Jonathan Manalo was barely in his teens when he started stringing lyrics and churning out melodies together. Growing up in a musically-inclined family helped him pursue his passion.
When he was still a kid, Manalo became part of Pambatang Papuri of the Papuri Music Ministry, the gospel music arm of Far East Broadcasting Company (FEBC). His first professionally written song that was published was “Aming Panginoon,” when he was only 13 years old.
Growing up, Manalo looked up to award-winning songwriter, Jungee Marcelo, as his mentor. “I admire the songwriting skills and the life testimony of Kuya Jungee,” Manalo told ABS-CBN News.
His all-time local “music heroes” are National Artist for Music Ryan Cayabyab and Gary Valenciano. “I’m so glad that I am able to work closely with my idols now,” Manalo said. “I am literally living my dream.”
It has been two decades since Manalo first emerged in the local music scene, when he won the Jam Himig Handog sa Makabagong Kabataan for his song, “Tara Tena,” interpreted by Kyla. The song was even used as the theme of a youth-oriented TV program of the same title on ABS-CBN.
In 2003, Manalo also emerged as one of the major winners in the eighth Metropop Songwriting Festival for his entry, “Buti Na Lang,” also interpreted by Kyla.
“It has been two decades of non-stop provisions and blessings from God,” Manalo maintained. “He has paved the way for so many doors to open for me. I credit Jesus, my Lord and savior as the one who sustained my momentum in my entire 20-year career, so far.”
WRITING FOR MOIRA
As creative director for ABS-CBN Music, Manalo admitted this pandemic has really been a challenge to everyone. Yet, he has to face the music and continue working even in this new normal.
“This is really a difficult time for everyone, because it forced everyone out of their comfort zones,” Manalo noted. “But the pandemic also helped us creative people to even be more creative.
“Nothing can stop art. Music can’t be stopped. It will naturally go on and we will always find creative ways to adapt to the new normal.
“I think as an industry, we are presently thriving and still in a healthy state. We’ll all definitely be better after this [pandemic] is over and we’ll emerge triumphantly stronger in the end.”
The songwriting genius of Manalo was recently tapped by PLDT Home to create a love song, “Pag-ibig ang Piliin,” recorded by Moira Dela Torre for the company’s Valentine’s Day theme, “Choose to Love.”
The song talks about love as the blissful feeling and the powerful emotion that binds people together amidst uncertainties and difficulties.
With “Pag-ibig ang Piliin,” Manalo works with Dela Torre for the second time. He previously penned De la Torre’s “Hanggang sa Huli,” the theme of the “24/7” afternoon series that starred Julia Montes.
Manalo produced all of Dela Torre’s discography, from albums, singles, collaborations, TV and movie theme songs.
“If you’ll look at it, it’s really challenging to write an original for someone like Moira,” Manalo explained. “She can also write really beautiful masterpieces. But going to this point has really been a long process.
“I have produced mostly all of Moira’s recordings. That gave me the advantage of having a full grasp of the Moira sound and style. So my process of writing something original for an already excellent songwriter like her has that context of my over-all relationship with her as her music producer.”
Writing a love song, like “Pag-ibig ang Piliin,” for Dela Torre not a tall order for Manalo. The song is a perfect theme for Valentine’s day.
“This ‘Pag-ibig ang Piliin’ is a love song that puts emphasis on ‘love’ that is worth fighting for,” Manalo explained. “Love against all odds, even if the world seems to disapprove, no one can question the power of a person’s great true love. When you choose to fight for love, it is the ultimate power. Nothing and no one can stand in your way.”
Through the years that he has been writing songs, there are pieces that posed a challenge to Manalo, while there are some that he finished in merely a breeze. He confessed songwriting is a different process for him every time.
“The song that I’ve written for Sir Gary [Valenciano] that tells of his inspiring story battling serious health problems was a very emotional process,” Manalo said. “I was so touched hearing about his fears, his feelings first hand; all his emotions going through that entire ordeal and getting healed miraculously.
“That song was ‘Ililigtas Ka Niya’ that also became the theme song of FPJ’s ‘Ang Probinsyano.’ While I also did the lyrics that I wrote for ‘Pinoy Big Brother’ quite fast, only several hours overnight.”
In the two decades that he has been in the music business, Manalo has been blessed to work with top OPM artists. “Everyone in the top tier of OPM,” he beamed.
“I will forever be grateful for that. But I am always on the look out for new talents, those that deserve to have a break. I want to help all these new artists, for their fresh voices to be heard by a large audience, for me to be able to give them songs that will best showcase their gifts.”
Recently, Manalo received the first-ever prestigious Gawad Sudi National Music Awards from the National Commission on Culture and the Arts, citing him for Outstanding Musical Achievement from 2010 to 2020, along with an esteemed list of recipients. That was another award added to his growing list of music honors.
“I am always grateful and really humbled by that recognition,” Manalo said. “It’s such a huge blessing to be able to do what I love to do and be recognized for it in a big way. I’ll just continue doing what I do best and let it lead me to wherever good there is in the future.”
Manalo graduated from the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP), where he took up Advertising and Public Relations.
He has written around 400 songs for different artists and various projects, to date, although he actually lost count. Asked, however, about the favorite piece he penned, Manalo mentioned “Patuloy ang Pangarap” for Angeline Quinto.
“That’s really a tough question,” Manalo said. “But I think if you can say that a song changed a person’s life, it is something remarkable. ‘Patuloy Ang Pangarap’ is a life-changing song for Angeline Quinto. That one is truly special.”