The year 2002 was an important one for singer-actress Bituin Escalante after she interpreted the entry, “Kung Ako Na Lang Sana,” which bagged the grand prize in the Himig Handog Love Songs.
Soc Villanueva’s original composition, that also won Best Interpreter for Escalante, subsequently soared to the top of the music charts and became such a big hit for its artist.
However, Escalante readily corrects the notion that 2002 was her banner year, even if success came to her at that particular time.
“Winning an award does not define a year,” Escalante told ABS-CBN News. “Ask any artist and he will tell you that. The year 2003 was the time I did the musical, ‘Dreamgirls’ for Atlantis [Theatrical Entertainment Group]. That defined my year. It’s always the work that defines us.”
“Kung Ako Na Lang Sana” became a much-requested song on the radio and even in all of Escalante’s performances then and now. The song is something that will always be attached to her. Interpreting the beautiful ballad seemingly came as an effortless task for her.
In 2003, “Kung Ako Na Lang Sana” won Song of the Year in the Awit Awards and Escalante also bagged Best Performance by a Female Artist.
“I had always been a fan of [singer-songwriter] Odette Quesada’s ‘Friend of Mine’,” Escalante said. “The poignancy of being the eternally friend-zoned. When I heard Soc’s song, it had the same, poignant, bittersweet feel. In beautiful, colloquial Tagalog, no less. I fell in love.”
“Kung Ako Na Lang Sana” is not the first song that Escalante interpreted for a singing competition. In the year 2000, she sang Arnold Reyes’ “Paano Na” in the Metropop Song Festival, which won second place.
She had been performing for six years when she was tapped to interpret “Kung Ako Na Lang Sana” for Himig Handog Love Songs. She started doing theater in 1996 and was also appearing on TV for two years when the offer came.
“Kung Ako Na Lang Sana” became one of the well-loved and best-selling ballads that kicked off Escalante’s successful singing career.
“'Kung Ako Na Lang Sana’ is bigger than me,” Escalante insisted. “It has been sung by so many greats, so much so that the song is sometimes identified with them. The message of the song has such a reach across generations that I feel I owe some of my career’s longevity to Soc.”
Through the years, “Kung Ako Na Lang Sana” has other versions by other local artists. Sharon Cuneta recorded it for her film of the same title with Aga Muhlach in 2003. Jose Javier Reyes worked at the helm of the film.
“I’m a Sharonian,” Escalante admitted. “Always have been. I grew up singing her songs and watching her TV show. So, it gave me so much joy when I saw the reversal. When it was Sharon who had recorded my song. I love it enough that the song was even used for her movie. I was floored. The thought still makes me kilig to this day.”
Sarah Geronimo also has her version of “Kung Ako Na Lang Sana,” as well as Khalil Ramos and Kaye Cal.
Escalante has so many favorite recordings that ironically, never got to be released. “The songs were always shot down by the A&R [artist and repertoire],” Escalante lamented. “But among those that I recorded, many of my personal favorites are from Moy Ortiz and Edith and Margot Gallardo. I enjoyed by collaborations with Dan Gil. I can’t pick a particular one from those I’ve recorded.”
Ultimately, “Kung Ako Na Lang Sana” landed in the roster of memorable songs of all time. It has become a sentimental favorite by many, embraced by individuals and music fans.
“You won’t believe how many times I’ve been told that ‘Kung Ako Na Lang Sana’ is the theme song of their lives,” Escalante said. “Ironically, I’m the one who has to tell them not to make it so.
“The song has been constantly requested for weddings, even after I point out the irony of the message. I’ve made it kind of comic relief for the guests in the wedding party to ‘speak now or forever hold your peace.’ It has always been a fun moment at weddings.”
For her latest release, Escalante recently recorded “Bagong Mundo,” a song about hope and new beginnings penned by musical director and session musician, Gino Cruz. Last month, she recorded in Cruz’s home studio and the songwriter put everything together -- including musicians and back-up vocals -- for the final product.
Although she is aware that live performances have yet to happen again because of the pandemic, Escalante is apparently ready for whatever new challenge she will encounter, even if she has done concerts, recordings, theater productions and TV shows in more than two decades in the entertainment business.
“I don’t have to seek it or name it,” she maintained. “Life always gives us new challenges.”