As Christmas preparation is well underway in the Philippines, the radio air waves and mall sound systems are playing the familiar, sweet songs of Jose Mari Chan, the veteran singer-songwriter’s whose voice is all but synonymous with the season.
Chan first burst onto the music scene in the late ’60s with his debut album, Deep In My Heart, and the titular single is still played on the radio today. He has since released 15 albums, winning awards for his romantic ballads and representing the country in international competitions along the way, with some of his songs featured in television commercials.
Growing up in Iloilo, Chan was always interested in music, but his immigrant father made it clear to him that singing and songwriting alone wouldn’t be enough to raise a family, and got him involved in the family’s sugar trading business.
Most of the memes are amusing and complimentary, and I appreciate it that millennials have taken to my Christmas songs
Now over 70, Chan sits as chairman and CEO of his own sugar refinery, and also maintains a vast collection of CDs and vinyl records. An avid reader, he was in the middle of All About History: Crusades, The Titanic Clash of Cultures in the Holy Land when we interviewed him.
Chan is also a doting grandfather who loves to take his grandchildren on trips abroad. A devout Catholic, he keeps God at the helm of his family, work and musical life. Here, we stop and talk a while with the legendary crooner.
Remember that a song should be a good marriage of words and music, complementing each other
You wrote a jingle for Philippine Airlines in the 1970s. Tell us about that.
I have written a lot of commercial jingles over the years but none of them have come close to being as iconic as “Love at Thirty Thousand Feet”, which Philippine Airlines used for nearly 40 years.
People have said that melody gives them a lift and a feeling of soaring into the skies. That’s the kind of reward that a songwriter gets when his music is appreciated – when his song creates a mood that enhances and inspires.
You’ve been part of the industry since 1966. Many big hits came out after that, especially during martial law. Why do you think that is?
The martial law era was excellent for OPM [Original Pinoy Music] because the annual Metropop Song Festivals then encouraged local songwriters to bring out their best, hone their craft and go out and compete.
Also during that time, radio stations were mandated to play four or five local Filipino songs per hour, so listeners had greater exposure to local music. Today, digital technology has dramatically changed the marketing of popular music.
Today, digital technology has dramatically changed the marketing of popular music.
There is much less OPM, being released by a much smaller group of recording companies. Radio stations play more foreign songs, and it has been extremely difficult for local songwriters.