Lea Salonga sings Filipino folk faves

A National Artist and a living legend, Maestro Ryan Cayabyab and world-renowned theater thespian Lea Salonga put their genius together to come up with an album that celebrates the Filipino culture through folk songs.

“I guess you can call this a labor of passion and love,” says Lea Salonga, referring to her latest music project, the album Bahaghari, produced by our National Artist for Music, Maestro Ryan “Mr. C” Cayabyab.

“We (Lea’s management) were approached by GLP Music (founders Angela Jackson and Rex Niswander) to make an album to add to an existing series of albums for children, the first one being Coloreando, which is the Spanish album that won a Latin Grammy award (for Best Latin Children’s Album in 2014), and the other being Aquarela, made by the Brazilian Master Paulinho Garcia,” the international music star relates. “Now we added this third in the series called Bahaghari.”

The first two albums, Lea relates, were compilations of songs from the artists’ childhood. She felt that hers would have to be similar, so most of the songs that she chose were ones she grew up with. However, she felt an obligation to represent as much of the languages of the Philippines as possible.

LEA is presented with flowers by the Makati Shangri-La general manager Greg Findlay.

The result of the music collaboration, as Curve Entertainment Inc. and GLP Music describe, is a collection that “focuses on presenting the rich and colorful music of the Philippines to the world.”

Described as “a cultural celebration,” the album contains 15 traditional folk songs representing various regions and dialects — Tagalog, Ilocano, Kapampangan, Bicolano, Bisaya and Ilonggo.” This is because Lea believes the Philippines, “is not just Tagalog.”

In a statement, Niswander explains, “GLP Music produces music that would introduce children to world languages and world cultures. We were focused on world music, music in languages other than English, but we had not considered an album in the languages of the Philippines. That all changed when we met Lea Salonga. Thanks to her, we began to appreciate the significance of an album that would present the linguistic and cultural diversity of the Philippines.”

Lea shares, “To sing in another dialect was difficult, challenging, but was such a wonderful experience to do. When we were first approached, they said they wanted it in Filipino. I said you can’t come up with an album on Filipino folk music without including the various dialects in the Philippines.”

“There is a large Filipino diaspora around the world. They have very tight ties to their homeland, yet many children in the diaspora don’t learn Tagalog or one of the other languages. We hope this album can become a resource for families, to inspire interest in these languages and their wonderful songs,” Jackson states.

Lea relates that it was Mr. C who compiled a list of songs and they narrowed it down to 15 songs. “The songs were chosen based on oral tradition or passed down through the generation. Let’s look at the songs that we knew. And then we were looking at dialects …And then we were able to pick out the ones that I knew really well or ones that I could sort of jump into…Things that were kind of buried in my brain. Between the two of us, we were able to narrow it down,” she says.

THE Broadway star shares that she chose songs that she grew up with for the collaborative album.

“The songs had to be varied in subject, in emotion and in tempo and rhythm,” Cayabyab notes. “The collection could not all be slow songs or only celebratory songs. We had to have a good representation not only of language but of a variety of subjects and emotions. This would hopefully make for a lovely aural spread.”

It took just four days to record the songs, but the entire process took almost two years.
Cayabyab’s deep knowledge of Filipino music proved key to the project. He was able to make the album musically interesting not only with the diverse selection of the songs’ languages, but also with the diverse line-up of arrangers that he has tapped for each song, which include Lea’s brother, Gerard.

“The arrangements and instrumentation were kept simple,” Lea adds. “Mr. C looked for young arrangers to give the songs a more millennial sound. Those musical arrangers had sound idioms that they could share.”

They also had people “on call” to help them learn the proper way to pronounce the words and explain the meanings and contexts of the words.

“Because the arrangements were all so different from one another, I needed to stylistically adapt my vocals to fit them while holding on to my own voice and how I sing,” reflects Lea.

“The more playful stuff, like ‘Pobreng Alindahaw,’ was just so much fun to do in the studio, and some of the more dramatic music, like ‘Matud Nila,’ was straight from the heart. The melodies are just as informative as the lyrics, so I latched on to them.”

“It was just a most enjoyable process. It just felt like we were doing our part in preserving our local dialects by doing this,” Lea reveals.

“I was told that they don’t teach these songs in schools anymore,” Mr. C adds. “I believe in GLP’s mission and vision, which is to use language to introduce cultures, to use music and words of the young, traditional and folk songs that are sung by young people.”

“This project felt like the perfect opportunity to introduce the languages of my country to a bigger world,” Lea explains. “A world that might not be aware of the intricacies and differences between these languages. Many of these tongues feel very foreign and strange, and since there’s always a danger that these languages won’t be spoken by future generations, there was a need on our part to preserve them in some way.”

She adds, “Jumping into this adventure, I kind of acquainted my brain with a little bit more about what’s here. It was fun to do!”

Making the album germinated the idea that more Filipino albums may come, perhaps geared toward more adult audiences. “There’s more music to be had in each of these regions that are universal to our country in terms of subject matter,” Lea reveals.

“An anthology of Filipino songs!” Mr. C adds.

We can hardly wait.

Bahaghari is now available in Spotify, iTunes, Apple Music, Deezer and all digital platforms worldwide. Physical CDs with a special booklet containing cultural notes written by award-winning writer and director Floy Quintos, and original lyrics with English translations will be available at local record stores beginning 17 December 2018.

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