Read this in The Manila Times digital edition.
Music-loving Filipinos often like to say that so and so an artist or a band's discography constitutes the soundtrack of their lives. Strictly speaking, the credit is only true for a handful of OPM artists — or maybe less — who composed all their hits and releases themselves because what we often forget is that before a song can even be sung, it all begins with the gift of a composer.
Now, if you're currently in your 40s through to early 60s and earnestly looking to give credit where credit is also due, one of the names you are looking for is Louie Ocampo. Google it, and you'll know just why because the search will show that this man is the composer of over half of the songs that immediately come to mind, given life's different stages.
Here's proof: A song that rekindles childhood — “Batibot,” composed by Louie Ocampo, performed by the cast. A song about courting: “Ewan,” composed by Ocampo, performed by The Apo Hiking Society. About liking too many girls: “Si Aida o Si Lorna o Si Fe?” by Ocampo for Marco Sison. Heartbreak: “Tell Me” by Ocampo for Joey Albert. Weddings: “Ikaw,” Ocampo for Sharon Cuneta. Love in general, all composed by Ocampo: “Ikaw Lang ang Mamahalin,” sung by Albert; “Say That You Love Me,” Basil Valdez and Martin Nievera; “Kahit Isang Saglit,” Vernie Varga (popularized by Nievera); “Closer You and I,” Gino Padilla.
But wait, there's more. Friendship and girls' anthem: “Points of View,” composed by Ocampo for Albert and Pops Fernandez. Favorite videoke choice: “You are My Song,” Ocampo for Regine Velasquez. About the OFW (Overseas Filipino Workers) diaspora: “Babalik ka Rin,” Ocampo for Gary Valenciano.
This exercise can go on and on and on, since Louie Ocampo has always been renowned as one of the Philippines' foremost pop songwriter-musicians. And mind you, we haven't even covered the equally generation-defining commercial jingles he wrote that are very much part of the country's colloquial history. Recall the music of the hit Closeup commercials; the catchy “There are Chinese soups… just add one egg!” of Knorr; the exceptionally soothing “One World of Nescafe,” interpreted by the original Philippine Pop Diva Kuh Ledesma; and even the GMA Network anthem, “Kapuso Anumang Kulay ang Buhay.” These are all proudly Louie Ocampo with one or two collaborations.
Neither have we touched on the countless times his hit compositions have been remade with the turn of every decade by succeeding batches of OPM royalties like Lani Misalucha, Sarah Geronimo and Morissette, nor the momentous Philippine concerts he musically directed here and abroad for almost every prominent artist in the business.
Then there's also his career as a musical scorer for TV shows and movies (among them “Home Along Da Riles,” “Lagarista” and “Felix Manalo,” including a European production here and there), in reverence to his major in Film Scoring at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts.
A shoo-in for a National Artists Award when his time comes, there was no question Louie Ocampo had to be this week's cover for The Sunday Times Magazine.
Ocampo, now 62 yet looking preppy as ever, held a rare tete-a-tete with media mid-week to herald his upcoming concert celebrating his 45th anniversary in the music industry. As his gigantic hits infinitely played in the background throughout the event, it was easy to see the man's face on the cover for his incalculable contribution, not only in steeling Original Pilipino Music but while he's at it making the Filipino existence more rich and meaningful with — yes — the soundtrack of their lives.
Supposedly more familiar to the public these days thanks to his ongoing stint as an original judge in “It's Showtime's” singing contest “Tawag ng Tanghalan,” this music-loving nation owes it to the humble and talented Louie Ocampo to recognize his body of work at this opportune time and duly cement his enduring value in OPM and contemporary life.
To any reader asking why, the answer is because he deserves it. Because it is only right to honor any unsung hero from any community or industry who elevates Filipino life by being and embracing who he is and sharing what he does best.
In all honesty, Ocampo admits composers like him miss the days when song introductions were made not only with the artist's name but the person who wrote the song itself. Admirably, he does so without spite and would even be the first to come to the defense of the crudely uninformed.
In fact, this very anecdote explains why his anniversary concert title peculiarly reads: “Louie Ocampo: Composer Ka Lang,” which in English contextually translates to an idiotically demeaning reference.
The phrase incorrectly, foolishly and embarrassingly branding Ocampo as a mere composer in the music industry's pecking order was tweeted by a Tawag ng Tanghalan contestant who, not too long ago, failed to make the cut, obviously because of our subject's professional and learned take on her performance.
A perpetually mild-mannered man who confesses that his biggest hits were borne out of his obsessive romanticism in his younger (he was deeply in love with love), there was no way Ocampo could have uttered a cruel word in letting this contestant down. And yet, the man who is constantly introduced as “one of the best composers in the Philippines” still emerged the villain in this frustrated singing millennial's life.
“In one social media post, this contestant said to me, 'Composer ka lang.' And me, I'm a very shy person — I'm old school, as you can see with all my white hair,” Ocampo chuckled. “Right away, so many friends were urging me, 'Sagutin mo siya,' but that's not me,” he recalled with nary a hit of anger or arrogance in his voice.
“I just thought, 'She's coming from a different generation so hindi niya alam. So hayaan mo nalang.' Still, my colleagues and even sila Vice Ganda and the other hosts of Showtime, na-offend sila para sa akin and came to my defense. Ewan ko kung ano yung sinagot nila sa post niya [the contestant] but she came again on the show and apologized to everyone.
'To me, it was nothing,” Ocampo genuinely and good-naturedly added. “[Like I said], it's maybe because she's of a different generation, that's all.”
With the quick and gifted creative that Ocampo is, though, it was clear as day that “Composer Ka Lang” would make for a perfect concert title.
Likewise, the phrase gives the most ideal point for getting to know more about this composer, who deserves a people's thanks for choosing to be the composer he set out to be — to become Louie Ocampo to Original Pilipino Music, to every big-named artist there is today, and to all of us listeners who can and will never stop singing along to his beautiful, beautiful songs.
Meet Louie Ocampo, the prolific, award-winning and forever impassioned composer, in his own words. Parts of the interview are exclusive The Sunday Times Magazine.
How he started his interest in music. I was born on June 21, 1960. I wasn't into music for the first 10 years of my life, but my dad was. He was an engineer, but he would make us listen to the radio. He forced me to take piano lessons when I just wanted to play basketball and jolens sa putik. I was a regular kid, so taking piano lessons — having to sit down a long time and learn — I didn't really like it.
My dad gave up on the piano but tried something else. “I will try to make you play an electronic organ or keyboard,” he said. We called it Yamaha back then, but from there, I really enjoyed this pop music I was learning to play. My teacher [the renowned music professor and pride of St. Paul University Manila's College of Music and Performing Arts, Carmencita Guanzon Arambulo] was so good she found the right button to press in me that I became so passionate about music.
How he became a composer. By age 15, I knew I wanted to be a composer. But when I told my parents that I wanted to be a musician, natakot na sila!
“Sigurado ka? Anong kakainin mo? Why don't you try and enroll and take business management,” they said.
I told them, “I want to go to the States and study music.” Somehow, we ended up with a deal na mag one sem muna ako sa Pilipinas in a different course and see from there.
Long story short, I didn't enjoy myself, and my parents realized I was willing to do anything for music, so I studied at Berklee College and majored in Film Scoring. [Ocampo was a Lasallian all through grade school and high school].
How many songs he has written. Probably close to a hundred plus; I'd say 50 of them were released and became hits.
If they haven't been released, kasi wala pang lyrics or siguro hindi pa ako tapos. Like now, I have some instrumental pieces close to my heart na hindi ko pa nagagawa.
His music idols. David Foster, Ennio Morricone, Henry Macini, Barry Manilow and John Williams.
His first composition officially released. “Maghihintay Ako Sa Iyo” recorded by Anthony Castelo. I was 17 years old. It was 1976 or 77, and I had a crush then na nililigawan ko. I didn't know how to compose pa, but my teacher, Mrs. Arambulo, simply told me, “Yung feelings mo ibuhos mo. I came up with Maghihintay, and how that song was discovered, I was joining an Electone organ contest. I had to go to a specific store because they were the ones who had that organ brand.
Nakita ko pumasok si Anthony Castello and siyempre sikat na sikat yan nung '70s. So nilakas ko yung volume ng instrument para mapansin niya yung kanta. True enough, lumapit siya at sabi niya, “Ang ganda niyan.”
Kuwento kuwento, tapos sabi niya, “Gusto mo ba i-record natin yan?” At that age I was totoy na totoy but it all started from there and the rest followed na.
When it dawned on him, he was a hitmaker. I never thought of myself that way. What needs to happen, though, is first, I have to love the song I'm doing. Whether [the inspiration is] kabaliwan, masaya o masakit, it has to be an extension of my soul. Then after writing the song, you choose the artist for it and just pray it'll be a hit.
With his songs an extension of his soul, Ocampo shares the story behind a few of his classics.
What inspired Joey Albert's biggest hit, “Tell Me.” [Remember that Ocampo and the artist famously dated for some time]. In 1983, I fell in love with a girl, her name was Anna. I was 23 years old, and — please don't crucify me for what I'm going to say — she was 15. I believe that once in a person's life mababaliw ka sa pag-ibig. I was head over heels. I'd do anything for her. I was so in love and didn't want it to end.
I had to leave for the States with Music, Magic, and Kuh Ledesma for a concert tour, and I was sad. I didn't want to go and be away from Anna for two or three weeks; at that time, I had to make long-distance pa to speak to her. So I went on that tour, but I called her every day.
On the day I was going home, I called her again from SFO (San Francisco International Airport). I was like, “I love you. I miss you. I wanna see you soon.” Pero iba na yung tunog niya.
So I asked her, “Why are you quiet?” She said, “I don't love you anymore.” I was, “How can that be? Tell me! Tell me, what did I do?” Tapos biglang, “Paging Louie Ocampo,” so I had to end the call but told l her I'll go straight to her house when I got home.
I boarded the plane, iyak ako ng iyak, and when I saw her her, yon na. “Tell me, where did I go wrong?” — the exact lyrics to the song.
I wrote the song in 15 minutes. I was really devastated at that time.
Then I met Joey through her sister-manager, Marissa. [We met with some other artists for a show], and she was there. Medyo na cute-an din ako kay Joey kahit papano. Joey's very charming. Sabi niya, “Bigyan mo naman ako ng song,” so I asked her to sing Tell Me. But I still needed one line there, the ending. It was Joey who added, “And if this love's not ours to have, I'll let it go with your goodbye.”
Two Apo Hiking Society hits also were inspired by women he loved. Si Anna sa Tell Me, kaya may Anna yung Apo.
“Anna, can't you tell and see what you're doing to me/ Oh, Anna, this feeling I just can't hide keeps driving me wild/ Oh, Anna, I need you here with me, I wish you could be/ Oh, Anna, won't you stay with me.”
Yung “Ewan” naman was inspired by Rowena Arrietta [the gifted Filipina pianist now based in Long Island, New York]. Childhood sweetheart ko siya and we were both studying with Mrs. Arambulo. I wrote Ewan nung nilagawan ko siya, and she actually wrote the lyrics for it.
So bakit “ewan?” I used to ask her, “Mahal mo ba ako,” and she would always say, “Ewan.” Then sabi niya, “Alam mo ba na yung ewan parang oo na rin?”
How his wife of many blissful years (top banking executive Jojo Marquez Ocampo) feels about the songs inspired by former lovers. (Laughing) The exes never bothered her. In fact, she would always say you have to be thankful because, without them, I wouldn't have written the heartbreak songs.
Where a Louie Ocampo goes from here. Retirement is not part of my vocabulary because I enjoy what I do. Honestly, I would like to write songs, collaborate with younger lyricists and artists, and hopefully give new life to my soul.
I'm very open. I'm open artistically so that I can grow. Let me give an example. To those in their 40s and above, when you listen to music created in the '70s and '80s, you'll hear so many chords. They're very melodic – ang daming pinupuntahan – parang see-saw. These days, the songs seem to be on one level. It's the “Four-chords Theory,” where music is composed of the same four chords throughout.
I'm not saying it's wrong, but that's the difference. I used to comment about it, “Pare-pareho lang naman,” but maybe I'm getting old, and I don't want to get old.
I want to keep writing songs on to the next generation, and on the fly, maybe I can write the old style, di'ba? If I can do that, wow! I just want to keep on going.
“Louie Ocampo: Composer Ka Lang” is a two-night concert series at The Theatre in Solaire on February 4 and 5. Produced by Viva Live Inc., in cooperation with Solaire Resorts Entertainment City, the concert will feature many famous artists who have given voice to Ocampo's hits. They are Sharon Cuneta, Basil Valdez, Martin Nievera, Gary Valenciano, Marco Sison, Katrina Velarde, Janine Tenoso, Lyca Gairanod, and Jim Paredes and Boboy Garrovillo of the Apo Hiking Society on February 4 and 5; Zsa Zsa Padilla and Sarah Geronimo on February 4; and Regine Velasquez on February 5, among other surprise guests.
“Audiences can basically expect a sharing of my life — sharing the stories behind each song and why I created them. Hopefully, that will be exciting for everyone. At the same time, it will be a celebration with friends who are more than colleagues because they've been with me and there for me for many years. That's what the show is all about,” says the man who is just a composer.
Tickets are available at www.ticketworld.com.ph. Call 8891-9999 for inquiries.