If there’s one television show in the late 1980s that truly showcased how amazing the Filipino musical talent is, it’s “Ryan Ryan Musikahan.” The late night musical program which aired Thursdays on ABS-CBN and ran from 1988 to 1994 was, to OPM fans, a much-anticipated weekly event, a chance to watch local entertainment’s favorite music maestro play the piano for some of the country’s most brilliant performers—without having to make the trip to Makati’s Tavern on the Square, for example, or some five-star hotel cocktail lounge.
The show very successfully transported the intimacy and class of the “puwesto” concept—a crooner singing by the piano ala Michelle Pfeiffer in “The Fabulous Baker Boys”—into the TV milieu, and raised the ante even higher with its star power week after week after week.
Consider the range of performers it showcased—from top concert artists like Gary Valenciano, Regine Velasquez, Sharon Cuneta, Kuh Ledesma and Martin Nievera to the day’s hit makers like Keno and Jaime Garchitorena; from singing groups like Smokey Mountain, 14K, The Tux and the Ateneo Glee Club to Philippine music icons Katy dela Cruz, Celeste Legaspi and Cecile Licad, and opera stars like Nolyn Cabahug and Andion Fernandez.
In between guest performances of renowned singers, “Ryan Ryan” shone the light on personalities whose exceptional hidden talents TV audiences would have never discovered were it not for the show. Take for example the scriptwriter Jose Javier Reyes who in one episode was revealed to be—like the show’s title star and host—a songwriter himself. Reyes in fact collaborated with Cayabyab in several songs such as “Hibang Sa Awit” and “Kumukutikutitap.” Moreover, funny ladies like Beverly Salviejo, Cynthia Patag, and Ai Ai delas Alas, who rarely had a venue to flex their singing talents, also found a stage in the late night musical.
Magic in the air
The idea for the show came at a time when ABS-CBN was trying to rebuild itself after the EDSA revolution. There was that exhilarating scent of freedom in the air, and it inspired artists and creatives to produce world class TV—from news magazines like “The Probe Team” to lifestyle shows like “Cafe Bravo” to musicals like “Ryan Ryan.”
“They were thinking along the lines of ‘Uncle Bob & Friends’ na may kantahan and kwentuhan pero fully produced. Hindi siya one or two cameras lang,” recalls Cayabyab, who also thought of the show’s catchy and rhythmic title. The maestro and now National Artist for Music attributes the early concepts of the show to former network talent heads Johnny Manahan and Mariole Alberto, show director Leo Rialp, and former network president Freddie Garcia.
The show was light as it was enlightening, authentic as it was transportive. For the most part, this was thanks to Cayabyab’s effortless hosting, his light touch on the piano and the ease he displays in front of the camera. He was a musical genius and guests loved him, cherished the opportunity of having a master play the piano for them. “The mere mention of his name was enough for us to land the likes of Cecile Licad who delivered a riveting performance one evening,” recalls episode writer/editor Leo Katigbak in an article for ANCX in 2018.
“Ryan Ryan” also brought to fore the man’s deep knowledge in music—along with his humor and his natural ability to make every single guest shine.
While the great Mr. C did ask the show’s producers early on if they were sure they wanted him to host a TV show, he says he didn’t have much apprehension after being assured it was going to be easy. “Madali lang, madali lang,” he was told. But it’s not like Cayabyab had zero experience in television. In fact, around that time, he already had a robust TV resume having been a regular judge in “Bagong Kampeon” and taking on musical director duties for specials staged by the likes of Celeste Legaspi, New Minstrels, Cocoy Laurel, and Jose Mari Chan.
Bawal ang lip-sync
What was relayed to Cayabyab as a trial first season soon stretched to a year, and then two, then three, until “Ryan Ryan Musikahan” ran for almost six years.
Taping the show was fun and easy, recalls Jim Paredes who was also a writer for the program. For one, he tells ANCX, many of their guests were people he or Ryan already knew and worked with.
The team would usually finish canning two episodes in one taping day. If things ran well, they would complete three. “Mr C could get cranky especially late into the second episode but his cranky was never really bad cranky,” writes Katigbak. “He always had good vibes and a sense of humor about him. Plus you could never be too serious with his and director Leo Rialp’s mad scientist slash Albert Einstein look—which becomes more pronounced as the night progressed.”
“We rehearsed all the songs first before dress rehearsal,” recalls Paredes. Guests, which the host says they never ran short of, had to really be excellent performers to begin with. “No one does lip-sync in ‘Ryan Ryan’,” says Cayabyab. “In my almost six years there, I don’t remember doing a take two dahil may nagkamali [sa lyrics]. They have to be the best of the lot of the genre that they represent.”
A regular feature of the show is Cayabyab dishing out music lessons. Whether it was on the history of jazz, a piano term, the metronome!—he always started each episode imparting valuable musical knowledge. “Think music for dummies—minus the making you feel like a dummy part,” said Katigbak in his 2018 recollection. “We had lessons on opera, on orchestras, on wind and string instruments over the course of many episodes. He brought opera, classical music and musical theater to the mainstream when talents like Andion Fernandez, the Bolipata brothers, and the first batch of Filipinos in “Miss Saigon” came to the studio, exposing the broader television audience to musical fare otherwise only available in the theater.”
While in a banter with guests, there were times when Cayabyab would go off topic—but he would still manage to bring out the curiosity of his listeners. In an episode with Basil Valdez, where the latter talked about learning how to paint as a kid using the famous dye brand, Jobus, Mr. C couldn’t help but share the trivia that Pinoys started calling it that because it’s how they would pronounce the original name Joe Bush.
The teacher in Mr. C always came out. After all, the man behind the piano at night was also an educator by day and taught at the University of the Philippines. “You know, he was a maestro, a teacher. Sanay makiusap sa class, and sometimes I felt like he would talk to his audience like it was his class,” shares Paredes.
A (baby) grand reunion
Mr. C actually had a partner in the show, the other mainstay—the piano, a Yamaha Baby Grand brought in by the network. It stuck it out with Cayabyab throughout the six years “Ryan Ryan” was on air, the most important prop at the center of the show’s dramatic balcony setting. It was compact enough to fit the studio and quite elegant, too, enhancing the program’s elevated feel. “It wasn’t the best that I could lay my hands on but it was good enough,” reveals Mr. C, looking back. He recalls it was tuned every week—just to make sure it would perform up to par.
Cayabyab and that same baby grand had an unexpected reunion three years ago during the former’s guest stint at Martin Nievera’s show “LSS” on ANC. “We taped inside the Dolphy Theater and that piano was there! I said, ‘I know this piano’ … buhay pa siya!” the musician says, amused. The piano is now 33 years old and, like its old buddy, still making beautiful music.
The piano may have outlived the show but not people’s memory of “Ryan Ryan Musikahan.” In fact, Mr. C constantly finds himself being asked if he would do the show today. Given the chance, he would spotlight the younger generation. “Ang daming magagaling na singers like Jed Maddela, Erik Santos, and Morisette. Di na nila naabutan yung show,” he says. These singers, he adds, particularly the ones from the 2000 to 2010s, would make great guests. They could sing their hits and the songs of the moment. “That is what’s good about a musical show, you have to sing songs of this generation. Para siyang time frame, binibigyan mo ng halaga yung present day,” Cayabyab says.
Reflecting on the show’s significance, Mr. C says “Ryan Ryan” helped give a face to the everyday ordinary musician who often worked behind the scenes. “I don’t know how significant it was for the music industry but I was very lucky that it came because it afforded the chance for someone like me to be a household face and name. I always say that I only thought of myself as someone who works at the back – as a musical director or playing the piano for a big star, I’m very comfortable there, sa likod.
“But, having been given the chance to do something like this…it gave a face to the educator, to a regular professional musician.”
Each episode of “Ryan Ryan Musikahan” opened with an instrumental version of “Kay Ganda ng Ating Musika,” Mr. C’s legendary, prize-winning composition. They couldn’t have chosen a better theme. Yes, people would sing foreign songs in the program but more than anything, the show inspired pride in the Filipino musician, in the Filipino artist. It was a weekly reminder of how great homegrown talent is and why it’s applauded, cheered on, sought after the world over.
All photos courtesy of Leo Katigbak.