Rico J

Sun Star Bacolod - - Opinion -

SINGER Rico J. Puno is dead. When peo­ple talked about it on Face­book, I thought it was just one of the many hoaxes that abound in so­cial me­dia. So I checked the more re­li­able tra­di­tional me­dia and the re­port was con­firmed. The orig­i­nal Pilipino mu­sic (OPM) icon died of heart fail­ure. He was 65.

I don’t pre­tend to know the man. All that I know of him was his mu­sic, one that got pop­u­lar at a time when mem­bers of my gen­er­a­tion were still in their for­ma­tive years. That is why Rico J and his con­tem­po­raries will al­ways be re­mem­bered be­cause they col­ored our per­cep­tion of those times when we were young and in­no­cent.

When Rico J first burst into the Philip­pine mu­sic scene, I was a boy grow­ing up in Si­tio Kawayan in Barangay Sam­bag 2 in Cebu City. I re­mem­ber us kids talk­ing pas­sion­ately about him and his mu­sic—no, not only him but also Yoyoy Vil­lame, Diego Sal­vador and Es­te­ban Es­cud­ero. We were more of ra­dio buffs than TV fa­nat­ics for a rea­son. We grew up in a com­mu­nity where not many owned tele­vi­sion sets.

The song that at­tracted us most to Rico J was his cover of Bar­bra Streisand’s “The Way We Were.” His voice was unique be­cause it was gravely and soul­ful. But it was how he added el­e­ments to the song that at­tracted mil­lions of lis­ten­ers to it. Who could not re­late to the line, “Na­ma­masyal pa sa Luneta, na walang pera”? Just like that and a classy song be­came a “pang­masa” an­them.

In a way, Rico J helped usher in the OPM, as the in­cor­po­ra­tion of Ta­ga­log lyrics into an English song soon gave way to a flood of orig­i­nal Filipino mu­sic com­po­si­tions. He him­self would cover more English songs but soon crossed over to Filipino songs like “Buhat,” “Dam­damin,” “Lupa,” “May Bukas Pa,” “Ang Tao’y Marupok,” etc. They were haunt­ing bal­lads that bor­dered the gospel song genre (in­deed, “Diyos ang Pag-ibig” could qual­ify as one).

He was, of course, not a saint. There was a rough­ness and naugh­ti­ness in his char­ac­ter that soon be­came known as Rico J the per­son be­came more iden­ti­fi­able than his songs. This side of him was re­flected in songs like “Ma­cho Gwapito,” “Car­tada Diyes” and “Magka­suyo Buong Gabi.” He be­came not only a Juke­box King but also a sought-af­ter per­former in the ‘70s and ‘80s, earn­ing the tag, “To­tal En­ter­tainer.”

When the pop­u­lar­ity of OPM waned, he and other icons of the ‘70s and ‘80s like Marco Si­son, Nonoy Zuñiga, Basil Valdez, Rey Valera, etc. brought their acts to the con­cert stage, com­bin­ing what­ever re­mained of their star power for their fans and the lat­ter gen­er­a­tions to sa­vor. Rico J be­came known for his green jokes and the over­all naugh­ti­ness.

But al­ways, there was the voice and the songs. Rico J be­longed to a pe­riod when singers were known more for the unique­ness of their voice than for the mastery of tech­nique. In a way, he was more like the Juke­box Kings of old like Ed­die Pere­g­rina and Vic­tor Wood and com­pa­ra­ble to his con­tem­po­raries Si­son, Zuñiga, Valdez, An­thony Castelo, etc.

Filipino mu­sic hasn’t pro­duced a singer like Rico J in a long while, one that would help change the way Filipino mu­sic is be­ing ap­pre­ci­ated. With his pass­ing, the wait has be­come even more com­pelling./sun­star Cebu

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