SAN FRANCISCO — The name Raymundo Cipriano Pujante Cayabyab may not ring a bell, but that’s the full name of the Maestro or Mr. C every Filipino certainly recognizes.
Mr. C and his Ryan Cayabyab Singers (RCS) recently regaled Filipinos in the Francisco Bay Area as part of their U.S West Coast Tour, which also took them to Los Angeles, Glendale, San Diego and Las Vegas to rousing receptions by Filipino American audiences.
Ryan Cayabyab is one of the four children of opera singer and University of the Philippines music professor Celerina Venson Pujante and Alberto Austria Cayabyab.
In email interviews, Cayabyab revealed that he never considered any obstacles on his path to musical success, as he didn’t even think of pursuing music as profession.
“I only loved what I was doing and never imagined it could be my lifetime career. I learned everything hands on and I never had high expectations.”
He knew early on how difficult it is to have a career as a musician because his mother was an opera singer and professor at the UP College of Music. She had cautioned his father not to allow any of their kids to pursue a career as a musician. She died of cancer at age 43. “Her career as an opera singer was just taking off. I was six years old,” recounted Cayabyab
Cayabyab was only four when he started piano lessons, surrounded by ten music student lady boarders on the UP campus. He grew up listening to Filipino art songs, opera arias, European art songs and lieds. His mom also brought him along to rehearsals at Abelardo Hall.
After his mom’s death, Cayabyab discovered a box full of piano pieces left by their boarders. He pored over the manuscripts, read the pieces he could play, and by the time he was 14, he could already play Bach preludes and Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” solo piano reduction.
This put him in good stead when, at age 16, he auditioned for a position as pianist/accompanist with a bank choral group that eventually hired him believing he was already 18.
“It was a burning desire to look for a job so I could help my family, and my dad financially. I was young, and had a lot of courage. This job paid my way through my first two years in college.”
At age 17, while taking business administration major in accounting (at UP), he trained with the now world famous Philippine Madrigal Singers.
“I joined them in one production in 1972 where I met the star of the show, Victor Laurel, a popular movie and theater actor at the time, at a super production at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP),” Cayabyab remembered.
In a separate email interview, Laurel recalled that they were doing “The Best Of Broadway” produced by Conchita Sunico and directed by Zeneida Amador. The orchestra was The Manila Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Maestro Oscar Yatco, with the Madrigal Singers, including Maestra Andrea Veneracion, and The Bayanihan under “Mommy” Lucresia Urtula and the great Baby Barredo.
Laurel said he chanced upon the teenage Ryan Cayabyab alone in one of the CCP rehearsals, sitting at the piano playing with great bravura and excellence, “”Rhapsody In Blue” by George Gershwin.
“I was impressed, asked him to vocalize me for my part in the musical, and couldn’t help asking him if he could come to my home and play for my parents,” Laurel continued.
“Ryan played ‘Rhapsody In Blue’ again in our home in front of my parents who listened in amazement. When he finished, Dad wondered why Ryan was taking up business administration and accountancy in UP and not music. Dad offered him a scholarship. Ryan was dumbfounded at the instant offer but later accepted it, and that was the beginning of Ryan’s life in music.”
Later, it was Cayabyab’s grand prize victory at the first Metro Manila Pop Music Festival in 1977, with his hit song “Kay Ganda ng Ating Musika” sung by Hajji Alejandro, that he considers the big turning point in his career.
“Metropop gave me the break to eventually cross over to become a songwriter. It also introduced me to a host of other songwriters and singers like Freddie Aguilar, Louie Ocampo, Odette Quesada, to name a few.”
Those singers as well as Florante, Rey Valera, APO Hiking Society, Tito Vic and Joey, the Garcia brothers of the Hotdog Band, Hajji Alejandro, Sharon Cuneta, and Basil Valdez in time would be interpreting Cayabyab songs to huge success.
“Kay Ganda ng Ating Musika” also won in the Seoul Song Festival in Korea. Later on three other songs of his won various international competitions: “Paraiso” in the Tokyo Music Festival; “Mama” in the Voice of Asia Song Festival in Kazakstan; “Tayo Na” in the Asian Broadcaster’s Union Song Festival.
“I think ‘Kay Ganda’ paved the way for my other successes as a songwriter. Winning in Famas, in Awit, in FAP for various film music and recordings also helped secure my reputation as a professional composer/songwriter.”
Among his contemporaries, Cayabyab says that his favorite Filipino composers include George Canseco, Willy Cruz and Louie Ocampo, and he thinks that the songs and melodies of Jose Mari Chan, whom he worked with as an arranger, are beautiful.
Cayabyab believes that it is important for Filipino musical artists to showcase their talents abroad. He said Smokey Mountain traveled to Europe, the USA and other Asian capitals (Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Jakarta) and eventually settled in Tokyo for a year to show off the best of Philippine artistry, both in singing and original music.
“This is what we are doing in Ryan Cayabyab Singers (RCS). We hone our performing talents to an extreme degree and concentrate in performing original Pilipino music wherever it takes us. That is what we have been bringing to the U.S.”
Cayabyab was recently surprised to discover in YouTube that his “Da Coconut Nut” is sung by many choirs. The Baylor University Men’s Choir of Waco, Texas sang it as an appreciation for the service of an airline crew, and their video has been viewed 13.5 millions times.
Cayabyab says he doesn’t mind and even feels honored that many mistake it to be the work another master songwriter Yoyoy Villame who was known for his novelty songs.
But “Kay Ganda ng Ating Musika” will always be the Philippine music industry’s flagship song, and Cayabyab would like to be remembered for his desire to promote Filipino music, and as someone who pushed new Filipino songwriters to create more beautiful, better-structured and more relevant songs for their country.
“To young aspiring composers/singers who seek to follow in my footsteps learn, learn, learn. Study, study, study everything you can about songwriting or music making. Be patient. Success is not what one should aim for, but aim to be the best, be an authority, gain respect and aspire for personal happiness. Everything else follows. Also, be kind and humble all the time,” Cayabyab advised.
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