Rey Valera: The stuff of legends

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated June 17, 2012 12:00 AM

I first saw and met Rey Valera sometime in the late ‘70s. APO was an up-and-coming group then. Those were the early, heady days of OPM. Rey Valera was a younger singer-songwriter. Boboy, Danny and I were hosts of a late afternoon TV show on GMA 7 called Discorama with the late Bobby Ledesma who offered us the job after his co-hosts Tito, Vic, and Joey left for the greener pastures of Channel 9.

Rey was one of the pioneers of OPM and like many among the ‘70s generation, he wrote tons of music that continues to be played today.

The amazing thing about that era was, even if the songwriters grew up on Western music, we decided to write in Pilipino. There were no meetings or consultations among artists to push this agenda. Writing in Pilipino was a spontaneous rebellion, a proclamation by a generation of its identity. It literally just happened. And what a big deal it was, the Original Pilipino Music that came out of it!

From time to time, through the decades, I would bump into Rey Valera in the different shows I either hosted or guested in. We would talk shop and joke around, just shooting the breeze.

I am currently hosting an Internet show called Past/Forward on www.RadioRepublic.PH where I discuss with my guests the history, continuity and issues pertaining to Original Pilipino Music. Last Tuesday, I invited Rey Valera to be my guest.

I have always enjoyed his music. He writes with elegance and truth that resonates with the Filipino soul. His songs are timeless in a soft, somewhat maudlin, sentimental, and yes, an “emo” kind of way, that touches his audience’s heart. His melodies take flight and soar quite naturally. He sings about aspects of love that bring out moments that make you sigh and turn you into a love junkie.

It was a thrill to have this great songwriter on my show. His presence in the studio excited everyone in the room and made me realize what a fan I really was. I knew almost all of his recorded stuff and I have marveled at how easily his melodies take off.

Rey talked about his early years, which has elements of what legends are made of. He came from a broken home and as a teenager, was sent to live with an uncle in Bulacan. He was lonely and, finding no privacy in his uncle’s house, discovered the quiet time and solace he longed for in, of all places, a cemetery, a few steps away from where he lived. It was there where he indulged in his teenage angst and came up with some of his immortal songs in his younger days.

He wanted to sing, do recordings, concerts and come out on TV but he felt that he was not the type who could become a matinee idol or a pop star that the times were looking for. He says half-jokingly that it was only when he saw Rico J. Puno make it big that he mustered the courage to go for his dream since he saw that he was better-looking than his good friend.

In the ‘70s and ‘80s, Rey Valera’s songs were a staple of radio. We heard his songs on air, even if we were not looking for them. His hits have been recorded by many artists, but among his favorite versions are those recorded by Sharon Cuneta and arranged by Willy Cruz, a songwriter-musician-arranger Rey and I both hold in the highest esteem and admiration. The album is called “Sharon Cuneta sings Rey Valera.” The songs on the album are often used as movie themes. Today, his work continues to be heard as soundtrack themes for telenovelas, ensuring a new generation of fans for his vintage songs.

By all accounts and measures, Rey is a successful singer-songwriter. His albums have sold gold and platinum and he has built up a library of hits that are his OPM legacy.

And it seems that is both good and bad. There are problems that come with success.

When I asked him if he was still actively writing songs, Rey answered in the negative, but he said he knows he can pick it up again if he wants to, although at the moment, he seems to be experiencing writer’s block. The problem, he says, is he can’t seem to decide if he still wants to continue writing. He isn’t sure if he wants to just rest on his laurels or have a “second wind.” After all, his kids are now done with school, he has a house that’s been paid for, and enough to live on for the rest of his days in his hometown in Bulacan.

But probing more deeply, I sensed that the reasons he was holding back were: 1) he wasn’t sure if there is still a market for new songs he may wish to create, and 2) whether the young kids would buy his stuff.

Acceptance is every artist’s issue, and it is more acute when one has not been actively on the scene for sometime and has seen the landscape change totally. There is the haunting, unsavory image of the aging or over the hill artist forcing himself on an audience that has moved on, or a new audience that prefers something else.

I told him that I, like everyone else, also faced the same dilemma but I felt that, beyond my fears and anxieties, the issue was quite simple. A singer sings. A runner runs. A cook cooks. A songwriter writes songs. It’s as simple as that, as simple as night following day. The less we let fear in and demand that certain conditions be met before we do what we do well, the easier it becomes and the better it will be. I told him about my recent solo album called “Laro’ which I made primarily to delight myself. The marketing aspect is not my concern but I hope that the people who are tasked to do the job will take care of that. In other words, the primary duty of an artist is to simply show up and just do it.

I detected something light up inside him, which he summarized by saying, “If you are a songwriter and you do not write songs, you are not doing your job.”

It was a great 90-minute session during which people sent tweets, comments and questions. The sincerity of this artist and the songwriting skills he has honed through the years are impossible to ignore. I also had the pleasure of singing some of his songs with him that night. The young people in the room were completely mesmerized by his music and his comments throughout the show. He still has a lot to teach and share with the younger generation.

I was singing Kung Kailangan Mo Ako to myself on my ride home that evening. An apt song from Rey Valera which this new generation can serenade back to artists like him.

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