PLAYBOY: What’s the best party you ever went to?
CAYABYAB: I am not much of a party-goer. The best get togethers for me are usually cast parties for shows, especially if they happen immediately after the show. One of the best I have ever experienced was an after-show party at a piano bar in Davao. I brought the Ryan Cayabyab Singers and the RCS Band to the piano bar (I recently met the nice couple who owns the place)and after our concert at the Marco Polo we had our cast party. We had great food – plus the great fruits of Davao, including pomelos and durians. The best part of the party was when I went up the stage and held an impromptu Musikahan and asked the RCS to sing some songs. Music brings joy to a lot of people – especially if people are having fun, and beer flows freely.
PLAYBOY: What jobs have you held that had nothing to do with music?
PLAYBOY: You took your time graduating. How did it feel to finally get your diploma?
CAYABYAB: I didn’t feel anything special when I got my diploma. Only much later did I realize how important that U.P. diploma meant. But teaching at the University of the Philippines was more enjoyable and more fulfilling than receiving the diploma – however, I wouldn’t have taught in U.P. had I not finished my degree (it was a Bachelor of Music Major in Composition)
PLAYBOY: The University of the Philippines is in the headlines lately, with its Centennial. What can you tell us about your two decades of teaching there?
CAYABYAB: As I said, it was the most enjoyable and fulfilling time of my life. Learning from your students is as much gratifying as teaching them. Besides, a teacher never gets out of touch with reality while in the company of young people.
PLAYBOY: What do you think of the Maroons’ chances this season?
CAYABYAB: (Laughs heartily) Frankly, I don’t know. I am not much of a sports buff but I do hope they perform well for the alma mater celebrating its centennial.
PLAYBOY: Your mom told you not to get into a career of music. What would you say to her now?
CAYABYAB: She was right. A music course and a career in music is not a walk in the park. It is most difficult – if one is content in just being one of the many. But it is the happiest, most fulfilling career one could ever get into – and only if one is an expert, or an authority, or has made a real good name as a professional. As we musicians always say – we get to do what we love doing best and get paid for it besides. We get to travel free to most parts of the world, we get to perform for very important people, we get a lot of perks and get the recognition, besides. And to top it all, we get instant gratification from the applause of the audience. But first, you got to be more than good. You got to be one of the best in your chosen field.
PLAYBOY: When did you first discover your ability to entertain with your music?
CAYABYAB: As early as grade school – as a member of a church choir, and a grade school choir and a mixed choir with adults. And then I realized I could play on the piano anything I heard on the radio – and my teachers and classmates in high school would request me to play their favorite tunes!
PLAYBOY: Is it true you learned to play the harmonica in your youth?
CAYABYAB: (laughs) Maybe you read that before, I did have one, when I was maybe seven! it still exists somewhere! Well, it’s a very old harmonica, given to me by my ninong when I was about seven or eight years old. I never played it as a musician, playing a harmonica. You know, if you ask me to play it now, I’d play it the way I played it as a kid (demonstrates the noise) Hoohee hoohee hoohee! Just like that! I can’t even play a harmony on that harmonica!
PLAYBOY: You’ve performed in the most famous venues in the world. Which is the most memorable to you, and why?
CAYABYAB: At the Circus Maximus, Ceasar’s Palace in Las Vegas, 1980. Pilita (Corales) brought me along as her music director for a three week show as guest of Sammy Davis Jr.’s show. We did two shows a night, one at 1030PM and the other at 1AM. In between the shows I would take a nap on the sofa of Pilita’s dressing room, which had a receiving area. About 10 minutes before the second show, Mr. Davis would knock on the door and enter the room and wake me up. He would say, “wake up ‘fingers’, it’s showtime!” He called me ‘fingers’ because I had a peculiar way of conducting the Ceasar’s Palace orchestra with my fingers (laughs). Very memorable.
At the King’s Palace in Morocco (in Rabat) where we performed three times (1980, 1981, 1982). The feeling is indescribable. We were feted with a feast in Tangiers one time – we had roast lamb on our table (at least a whole lamb for 4 people each), we had tangerines and dates, and couscous – which I wasn’t fond of before! The most unforgettable experience was when the King summoned for the chef d’orchestre – that was me! (laughter, because we didn’t know any French and it took some time before we could identify the chef in our troupe). The ambassador hurriedly pulled me aside and told me to add “Your Majesty” to every answer, as in “Yes, your Majesty”, or “No, Your Majesty” and not to extend my hand to offer a handshake. When the King asked if I was the chef ‘d’orchestre I answered proudly, “Yes, Sir!” The ambassador nearly fainted. And I thought my head would roll…but then again, I thought the King was as human as you and I and Sammy.
The Carnegie Hall – both the recital hall and the main hall, at various times. The halls were nothing spectacular really…but I was in awe when I got to the dressing room of the main hall. It had a full grand piano and lots of famous people’s photos on the wall. My brother came a-visiting from Massachusetts and we played “Chopsticks” four-hands on the grand! Unforgettable!
PLAYBOY: What is your favorite collaboration to date?
CAYABYAB: I can name three of which I wrote the music of: 1. With Bienvenido Lumbera, doing Rama-Hari in 1980; 2. With Jose Javier Reyes doing the musical Katy in 1988; and 3. With Rolando Tinio doing the Filipino version of Portrait of an Artist as Filipino : Larawan The Musical in 1997. Working with great artists is exhilarating, to say the least. Both Rolando Tinio and Bien Lumbera are National Artists.
PLAYBOY: Tell us about the genesis of your TV show, Ryan Ryan Musikahan.
CAYABYAB: I got a phone call from a friend sometime in 1988, director Leo Rialp, who wanted to do a simple late night TV musical show with only a piano and select guest singers. I was summoned later to a meeting with Freddie Garcia, Johnny Manahan and Mariole Alberto and we discussed the format with Leo directing the show. Mr. Garcia said we would do one season only and left it at that. Since it was simple and not an expensive production, it graduated into a second season and a third…and before we knew it Ryan Ryan Musikahan was pushing one year. The program lasted almost six years on ABS-CBN. We finally bowed out of TV on June 1994. I enjoyed this show actually, I made a lot of friends and to this day, the people behind the show have remained my friends (including the original writers Jim Paredes and Leo Katigbak).
PLAYBOY: You’ve become a legend in your time. What do your kids think?
CAYABYAB: I don’t know what they think. But I guess they are proud of me whenever they read me in publications doing well and receiving awards or whatever, or watch me on TV doing an honest job.\
PLAYBOY: How did/What were you up to when you found out about the disbanding of the San Miguel Philharmonic/ San Miguel Master Chorale?
CAYABYAB: It was not a surprise to be told by management that the whole project was wrapping up after almost six years of existence. Right from the start it was a struggle to sustain funding for a huge organization composed of close to 150 artists at the start, dwindling to about ninety or so musicians and singers by the time the project closed shop. It was well-run machinery that managed an excellent orchestra and an equally excellent choir. I learned a lot from this experience. Of course I felt bad that it had to end, but I also felt good to be moving on and returning to the mainstream music industry that I had planted my roots in.
PLAYBOY: What are your current goals in life, seeing as you’ve done it all?
CAYABYAB: As I have told over and over again in countless interviews, I won’t stop writing music. The moment the music stops coming, I’d be dead. Have I done it all? I don’t think so. All I need do is tune in to the universe and voila – everything falls into place. I never planned to be a musician but I did become one. I never thought I would be a songwriter…but I became one. I also became a music composer doing all sorts of music. Who would have thought that someone like me (I don’t have the goods: the looks, nor the communications savvy) could bag a TV show, much less my own TV show, with my name in the title? I didn’t see that coming! Who would have thought I would head a cultural organization, a music foundation no less by one of the country’s most revered names – The San Miguel Corporation – with a philharmonic orchestra and a master chorale to write music for? All these point to one mantra that has ruled my life –I am not the master. I am only a follower. I am eagerly awaiting the next tunes that the universe will unfold.
PLAYBOY: What can you say about the current state of OPM?
CAYABYAB: I am extremely happy with the current state of OPM. All my friends in the industry worked hard to get to this point. In the seventies when I was just starting, radio stations would not play Filipino music because this did not fit their format, which was so ‘American Top forty’. It took a presidential decree to force radio programs to play (in the beginning, just) one OPM…until it became four OPMs per hour. Before, imported music ruled. Now, OPM rules! Hats off to the new writers and composers, the new bands, the new genres, the new singing sensations — all young people reflecting their dreams and aspirations and becoming good role models to the youth. OPM is alive and healthy. (Even in Cebu, local Cebuano pop music rules! This is the best thing that ever happened to Philippine music). However, a new phenomenon is on the rise. With technological advances come new situations that make our livelihood uncertain. Music is slowly becoming free. What will happen to the creators of music? This, we will have to address soon, as it is the new frontier.
PLAYBOY: What is your greatest fear?
CAYABYAB: Waking up one morning with no sense of hearing.
PLAYBOY: That actually would be terrifying. What do you do to relax?
CAYABYAB: Wait for the Ilang-ilang tree to blossom. Count the swordtail fish in the mini-pond in the garden. Joke only. I surf the net. I watch interesting You Tube postings. I also enjoy a good bowl of sungsong (sun-dried peanuts) with ice cold light beer.
PLAYBOY: You’ve done a lot of composing for movies. What was the last good movie you saw?
CAYABYAB: I haven’t had much time to watch a movie. I missed The Dark Knight. I didn’t get to see Mama Mia. But I did see a couple of Filipino indie films in the past months with my wife. I like all three Bourne movies. I like action movies but I am not fond of James Bond films. I also like sci-fi movies. For me the best movies I had ever seen were Alien (the very first one) and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I also like the very first Star Wars Trilogy, and the first Indiana Jones movie – Raiders of the Lost Ark.
PLAYBOY: Have you ever read Playboy?
CAYABYAB: Not lately. Really. When we were very much younger! During that time, PLAYBOY wasn’t yet an international commodity you could get off the rack. It was kind of a hidden commodity. Of course, with young professionals, it was OK, but it was barred from teenagers, it was adult reading fare. What I know about PLAYBOY, even before, was that the articles are intelligently written. Of course they had other things there, they had many kinds of articles there that will cater to many of kinds of men. They want to target a wider spectrum, not just those with high libido. Of course, I’ve read your competitors, and now, there are more of them that followed, and they’re very aggressive, but PLAYBOY’s in a class of its own. It’s a pioneering magazine, very classy. PLAYBOY has a certain class.
PLAYBOY: We appreciate your taking the time to it down for our 20 Questions. What’s the most oft repeated or annoying question you get asked?
CAYABYAB: What’s my favorite song that I composed. That’s a corny question, that’s why I don’t have one. (laughs) I always say I don’t have any favorites, because at the moment I’m writing them, I like them, but once it’s done, maybe once it’s produced, I don’t like them anymore. First of all, you can’t go back to it and change anything, because it’s there already. That’s one thing I like about writing, you put periods at the end of sentences; once a sentence has a period already, you can’t go back to it anymore. It’s also, literally, a period or a phase in my life -not necessarily in my career- in my timeline. They also ask what I think is my greatest contribution. I don’t know, that’s not for me to answer, I always answer, I don’t know.
What is my greatest achievement? (Makes an exaggerated exasperated gesture) My usual answer would be that my family is my greatest achievement. Being immortal is not really about you being immortal, but your life kind of goes on and on, is extended through your children, and your children’s children, hopefully. That’s life, some would say it’s mundane, but it’s exciting. You pass through your life, your phases. You grow up and you meet people, you have problems and you solve them, and then move on to the next level, and that’s it.