Louie Ocampo hopes to touch hearts at anniversary concert

Pocholo Concepcion

Posted at Jan 29 2023 12:50 PM

Louie Ocampo. Handout
Louie Ocampo. Handout

MANILA -- Humility defines Louie Ocampo. 

Such virtue may not be common in the music scene or in showbiz where fame and fortune can bloat one's ego. 

In Ocampo's case, decades of achievement and recognition as a songwriter and musical director don't seem to matter—as he explains the reason his 45th anniversary concert on February 4 and 5 at The Theater at Solaire is dubbed "Composer Ka Lang."

Two dates have since been added for Valentine's Day on February 14 and 15.

Speaking to ABS-CBN News by phone, Ocampo chuckles while recalling an incident three years ago as a head judge on the amateur singing tilt "Tawag ng Tanghalan," in which a losing woman contestant took to social media to vent her frustration by posting: "Sir Louie, composer ka lang." 

While his showbiz friends and colleagues — including Lea Salonga — commented on the post to defend him, Ocampo says he just kept quiet ("Di ko na pinatol," in his broken Tagalog), understanding that the girl is from a younger generation. 

The girl has since apologized to Ocampo. However, the "composer ka lang" put-down turned up during a pre-production meeting for his concert and ended up as the show's title.

The path to his becoming not just a composer, but a seasoned musician — an "instrumentalist," a keyboard player," as he describes the craft — started at age 10. "My parents forced me to learn to play the piano," he recounts matter-of-factly. "But I got bored."

His outlook changed when he was introduced to the electronic organ, with Carmencita Arambulo as his teacher at Greenhills Music Studio. On the organ were buttons that produced different sounds. He was having fun: "There was a rhythm box. Aliw ito!"

By age 15 he was joining competitions using the Yamaha Electone — and composing tunes, too. He remembers showing off his first original piece upon seeing Anthony Castelo in the studio. Ocampo says he played the music within hearing distance of the singer, who went up to him and asked about the tune.

Castelo went on to record the song that was released as "Maghihintay Ako Sa 'Yo," music by Ocampo, lyrics by Baby Gil, on Vicor Record's Sunshine label in 1977.

Around that time, Ocampo was likewise playing jazz fusion with La Salle Greenhills schoolmates and friends from other schools in bands such as Mother Earth. He also enrolled at the University of the Philippines College of Music and St. Paul's College Conservatory of Music.

In 1979, Ocampo won second prize at the 2nd Metro Manila Popular Music Festival with his song, "Ewan," lyrics by his then girlfriend Winnie Arrieta, and famously interpreted by the Apo Hiking Society.

As he turned 21 in 1981, Ocampo had the confidence to convince his folks to let him fly to Boston, Massachusetts to study at Berklee College Music. In those years, not just anybody could enrol there — Bob Aves and Tots Tolentino were among the few Filipinos. Ocampo says he took up Film Scoring since he wanted to be like Henry Mancini and John Williams.

"Berklee was like a Disneyland [of music]. It was where you could gather as a group and play anything. You could hear all kinds of music there," Ocampo recounts.

Coming home to Manila after about a year, he was ready to deep-dive as a pop composer. And the hits came: "Tell Me" (recorded by Joey Albert, who helped Ocampo with the last line in the chorus); "Say That You Love Me" (Martin Nievera); "Ikaw" (Sharon Cuneta); "So Many Questions" (Side A); among many others.

The world was smaller back then, Ocampo says, describing the music industry as he knew it. Everybody knew each other and would find out if someone needed a song. 

That's how Marco Sison recorded one of Ocampo's songs. But Sison was initially hesitant upon hearing the music. "It was jazzy," Ocampo recalls, "and Marco was worried na baka hindi bagay sa kanya." 

But Ocampo convinced him, and Sison's record label prevailed. The song was "Si Aida, Si Lorna o Si Fe." 

Back in the day, his gauge if a tune is worth writing down is when he remembers it the following day. Now, if Ocampo finds himself humming something and finds it interesting, he plays it on the piano and records it on his phone. 

At 62, he loves outdoor hobbies like diving and golf. Give him wine at night and he's fine.

As for his concert, he says: "For as long as I touch someone's heart upon hearing my song, I'm fulfilled. I'm just a human being who can write songs."
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