aka Jose Mari Chan

FHM (Philippines) - - Contents -

T he “ber” months are here. And you know what that means…

It’s Christ­mas, even though it’s re­ally three months away. All of us can’t be both­ered to ex­plain why we do it this way, it just is. So we put out our list: the gifts we’d want to give, what we’d want to have; who we’d give them to, who we’d re­ceive them from. We an­tic­i­pate the mer­ry­mak­ing and the par­ties. We feel warm think­ing about tra­di­tions: Noche Buena,

Sim­bang Gabi. We brace for the com­ing of Jose Mari Chan… Say that again? Jose Mari Chan.

Let’s sing Merry Christ­mas, and a happy hol­i­day, this sea­son may we never for­get, the love we have for Je­sus…

You know the next lines, and you are singing along.

Yes, Jose Mari Chan is not only re­spon­si­ble for cer­ti­fied Pinoy pop clas­sics your tito is crazy about in videoke, and for re­leas­ing the two best-sell­ing records in OPM his­tory (Con­stant Change and Christ­mas in our Hearts), he also wrote some of the best known Filipino Christ­mas mu­sic. It’s hard to not to hear “Christ­mas in Our Hearts” or “A Per­fect Christ­mas” as they are played in malls, el­e­va­tors, and churches.

When we walked into his of­fice in Makati where his sugar busi­ness is lo­cated, Chan him­self was all bright and cheer­ful. He even had gifts for us at FHM—CDS of his best-sell­ing al­bums and… his Christ­mas records!

How do you feel about be­ing named “The Fa­ther of Filipino Christ­mas mu­sic?”

I have to protest about that. I don’t de­serve the tag. Christ­mas to me is a mean­ing­ful word and is at the cen­ter of our faith. To say na ka­pag Christ­mas kon­tro­lado ko

ang mga malls and the Christ­mas mu­sic they play might ap­pear as ego­is­tic and that I am an egob­loated artist. I don’t wel­come the tag. The very fact the songs get played is good enough adu­la­tion and an accolade. I don’t need the ti­tle of “Fa­ther of Christ­mas Mu­sic” to be hon­est. Just hear­ing the songs played and sung at Holy Mass, in the malls, or par­ties is a good feel­ing enough. It is grat­i­fy­ing.

How did you come up with “Christ­mas in Our Hearts”?

Af­ter the suc­cess of Con­stant Change [the first ever di­a­mond awarded al­bum—over 400,000 in ac­tual phys­i­cal sales—in Philip­pine mu­sic his­tory], my record la­bel sug­gested we do a Christ­mas al­bum. The first thing I did was com­pile all the mean­ing­ful Christ­mas songs of my younger years—songs like “Lit­tle Christ­mas Tree,” “May the Good Lord Bless You and Keep You” and even songs like The Car­pen­ters’ “Merry Christ­mas, Dar­ling” to name a few. But the la­bel said we needed to record an orig­i­nal com­po­si­tion. So I submitted “Christ­mas in Our Hearts.” When the late Bella Tan [Univer­sal Records owner] first heard it, she said it sounded like a Chris­tian song in­stead of a pop song and that ra­dio wouldn’t play it. At the time, you needed your songs to be played on ra­dio to help pro­mote the al­bum. “You need a ro­man­tic Christ­mas song,” she said. In three days’ time, I wrote “A Per­fect Christ­mas” and she now felt that was the car­rier sin­gle. When the al­bum was launched in Oc­to­ber of 1990, she was al­most sure ra­dio would pick “A Per­fect Christ­mas” but in re­al­ity, ra­dio picked “Christ­mas in Our Hearts”.

Is it a must for all record­ing artists to record a Christ­mas song?

It’s up to the artists, I sup­pose. It sure is nice, though. Pop songs have lim­ited lives.

Con­stant Change had sev­eral hits that all get played up to this day, but maybe not as much [as they did then]. But Christ­mas mu­sic, you know when the sea­son ar­rives,

it will get played. There is a time­less­ness to Christ­mas mu­sic. I am for­tu­nate enough to have done that. Twice in fact.

That was “Go­ing Home to Christ­mas”, recorded 22 years af­ter “Christ­mas in Our Hearts.” Why did it take so long to do that?

You don’t plan for th­ese things. They just hap­pen or­gan­i­cally, nat­u­rally. “Christ­mas in Our Hearts” fea­tured a duet with my daugh­ter, Liza. Now for “Go­ing Home to Christ­mas,” I not only got to do a duet with Liza once more—and now she is all grown up—but I also recorded with my sons, Joe and Mike, who are with the sons of Ce­leste Le­gaspi and Sam­pa­guita in a band called Gen­er­a­tions. And, I also had a duet with my grand­daugh­ter!

Have you ever had this ex­pe­ri­ence where you’re in an el­e­va­tor and your Christ­mas mu­sic is play­ing?

Yes, I have. There’s a mix­ture of ela­tion and well, I am not sure, shy­ness be­cause peo­ple look at me. I smile back but I am not re­ally sure what to say.

“That’s me singing?”

Ha ha! I can never do that. But I do feel elated be­cause it is a com­po­si­tion of mine and my com­po­si­tions are like my chil­dren.

Can you share any anec­dotes with your Christ­mas mu­sic?

(Thinks for a mo­ment) I can share two: I was in­vited to sing at a birth­day cel­e­bra­tion in Lanao del Sur. Look­ing at the au­di­ence, 90 per­cent of the au­di­ence were Mus­lims. I sang a lot of songs and they asked for more dur­ing the en­core. So I sang more. But the crowd was re­ally

in­cred­i­ble. They kept ask­ing for more. I sang a few more and even­tu­ally ran out of hits, I asked if they had any requests. And I was think­ing maybe they would ask for songs like “Michelle” by The Bea­tles. Imag­ine my sur­prise when they re­quested for “Christ­mas in Our Hearts”. Now it was May and we’re right in the mid­dle of summer. Fortunately, I had the mi­nus one and sang it. The part where my daugh­ter sings… the whole gym sang. It was in­cred­i­ble and I feel my hair stand­ing up when I re­call it. It showed me that that the song has tran­scended re­li­gion and it is rel­e­vant to most peo­ple. It is one of my best mo­ments ever as a per­former. The other was at Carnegie Hall where my daugh­ter Liza hap­pened to be a guest. It wasn’t Christ­mas but we were forced to sing “Christ­mas in Our Hearts.” And we got a long stand­ing ova­tion for that.

Let’s talk about song­writ­ing on gen­eral, as you have writ­ten quite a vol­ume of hits.

Let me start with a caveat—i don’t read notes. I never learned to re­ally play the pi­ano and only know a few chords on the gui­tar.

That’s amaz­ing! So how do you go about writ­ing all th­ese songs?

I don’t know (laughs). I think of a melody. I have al­ways said words and mu­sic should have a per­fect marriage. Words should fit the melody. Melody should il­lus­trate what the words are say­ing. They are as com­ple­men­tary as hus­band and wife. One can­not live with­out the other. Is that a bit too much? Ha ha!

Our ed­i­tor in chief, who reveres you as his mu­si­cal hero, thinks “Can We Just Stop and Talk Awhile?” is a per­fect pop song. Tell us how you wrote that.

(Hums the in­tro­duc­tion of the song) In 1972 or ’73, [record ex­ec­u­tive] Vic Del Rosario called me. He said there was in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tion in Ja­pan called the Yamaha World Pop­u­lar Song Fes­ti­val”and they were ask­ing for entries from the Philip­pines. Vic was pre­par­ing sev­eral songs from dif­fer­ent Filipino song­writ­ers and he asked me if I had any. I came up with one quickly and that was “Can We Just Stop and Talk Awhile?”. It took me three days, I think? I just thought of the melody, added some lines and be­gan com­pos­ing it. Now I al­ways sing my songs to my wife [Mary Ann] and her ini­tial com­ment was, “the ti­tle is too long”. She was used to my songs hav­ing short ti­tles. And she felt it wasn’t go­ing to be a hit. And it wasn’t the first time that some­one said a song I wrote won’t be a hit. God gave me the tal­ent, I guess.

Do you have new songs that you are ready to un­leash on the world? Espe­cially at a younger au­di­ence?

Right now, no. I am re­al­is­tic that the mu­sic that is con­tem­po­rary now has a dif­fer­ent sound. If I in­sist on writ­ing the songs I know and am known for, I will not sell. To the young peo­ple, my mu­sic is old-fash­ioned. On top of that, com­pact disc sales in the coun­try have dropped dra­mat­i­cally. Kids nowa­days down­load mu­sic or share files. There is no in­cen­tive to pro­duce new ma­te­rial un­less it is con­tem­po­rary.

Do you know that vinyl is mak­ing a come­back?

It is?

Yes. Last year alone, vinyl sales topped the last big numbers in 1989. And there has been a huge de­mand for OPM records, too.

Fan­tas­tic news! Are the mil­len­ni­als buy­ing?

Yes, they are. We tried buy­ing an orig­i­nal vinyl record of Con­stant Change. Ex­cept that it cost P15,000!

That is too much money to spend on one record!

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