulfilled the requirement. We decided to end the day and leave Marlon to arrange the song. There was enough time to make another song the next day.

The next morning, we followed the same process and wrote a fast pop song. It started with Herbert playing a few chords on the guitar and Ebe singing the first line. It was about a couple that can’t seem to get along even when they actually love each other. This one was written in less time. The title was Sige na, Oo na! Very catchy!

On the third day, we were reshuffled again and I ended up with Yeng Constantino, Edwin Marollano and Titus John Monterde. Our tracker was Paulo Zarate.

Again, we asked ourselves what topic should we write about. I told the story of a guy who had an affair that ran for 30 years while he was married. We decided to explore the point of view of the husband. The song would be about him talking to his wife and explaining himself. The title of the song would be Mali. We immediately came up with a melody and a few lyrics. Edwin and Yeng were concentrating on the lyrical phrasing. Titus was taking notes and running all the suggestions by the group. Everyone was excitedly pitching in.

After about an hour, Yeng had this idea and suggested that we change and turn the narrative around. We would take the wife’s position and she would be explaining to her husband why she had an affair. That was an inspired “a-ha” moment. We were getting away from stereotypes. We immediately changed course and came out with a poignantly beautiful song.

On the last day of the workshop, the 16 songwriters, staff and FILSCAP officials listened to all the songs every group made. There were 11 of them written in different genres, styles, and approaches. They were all good and quite outstanding. Everyone was so high after the listening session. There were hugs, tears, and affirmations going around and being passed on.

I was amazed that, in the end, all my apprehensions were for naught. Everything worked like a charm. Everyone just sort of slipped into the right vibe to make everything work well. We were open to each other. We left our egos behind. We were focused on writing great songs without having an attitude of personal ownership. We relinquished control to the collective. It was a group effort through and through. And we built new friendships and cemented old ones.

Between sessions, we would get into discussions about life, death, creativity, etc. It was fascinating to listen to fellow artists. We learned a lot from each other. Personally, I am thankful that opportunities like these are beginning to happen in the music world here. Rico Blanco, FILSCAP president, has pioneered a lot of projects that have given songwriters venues for self-expression. But this was his boldest, most successful endeavor yet. Congrats to the songwriters, FILSCAP, and everyone who was part of Master Camp.

Expect all of this to translate into great songs and music you will hopefully hear soon.


Remembering Jojit Paredes & his hearty laughter

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HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – September 29, 2019 – 12:00am

I remember the wake of my grandfather, who died some 55 years ago.  Relatives from all over the Philippines showed up. Many of them I saw for the first time. My cousins and I looked at the faces of our new relatives as they entered the room. Immediately we spotted relatives we had never met who hailed from Pasay. They turned out to be our second cousins. The girls were beautiful, and the guys were good-looking.  And we noticed that they were also staring at us and were whispering and giggling.

We were barely in our teens. My first cousins and I  were immediately attracted to our newly arrived second cousins from the far side of town. In our eyes, they looked gorgeous, exciting. We felt the feeling was mutual. Finally, we guys mustered our courage and introduced ourselves to the girls. They were quite friendly. The rapport was instantaneous. We immediately had crushes on them. The Pasay Paredes guys also had crushes on our girl cousins, too.

Soon after, my cousin Mark and I started going to Pasay where we met more of them. That was where I met my cousin Jojit Paredes, who was always with his good friend and neighbor Ronnie Henares. They both played the guitar and liked to sing and perform. They had great vocal harmony. They were campus idols, especially in Assumption College and LaSalle where they studied.

Before I knew it,  I had joined them in a band called Les Violents, another hobby and outlet they were doing aside from their acoustic duet. The how and why of that awful name becoming our band’s name is still a mystery to me to this day. We still laugh about it.

As the Violents, we were doing gigs in parties, school programs, fairs, etc. Jojit was the handsome guy. He had that matinee idol look. His smile was infectious. I would see girls sigh when they saw and heard him sing. He and Ronnie were friendly and sociable and confident enough to approach the girls and introduce themselves.  Me? I was the shy one then. I was a bluesy, brooding 13-year-old. I mostly just tagged along with the two of them.

My stint with the band did not last long. Pasay was too far from where I lived and so I started going there less and less.  Besides, I had my own singing friends in school. Soon after, they became a duet called the Two of Us. Meanwhile, I hung around with my own friends in school and we formed the Apolinario Mabini Hiking Society.

But Jojit also had a budding career outside of his duet gigs with Ronnie. He did some solo recordings and some movies for a while. He even did one with the biggest star at that time who was  Nora Aunor.

Jojit, Ronnie and I  hardly saw each other anymore. After doing some movies and an album, I heard Jojit got married and went to study at Ateneo  Law School. But his first marriage did not last long. Soon after the breakup, he moved to the US and settled there for good. It would be decades again before I would see him.

I remember Jojit as being a kind soul. He was a gentleman, especially to the ladies he met. He would always cause a mild commotion among the girls when he entered a room. He was handsome like his father and he had a presence. It was not surprising that he had a lot of admirers and fans.  That killer smile and his sparkling, eyes made him likable to everyone.  He loved to laugh heartily.  Ronnie, who always had a ton of jokes to share at any time, must have influenced him.

Last year around April, Ronnie called me to ask if Boboy Garrovillo and  I would be interested in being their guests at a planned Two of Us concert in Solaire for September.  It was Jojit’s idea to have a revival show with his good friend Ronnie. He had missed performing so much. In Los  Angeles, he largely kept away from his music passion. He worked for a law firm. Doing a big concert again was high on his bucket list. We immediately said yes.

The days leading to the concert saw the Two of Us,  Boboy and I  get together for rehearsals.

It was great to see Jojit back in Manila. Still, as young and good looking and friendly as ever at age 68, he hugged me. He was clearly happy to be home and doing the thing he loved to do. He was playing the guitar and singing again. We talked and updated each other about our lives. He seemed content, and even happy with his life in the US.

On the day of the concert, Ronnie and Jojit were clearly excited and thrilled that they still could attract a big crowd despite their long absence from the concert scene. They bombarded the audience with old ’60s songs they used to sing decades go. The audience gamely sang along and had a good time.

That night in Solaire after the show would be the last time I would see Jojit. A few days later, he was back in LA.

Last Sept. 24, I got a text from a relative saying  Jojit had suffered a hemorrhagic stroke. Things did not look good. The last thing he did before the stroke was to stand up and get water because he was dizzy. He never got up again. He was rushed to the hospital and was put under life support. A few hours later they pulled out the plug and he died peacefully at 12:35 p.m.

Ronnie and I called each other to exchange info. We cried on the phone.  We both had lost a dear friend.

These days, when I see friends, classmates, and relatives who are over 60, I always consider the possibility that we could be talking for the last time.

Jojit, we never got to meet and spend time together again after the concert. But I am so happy, though, that you were able to have that concert you dreamt of having. That was one big item on your bucket list that you fulfilled.

Remembering your smile lifts the heaviness we are all going through because of your demise. Gone too soon. Till we meet again dear, friend and cousin.