MANILA, Philippines – Highly respected veteran singer-songwriter Jose Mari Chan once again makes local music history by becoming the first Filipino artist to be honored by an all-American production with a tribute album, “The Manhattan Collection: The Songs of Jose Mari Chan.”
At the press launch of his album held on April 12, Chan recalled at length how the project came to be. It all started about four years ago when Renen de Guia, head of Ovation Productions, introduced Chan to the multi-Grammy winning jazz band Manhattan Transfer member, Janis Siegel.
“In the course of our conversation, she [Siegel] found out that I was a singer-songwriter. She was curious to hear my songs so I said, ‘Okay Janis. I’m going to send you back to the States a stack of my CDs'," Chan shared.
Soon enough, he thought of asking Siegel to rearrange one of his songs to give it "a fresh approach." He apparently gave Siegel songs from his albums “Golden Collection,” “Constant Change,” “Christmas in our Hearts,” “Thank You Love,” “Heart’s Journey,” and his collection of jingles, "Strictly Commercial."
A month later, Chan received an email from Siegel in the United States informing him that three of his songs caught her interest.
“She didn’t tell me which titles were these, and she said, ‘I want to arrange these,’ maybe [get] a local singer in New York to sing it. That’s an exciting prospect,” he said. The process went on until there was enough material for an album, thus giving birth to “The Manhattan Connection: The Songs of Jose Mari Chan.”
Looking at the album’s track list, one will be quick to notice that his more familiar hits didn’t make it to the cut—save for “Constant Change.”
Chan explained, “I completely gave her [Siegel] blanket authority, so she personally handpicked these songs," adding that their choices were "a matter of taste."
Reiterating numerous times that he did not have any say with the production, he revealed, “In the process of recording these songs, I never knew who the singers were [mostly either Grammy-winners or nominees] and I certainly did not hear the songs until they were finished."
But the result, he said, made him very happy and called it “a marvelous surprise.”
“It is like telling you that 10 of my children, [because] my songs are like my children, have now attained their master’s degree… That’s how it feels about my songs na hindi naging popular,” Chan shared.
Apart from “Constant Change” (performed by Nic Bearde) the 12-track album includes “Like Night & Day” (Roger Treece and Lauren Kinhan), “Thank You, Love” (Julie Hardy), “I Have Found My World in You” (Kellylee Evans), “A Heart’s Journey” (Leo Sidran), “Stay, My Love” (Nic Bearde,) “Easier Said Than Done” (Kellylee Evans), “Love Lost” (Lisa Fischer), “Walking in the Moonlight” (Theo Bleckmann and Laurel Massé), “So I’ll Go” (Laurel Massé, Janis Siegel and Lauren Kinham), “Spellbound” (Miles Griffith) and a reprise of “Constant Change.”
Chan, who celebrates his 44th year in the recording industry this year, strikes another first as “The Manhattan Connection: The Songs of Jose Mari Chan” becomes the first album by a local artist to be marketed in Starbucks stores nationwide—which meant having the songs and the album approved by the coffee franchise’s head office in Seattle.
But Starbucks Philippines’ Chairman and President Eduardo Lopez Jr., said that the release of Chan’s album in their stores was made possible upon their “strong recommendation.”
“This is the first time we are doing this, only because we have the caliber of Mr. Chan,” he added.
Chan described tribute album as “a good shot in the arm for OPM” and a sort of wake-up call to local songwriters to produce world-class Filipino music.
Describing the local recording industry to be “in trouble” owing largely to piracy as “technology has overtaken itself,” Chan lamented that aside from the artists, the songwriters are among those suffering as well. As such, they aren't encouraged to write new songs anymore, unlike the days of prolific songwriters Ray Valera or the APO.
Chan also gave his opinion on current matters concerning the music industry, beginning with lowering the sales target for Gold, Platinum or Diamond status.
The veteran artist, whose “Constant Change” album was awarded Diamond (for 400,000 units sold) and "Christmas in Our Hearts” getting double Diamond honors, said that the lowering of standards happened “partly because the reality confronted us,” which, again, is piracy.
“I feel lang that it’s a little bit unfair to some of those artists in the past. For example, there’s a company that gets a Gold now for selling only 10,000 copies. In the past, there were artists that sold 400,000 copies. That’s considered a Diamond. But now, somebody would only get 200,000 and Diamond na siya."
“So it’s a little bit unfair to those people in the past kasi, why don’t you give them na lang [the award]? But no, they won’t do that because it doesn’t serve the purpose,” he said, adding that these awards “is a marketing tool to encourage music lovers” to buy records.
On the issue of suggested regulation for concerts of foreign acts, he opined, “You know, this is a free country. The Filipinos love music and there’s freedom to go to any show that they wanna watch… so we welcome these foreign artists.
“When these artists come, we get ideas from them. They challenge our creativity. I welcome these foreign artists coming to our shores. I do… But I also hope, sana, that our people will also support the local artists,” said he.
Aside from suggesting that local acts be employed to back foreign acts holding their concerts here as a show of support to local music industry, Chan brought up, “We have to export our songs.” He cited instances where our exports made waves abroad, such as when Freddie Aguilar’s “Anak,” the music of Victor Wood and Chan’s very own “Beautiful Girl” made it big in foreign shores many years ago.
“Recently, Christian Bautista revived the song and again became a hit. They’re gonna make it into a movie, so I’m waiting for my royalties,” he added, eliciting laughter from the press.
On contemporary music, which unfortunately “lost its sense of melody,” Chan commented that our local songwriters “patterned [them] after the hits that come from the US.”
“If you say that the songs are devoid of melody, blame it on the Americans,” he joked.
Prior to this, Chan shared, “I think kasi that a song is a personal message or a story. It may not be my story. It should be coherent, the words not only should rhyme, but it should deliver a message.”
On cover/revivals, Chan noted that “when [local artists] do cover versions of the songs, usually you follow the same arrangements… we call them clones.”
But he was quick to point out that he’s not demeaning cover versions in any way, “Because, I guess, they want to find the audience that… ‘this is the same song that you liked 20 years ago'.”
The successful hit maker said that he was simply “at the right place at the right time” when he began making a name for himself in the industry.
He added, “Siguro if ‘Beautiful Girl’ was released today, baka it would flop. Who knows?”
He also said that he, as a songwriter, was “constantly evolving” and that he’s “influenced by the music of the day.”
“But I’ve evolved in the sense that my lyrics are no longer of the genre… that, ‘Deep in my heart I love you/Deep in my heart I know that I know that we know’… I graduated from that,” he said, laughing.
Meanwhile, Chan declined to give his opinion on the latest Willie Revillame controversy to rock the entertainment industry, saying that he did not watch the particular episode with the “macho dancing” six-year old kid.
“You know, Willie have just been trying his very best… all I know is that Willie is a good showman and he tries his best, he works very hard at his craft. I think we need to have an open mind and look at the facts,” he stated.
As, it turned out, Chan is also thespian Lea Salonga’s godfather through marriage. Salonga got embroiled in the Revillame issue when she posted her thoughts on the incident on Twitter, which caught the ire of the TV host. Chan, however, opted to distance himself from it.
"This is not politics. The three of us are artists, and so we’ll talk about our art, our music. We don’t have to get involved in a bigger fight,” said he.
For now, there are no plans yet of releasing "The Manhattan Connection: The Songs of Jose Mari Chan” in the US; however, Chan is hoping for this possibility. He did disclose, however, his plans of releasing a new album before 2011 ends.