MANILA — Nearly a decade apart from each other, two ABS-CBN fantasy series inspired different generations with stories about inner beauty versus physical judgment — and a common theme song that today remains memorable, thanks to a “torch” version that updates its “fairytale” original.
“Sabihin Mo Sa Akin,” written and composed by Vincent de Jesus, was the theme song of both “Kampanerang Kuba” in 2005 and “Mirabella” in 2014. The former marked the first lead role of Anne Curtis as a Kapamilya, while the latter similarly served as the launching series of Julia Barretto.
The song about facing judgment and yearning for love was especially composed for “Kampanerang Kuba,” a musical series that featured dozens of original songs throughout its 6-month broadcast.
“Kampanerang Kuba,” an adaptation of the 1973 film starring Vilma Santos, was the late Wenn V. Deramas’ genre follow-up to the pioneering fantaserye “Marina,” whose phenomenal run ushered in a wave of fantasy offerings on local television.
De Jesus recalled that Deramas approached him after a show by the Philippine Educational Theater Association, where the latter had been a long-time member, to collaborate on updating “Kampanerang Kuba” as a full-on musical.
“Nilapitan niya ako. ‘Vince, meron kaming project for Anne. Gusto ko musical.’ ‘Wow, musical! Mahirap gawin ‘yan! Masakit sa ulo, magastos!’” de Jesus told ABS-CBN News.
“It’s a difficult genre to shoot for TV,” he said, pointing out what’s been termed as the “hand-to-mouth” practice of taping that was prevalent at the time. “Isu-shoot mo sa umaga, ipapalabas mo sa gabi. E, paano kung may kantahan pa? May choreography pa. Imu-music video mo, iri-record mo, may effects pa!”
Despite what he had anticipated to be a challenging undertaking, de Jesus agreed, recalling his excitement over “Kampanerang Kuba” as ABS-CBN’s next big-budget release, and the novelty of would-be superstar Curtis as a Kapamilya. Aside from those, Deramas had been a previous collaborator, and a friend with theater as their common background.
Deramas’ broad peg: Disney. “I want three original songs per week. Ikaw din gumawa ng theme song,” the composer quoted Deramas as saying.
IN 2 HOURS, COMPLETE MUSIC & LYRICS
The theme song was the first in what would become a 48-part list of original tunes he wrote and composed for “Kampanerang Kuba.” Without a script, and with only his conversation with Deramas as his basis, de Jesus started work on “Sabihin Mo Sa Akin.”
In “Kampanerang Kuba,” Curtis played the hunchback bell-ringer Imang, whose goodness manifests physically when a magical candle is lit.
Recalling the premise he had based the song on, de Jesus said: “Hunchback ka na nga, deformed pa ‘yung mukha, meron pang slurring. Sa mata ng karaniwang tao, mahirap siyang mahalin. Kasi nga ang mga tao, very judgmental. Sa physical tumitingin. She becomes beautiful. ‘Yung pagiging maganda niya, hindi lang siya gumaganda physically — it allows you to see the beauty in her. Nagiging literal ‘yung beauty niya.”
Written from Imang’s perspective, the song is a reflection on self-worth, as the character compares herself to others and starts to question why love has been elusive for her.
“‘Bakit sa iba, they have it easy?’ Iyon ang tingin ni Imang — ‘Ang dali-dali para sa lahat. Ako, simpleng acceptance hindi niyo magawa.’ ‘Ano ba ang mayroon sila? Sabihin mo sa akin.’ Hindi naman siya self-pity. She’s finding her worth. ‘Bakit ba ang premium ninyo na sa ganda? Mabait naman ako, masipag at mapagmahal akong anak.’ That’s basically it,” de Jesus explained.
The melody, which de Jesus composed at the same time he was writing the lyrics, was rooted on Deramas’ vision of incorporating a Disney touch to the series.
“Pag sinabi mong Disney, it appeals to all ages, basically,” de Jesus explained. “The melody should appeal to the young, the old, whatever gender, whatever orientation, whatever religion. Siguro, easy to the ears. Radio-friendly, if you would call it. Sing-able. ‘Yung kayang kantahin ng karaniwang tao at makaka-relate siya. The song should be aspirational, inspirational. Ats aka sweet. Fairy tale.”
Fortunately for de Jesus, his earliest works included musicals for children’s theater. He was, in fact, professionally trained for that genre. He also created shows for teenagers as part of ABS-CBN Foundation. “Babad ako sa mga projects na pambata,” he said.
In less than two hours, de Jesus finished both the music and lyrics of “Sabihin Mo Sa Akin.”
“Pero ‘yung two hours na ‘yun, it took me 40 years to get there,” he shared, referring to his career not only as a composer, but also as a musical scorer, musical director, playwright, actor, and theater educator.
“In everything we do, you do what you do and you make it seem easy. Like, ‘I can do this kahit tulog ako.’ Pero ‘yung journey mo as who you are now, ang tagal mong pinagtatrabahuhan ‘yan. To get to where I am now, it took a lifetime. Ang nakikita lang nila ‘yung output natin. Two hours lang ginawa, pero mahaba ‘yung journey na ‘yun,” he said.
For his first output for “Kampanerang Kuba,” de Jesus got instant approval from Deramas. “He loved it very much,” he recalled.
Within the first week of the series’ airing, Bernadette, the transformed Imang, sang “Sabihin Mo Sa Akin.” In the sixth episode, the character performed the song as her talent showcase for a pageant. (Seen at the 25:10 mark of the video below.)
De Jesus’ trivia, which he now shared with fond laughter, pertained to Curtis’ yet-to-be-developed confidence in singing at the time.
“When we recorded it for the teleserye, hindi pa kaya ni Anne. ‘Di ba naging concert queen siya? Inamin naman namin ‘to — she had a ghost singer na kaboses niya, taga-theater,” de Jesus said.
The other reason for enlisting a ghost singer, de Jesus explained, was a matter of practicality, given the demands of filming a series, full of special effects, that airs five times a week.
“Para mas madali sa kaniya na hindi pa siya tatakbo sa studio sa Quezon City para mag-record at tumakbo sa napakalayong Laguna o Batangas, kung saan nag-su-shoot sila. Kakantahin ng ghost singer, aaralin ni Anne habang nasa sasakyan siya papuntang location. By that time, ili-lip sync na lang niya,” he said.
DISNEY VS TORCH
As an official recording, “Sabihin Mo Sa Akin” had Sheryn Regis, then just a year into showbiz after her “Star in a Million” runner-up finish, as its singer. That version would become a popular ballad at the time, owing to it being heard nightly on primetime television for half a year.
Nine years later in 2014, de Jesus’ composition would return as a TV staple, again on primetime, as the theme song of “Mirabella,” similarly about a young woman (Barretto) who magically transforms.
Whereas Imang’s physical change reflects her inner beauty, the wood-skinned Mira sheds her complexion — with the help of a mysterious flower — to carry out her vengeful plot against those who have discriminated her “cursed” form, as Bella.
Aside from de Jesus’ composition being used as “Mirabella’s” theme song — admittedly to his surprise — he was also involved in the fantaserye as its musical scorer.
This time, “Sabihin Mo Sa Akin” was recorded by Klarisse de Guzman, who, in 2014, had just finished runner-up in the first season of “The Voice of the Philippines” months prior.
The new version may have the same lyrics about self-worth and longing for affection, but is a stark contrast to the Disney-inspired original, observed de Jesus.
First, he compared the voices of Regis, a “high soprano with a bright voice,” and de Guzman, a “mezzo-soprano with a darker tone.”
Referring to Regis, de Jesus said: “Pag kumanta siya ng masayang kanta, wala nang sasaya pa. Parang kitang-kita mo ‘yung araw. Pag kumanta siya ng malungkot, wala nang mas lulungkot pa. Nahi-hit niya both happy and sad, and in between. She has a very bright voice.”
De Guzman’s voice, meanwhile, has a different texture, de Jesus said. “Mas buo. Although belter si Klarisse — ang taas ng chest niya — mas mababa ‘yung range niya.”
A lower range of singing voice, de Jesus emphasized, does not mean a singer is any less talented. “Feeling na ibang tao, mas magaling ka kung mas mataas ‘yung boses mo, which is not true,” he said. “Kaniya-kaniya lang tayo ng vocal range. May soprano, may alto, may tenor, may bass. Ganiyan talaga ang mundo. May matangkad, may hindi matangkad, may maputi, merong dark-skinned.”
On top of Regis and de Guzman’s contrasting voices, the different arrangements of the two versions of “Sabihin Mo Sa Akin” make one decidedly sound “sadder” than the other, de Jesus pointed out.
“Mas fantasy ‘yung areglo ng version ni Sheryn. I think bagong panalo palang siya noon, so magtatapos ka talagang mataas, parang may contest!” de Jesus said, referring to Regis placing second in “Star in a Million.” “‘Yung pagkagawa ko rin kanta, allows the singer to really build and soar and fly, and then drop.”
“Si Klarisse, parang naging torch. Alam mo ‘yung torch singer na kumakanta lang sa isang sulok na nagdadalamhati? Ang dark ng texture niya, kaya iba ‘yung lungkot ng voice ni Klarisse, as compared doon sa lungkot ng boses ni Sheryn.”
Putting into visual terms his comparison of the 2005 and 2014 renditions, de Jesus said: “Si Sheryn, na sa gitna ng coliseum, maraming ilaw, may audience! Si Klarisse, nandoon sa sulok, nag-iisa, ‘Kawawa naman ako.’ Ganoon ‘yung interpretation niya, mas lonely, mas personal ‘yung kay Klarisse.”
MEASURE OF SUCCESS
Having scored over a dozen ABS-CBN series and films (many with Deramas as collaborator) and with a prolific career in theater — “Himala: Isang Musikal” and “Changing Partners” are his more recent stage creations — de Jesus is no stranger to acclaim and mainstream recognition.
“Sabihin Mo Sa Akin,” for instance, counts among his more popular tracks — having enjoyed primetime airplay across generations, and which has since become a frequent singing-competition piece.
But for de Jesus, the measure of fulfillment as a composer isn’t drawn from numbers or the ubiquity of his tunes.
“I remember — and this is true — bata pa lang ako, tinanggap ko na na magiging composer hindi para sumikat. Ganoon ang training namin sa theater, e. ‘Why are you composing songs?’ Because you want to tell a story, whatever story it is — love, advocacy. Whatever it is, ang objective mo is to tell a story,” he said.
“Para sa akin, 'pag naintindihan ng tao ‘yun, kahit isa lang, that means successful ang ginawa ko.”
De Jesus waxed sentimental as he recalled, with a mix of amusement, that a teen student of his once told him that he remembers “Sabihin Mo Sa Akin” as his favorite song when he was 3 years old. “Aray ko! Ang tanda ko na!” the composer quipped.
Turning serious, de Jesus surmised that even just one person considering his song as a favorite, is an indication that he accomplished a good “marriage” between the lyrics and the melody, allowing for an emotional connection with the song that is effortless, not forced.
“Pag natsambahan mo ‘yun, whatever your objective is — angry song, happy song, love song, love song sa bayan, sa aso, sa syota, sa nanay — pag napagdikit mo ‘yan at effective… Effective ang lyrics mo, effective ang music mo, at effective din ang pagkakakanta, successful ka,” he said.
“Pag na-achieve ko ‘yun, kahit hindi ‘yan mag-number 1 hit, masaya na ako. And I say that with all honesty.”
Behind the Music, Vincent de Jesus, Wenn Deramas, Anne Curtis, Julia Barretto, Kampanerang Kuba, Mirabella, Sheryn Regis, Klarisse de Guzman, Sabihin Mo Sa Akin