MANILA -- Multi-awarded singer-composer Wency Cornejo would have become a doctor. When he was in college, he took up Zoology for four years at the University of the Philippines (UP), but didn’t finish the course. He was sidetracked to music.
“After four years, I decided I didn’t like Zoology and I didn’t want to push through with medicine anymore,” Cornejo shared. “I was tired, so I shifted to Broadcast Communication.”
Someone up there, obviously, had other plans for Cornejo. “I reached the MRR (maximum residency rule) in UP,” he recalled. “I was still in college when I entered the music scene and After Image was formed in 1987. ”
He was the frontman for After Image, the band that gave the hits “Next in Line,” “Mangarap Ka” and “Habang May Buhay,” to name a few. The other original members were Chuck Isidro on lead and rhythm guitar, Bobbit Uson on bass, Rogie Callejo on drums and Arnold Cabalza on keyboards.
“Chuck is the most successful in terms of being a musician,” Cornejo said. “He even formed 6Cyclemind. Now, he started Stellar, another band.”
After Image lasted for “about 10 years,” said Cornejo. Towards the latter part of the band’s existence, Cornejo slowly edged out of the group to start his solo career.
It took Cornejo seven years to complete his college education at UP. “I did school and my music career simultaneously,” he shared. He proudly graduated in 1991.
SON OF MEL TIANGCO
The eldest of four children of award-winning broadcaster Mel Tiangco, Cornejo insists it’s never hard to be the son of Tiangco. “Why would people have that notion about me and my mom?,” he asked. “Just like any parent-child relationship, we are not good 100 percent, all the time. As a single parent, she raised all four of us single handedly. She has done a great deal for our family.”
While he acknowledged that his mom is a “superstar” in her field, Tiangco also has her quirks and idiosyncracies, just like any other superstar, according to her son. “We get into small misunderstandings every now and then,” Cornejo offered. “When she doesn’t have a driver, she would call me up, but she’s a backseat driver."
“She is also technologically challenged. She is always angry at her TV. Even her phone, kaaway din niya. But my mom is the most intelligent woman I know. She watches most of my shows, especially the major ones. One of the reasons I came back from Davao was to be with my mom [again].”
Admittedly, Cornejo hied off to Davao after he got disillusioned with the music industry. While he was there, he ventured into the restaurant business with a friend, who is a chef. The place was named Carmela’s, after his mom.
“We started as a commissary for four years, then went into the restaurant business,” he shares.
While in Davao, Cornejo also made good use of his cooking skills. He learned how to cook through his maternal grandmother, Florencia. “We lived in her house for several years. My aunt’s house was beside it. My lola and my aunt both cook very well. When we left, I was looking for the food. I experimented in recreating the dishes in my restaurant. Cooking became my passion.”
Carmela’s in Davao lasted for seven years. “The last two years became complicated and convoluted,” Cornejo admits. “I gave it up and returned to Manila.”
BACK TO MUSIC
Performing was never totally out of Cornejo’s schedule even while he was in Davao. Every once in a while, he got offers to sing. “Every so often, I would still perform,” he said. “Even abroad, there were shows that I accepted. Every three or four months, I would return to Manila to visit my mom and accept a few gigs.”
In 2017, he decided to give up his restaurant business in Davao and returned to Manila for good. Subsequently, he resumed his solo career full time. “I also came back with plans of opening up a restaurant business here [in Manila].”
His other passion is tennis. He regularly plays at GSIS Tennis Court. “Now that I’m much older, my body doesn’t want to cooperate anymore whenever I play,” Cornejo complained. “I also got injured. I am still recuperating from a knee injury. I guess I need an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) for my bone. I want to keep myself healthy enough to be able to play tennis for a long time.”
Cornejo lived in Davao alone for seven years. At that time, his son, Ezekiel, stayed with Tiangco. Today, however, the 19-year-old lives with his mother. Yet, father and son had a bonding moment late last year when they went on a trip to Japan and visited Osaka and Kyoto.
“Tumultuous” is how Cornejo describes this time for a relationship between a parent and a teenage son. “It goes without saying that our relationship is magulo,” he said. “My son is undergoing hormonal changes. That’s normal. He’s in first year taking up multi-media arts at College of Saint Benilde (CSB). Arts manifested in him.”
He has performed in a series of shows all over the country with Cookie Chua for PAGCOR (Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation). They did their last leg in Cebu.
Recording a new album has yet to happen. His last solo album was released more than 10 years ago, with his such as “Hanggang” and “Magpakailanman.” One of his frustrations was scoring a hit duet and recording the song with his fellow artist.
“I’ve done duets with Cookie Chua, Rachel Alejandro, Regine Velasquez, all included in my albums,” Cornejo said. “Not one of those songs became a hit. One day, I still want to successfully record a duet with another artist.”
He has yet to write a new song for quite a while. “I play the guitar to be able to write songs,” Cornejo said. “Last year, I wrote a song supposed to be used for a film about Marawi. Piolo [Pascual] called me up to ask if I wanted to write a song for his film, but the movie didn’t push through or has yet to push through.”
While his plan of putting up a restaurant in Manila has yet to happen, Cornejo resumed his singing career. In 2017, he headlined the successful concert, “90’s Live at Solaire,” with popular ‘90s band vocalists Jett Pangan (The Dawn), Paco Arespacochaga (Introvoys), Cooky Chua (Color It Red), Medwin Marfil (True Faith), Dong Abay (Yano), Naldy Padilla (Orient Pearl), Perf de Castro (Rivermaya) and Lei Bautista (Prettier Than Pink).
“Honestly, we wanted this to be another ‘90s Live at Solaire’ concert,” Cornejo said. “That was so successful, so malakas ang loob namin. Cooky couldn’t join us, so all guys were left. I asked them why not all four guys? Let’s see. I brought up the idea of calling the show ‘The Frontmen.’ If this becomes successful, we will do an all-girls show. I will help in the production side.”
Hence, Cornejo gathered Pangan, Abay, and new addition Basti Artadi of Wolfgang for the two-night concert, “90s Frontmen Acousticized,” January 31 and February 1, in a more intimate venue, the Music Museum. Musical director is Gigi Arcay. Ayen Garcia and Jaime Siybauco are the co-producers under the production of Advantage International Marketing.
“This show is something different,” Cornejo assured. “The treatment will be ‘acousticized,’ if there’s such a word. It’s something new. It’s the first time that these four lead singers will gel together onstage. It’s probably hard for the audience to imagine how we will perform together. We will do the best of the nineties in this concert.”
Cornejo believes the '90s era is such a goldmine for artists. “All of us started in the late '80s and sumabog ng '90s,” he said. “This show will really be nostalgic for us, as well as for the audience.”
The four “Frontmen” are expected to sing their respective signature hits – ‘90s music from the people who did the music. “It’s weird if we will not sing our own hits,” Cornejo said. “This show is much more intimate than the one at Solaire. I cannot imagine how we will rock out Music Museum, the venue, to the max, that’s why we thought of doing it all acoustic.
Cornejo will render his mega hits like “Habang May Buhay,” “Tag-ulan,” Next in Line” and “Mangarap Ka.” Pangan will sing “Enveloped Ideas,” “Salamat,” "Love (Will Set Us Free)” and “Isang Bangka Tayo.”
Abay will perform his rock classics “Banal na Aso,” “Tsinelas” and “Esem,” while Artadi will give the audience his hit songs “Darkness Fell,” “Center of the Sun” and “Halik ni Hudas.”
“As part of the creative team, we are still thinking of ways to make the show much more intimate,” Cornejo said. “Think of Dong Abay doing an acoustic version of Yano’s ‘Tsinelas.’ Also Basti, who sings heavy metal, doing acoustic version of his songs.”
Cornejo himself finds it somewhat unthinkable how all four of them will share the stage. “All of us have disparate personalities,” he grants. “For us to share the stage together, that is something for the audience to witness.”