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When Original Pilipino Music (OPM) Ruled the Airwaves

The latter half of the 1970s is considered by many as the golden age of Original Pilipino Music (OPM), a truly exciting time for the Philippine music industry when folk rock, pinoy hard rock, pinoy pop and disco ruled the local music charts and air waves.

This week we feature two OPM artists who made beautiful, timeless music in the late 1970s, music that is still being played today on the radio, television, movies and stage: singer, actress, producer Celeste Legaspi and singer, songwriter, producer Rey Valera.

Celeste Legaspi

Artistry truly runs in the genes of Celeste Legaspi, her being the daughter of National Artist in Painting Cesar Legaspi. What was it like growing up with a father who is a National Artist?

“At first I didn’t know that my father was an artist, like he was working like any father. The difference was there was this really huge easel beside our dining table and he would work on it,” said Legaspi.

While Celeste Legaspi was growing up in an environment exposed to the art of painting, how did she get interested in music?

“Actually, when I was a little girl, I was drawing and then making art in front of the mirror. I started singing in my kindergarten years and got into theatre at a very young age. At St. Pauls College Manila, Doctor Felicidad Mendoza got me to wok in community theatre and I got to do moro-moro and komediya. Training back then was different because of that,” said Legaspi.

The song “Gaano Kita Kamahal,” which was released in 1977, is one of Celeste Legaspi’s trademark songs. It came from her Ako at Si Celeste long play album which was released by Vicor Music Records in 1977. Her album got a Gold Record Award and featured three Gold Singles: “Saranggola ni Pepe,” “Tuliro” and “Gaano Kita Kamahal.”

While the iron was still hot, Legaspi followed it up in 1978 by recording and releasing her Celeste, Celeste album on Universal Records and it featured the popular hit single “Mamang Sorbetero” which also gave her another Gold Record Award.

Legaspi’s Bagong Plaka, Lumang Kanta long play album which was released by Universal Records in 1980 and the follow-up album Bagong Plaka, Lumang Kanta Vol. 2 released in 1982, both earned double platinum awards.

Legaspi, now considered by many OPM fans and peers as a music icon, has received countless accolades and awards. Like the Outstanding Performance Award from the World Popular Song Festival held in Tokyo, Japan in 1976 where she sang “Puso Mong Nagmamahal,” the Aliw Award for Entertainer of the Yea in 1978, and the Outstanding Women in the Nation’s Service Award in 1989.

In 2010, Legaspi and noted stage director Zenaida Amador, were the first recipients of the Natatanging Gawad Buhay Award, a lifetime achievement award from the Philippine Legitimate Stage Artists Group (Philstage) for their lifetime achievements and contributions to the professionalization of Philippine Performing Arts.

Legaspi was very active in the opposition during the Martial Law years, going out of the recording studio and joining rallies. She was also a staunch supporter of Cory Aquino when she ran for president. What was it like during those days?

“When Cory Aquino ran for president in 1986 we were trying to help raise funds. The elections happened and talo daw si Cory and then finally People Power happened. The first night of People Power we were there na. When we arrived at EDSA, kaunti pa ang mga tao. I think it was director Lino Brocka who called and said they needed help at Radyo Veritas. So we went to Radyo Veritas and put on a show there. Then pumunta kami sa Channel 4 where I got to be head of the kitchen brigade there,” said Legaspi.

Legaspi said the magic time for her is when she performs in front of an audience and her connection with the people seeing her perform live.

“The secret is always being relaxed. Then the audience and you can be together in some kind of a special bond. It is really special and for me singing is like praying. I feel that is when I am closer to God,” said Legaspi.

Rey Valera

The song “Ako Si Superman,” released in early 1977, launched the career of Rey Valera in the 1970s. He has been called Jukebox King and the King of Tagalog Songs. Valera has also received numerous awards, including gold record awards for popular hit singles “Naaalala Ka” and “Kung Kailangan Mo Ako,” and gold album awards for Rey Valera’s Greatest Hits and Walang Kapalit. Valera also represented the Philippines as songwriter in the First Asean Song Festival held in Malaysia in 1981.

How did Valera get into the groove of writing songs and performing them in front of an audience? Was he surrounded by music when he was growing up as a kid?

“Yung nanay ko noong araw kapag may kaibigan siyang dumating sa bahay, tatawagin niya ako at pakakantahin sa akin yung paboritong kanta niya: “Tuwing lulubog ang araw aking mahal, larawan mo ang aking natatanaw,” said Valera.

“Nung ako ay nagging teenager, naghahanap ako ng kanta na pwede itugtog sa guitar. Ang unang nagturo sa akin ay ang ate ko at ang tinuro niya sa akin ay “Leaving on a Jet Plane” nila Peter, Paul and Mary. And then from there nag-explore ako nang ibat ibang kanta. Pumasok sa buhay ko ang the Beatles, David Gates ng Bread, Barry Manilow. Na-influence ng mga iyon at naghalo-halo sa utak ko ang mga iyon,” said Valera.

How was Rey Valera discovered and who in the local music industry was instrumental in giving him that big break that would change his life forever?

“I had no intention of being a singer. Ang nangyari itong si Chito Ilacad ng Vicor Records ang tanong niya sa akin, paano at saan studio ko daw ginawa ang mga kantang ito. Ang sabi ko sa kanya sa garahe naming ko ginawa at pagbalik namin sa Manila, sabi ni Ilacad na sa Vicor Records na lang ako magtrabaho,” said Valera.

Another big break in Valera’s career was when he met 12-year-old Sharon Cuneta. This is what he remembers of that fateful meeting.

“Alanganin si Sharon noon na kumanta ng love song or nursery rhyme kasi hindi na siya bata. So ang nangyari kay Sharon ay sinulat ko yung kantang ‘Mister DJ’ para sa kanya. So nung lumabas ang ‘Mister DJ’ natambahan at natabunan ang second single ko na may pamagat na ‘Naaalala Ka.’

“It took about six months after sumikat yung kanta ni Sharon na ‘Mister DJ’ bago ang mga DJs at radio announcers were asking kung sino ang gumawa ng ‘Naaalala Ka,’ na meron palang single si Rey Valera. So they started playing ‘Naaalala Ka’ after that,” said Valera.

Some songs written by Valera are still popular today and have been used as theme songs in local soap operas, movies and tele-series, like the song “Pangako Sa Iyo.”

“Ginagamit madalas ang kantang ‘Pangako Sa Iyo’ sa mga sikat na tele-novela. Kumita ako sa kantang ito at ang bahay ko ngayon, galing ito sa royalties sa tele-series na Pangako Sa Iyo.

How about the songwriting of Valera, what is his signature style and how does he come up with the unforgettable songs that he constantly writes?

“Ang tip ko sa kanila at ang palagi ko sinasabi tungkol sa mga kanta na iyon, although Rey Valera ang nakalagay sa mga kantang iyon, sa audience natin talaga nanggaling ang mga kantang iyon. Kapag guimagawa ako ng kanta, I put myself in someone else’s shoes. She or he and I become one. Whoever it is who gets to hear the song, ang sasabihin niya sa saliri niya ay it is about me, it is me. And when I get it, it becomes theirs. Magiging kanya na iyon,” said Valera.

Rey Valera’s magic is in the songs he has written and continues to write to this day. Ever the prolific artist he continues to stage concerts in the Philippines and abroad, like his recent reunion concerts with fellow OPM icons and a tribute to legendary Pinoy songwriters along with Ogie Alcasid and Louie Ocampo.

By Jose K. Lirios