Behind the Music: 'Tanging Yaman' by Fr. Manoling Francisco

Leah C. Salterio

Posted at Apr 03 2021 03:06 PM | Updated as of Apr 03 2021 05:28 PM

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MANILA -- The liturgical song, “Tanging Yaman,” was penned by Fr. Manoling Francisco, SJ in 1986 and was only known mostly to church-goers at the time.

“I was a Jesuit novice when, so in love with the Lord, I wrote ‘Tanging Yaman,’” Fr. Francisco told ABS-CBN News. “The first line, ‘Ikaw ang aking tanging yaman,’ was sort of a mantra that I kept repeating. I set it to music and asked my co-novice then, Philip Gan, to help me complete the lyrics.”

The lyrics of “Tanging Yaman” were actually inspired by the spirituality of the great Carmelite mystics, Theresa of Avila and John of the Cross, according to Fr. Francisco. “It speaks of an aching for God of whom we catch glimpses in the beauty of creation and the goodness of people, but whom we cannot see or touch,” he explained.

“Because the lyrics were based on the mystical writings of the Carmelite saints, I didn't think the song would catch on with congregations after I wrote it. But soon after, I shared it with my fellow Jesuit novices, it quickly spread among parishes and religious communities.”

Interestingly and perhaps unknown to most people, the first person who recorded “Tanging Yaman” was Senator Risa Hontiveros, then the classmate of Francisco at the Ateneo de Manila University. The song was the title track of the Bukas Palad album (in cassette form) of the same title, released in 1986.

In 1992, Basil Valdez, who earlier also recorded Francisco’s popular inspirational hit, “Hindi Kita Malilimutan,” decided to record an album of inspirational songs, “Salmo (Sundin ang Loob Mo).” Valdez listened to Francisco’s other religious songs and subsequently recorded “Tanging Yaman,” among others.

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By the time Star Cinema produced “Tanging Yaman,” Laurice Guillen’s award-winning and star-studded family-drama shown in the 2000 Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF), the song was already being rendered in churches all over the country.

ABS-CBN requested permission from JesCom (Jesuit Communications), the production house of Filipino Jesuit composers, to use the song as a film title and theme.

Carol Banawa, who recorded the song as the theme of the film she also starred in, had been singing “Tanging Yaman” in her church choir in Batangas City. She acknowledged that “Tanging Yaman” had always been a popular church song even before she recorded it for their film.

“I guess the film just helped the song to become more popular with more people,” Banawa said. “I grew up serving in our basilica in Batangas City. I would sing for a whole mass. Sometimes, I would even serve as early as the 5:30 a.m. mass. I remember singing ‘Tanging Yaman’ during communion. It was always the perfect time to sing that song.”

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In the ensemble film, Banawa played Chona, the singer-granddaughter of the family matriarch Loleng (Gloria Romero). “It was such a great honor for me to be chosen to play Chona for that film,” Banawa revealed.

“I have always been active as a singer in my career and to be given a big break, to be part of a great film with such an amazing cast, was definitely a great blessing and something I will forever cherish.”

Banawa subsequently added “Tanging Yaman” to her recording roster. “Singing the theme of ‘Tanging Yaman’ was like icing on the cake,” she admitted. “To be identified with the song is something that always honors and humbles me. The song was already a respectable piece known in the church community.

“For other people who did not know about the song, our film made it look like this was something I originally sang. But that beautiful song had already its own popularity among churchgoers before I even recorded it.”

Banawa relished many memorable moments while filming “Tanging Yaman,” with big names in the acting industry. She loved the “family” they created on the set. “The amazing and talented actors in the cast were very kind and easy to work with,” she granted.

“They took care of us and were very generous about helping us in some of our scenes. It really felt like we were part of that big family. Off camera, we would always be laughing on the set just listening to stories from Tito Edu [Manzano] and Tatay Johnny [Delgado].

“Miss Gloria [Romero] was just like how she was onscreen, classy and yet, warm and loving. It really felt like I was with my lola, whenever I did scenes with her. She didn’t have to say anything, but when we were together on a scene, you would really feel her presence as an actor. Even if she didn’t have anything to say.

“They were all like that. All the veteran actors that were with in that film were like that. As young and new actors, we were blessed to witness that and be part of that film.”

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Banawa is aware that through the years, “Tanging Yaman” has been recorded by such other singers as Jamie Rivera, Noel Cabangon and Agot Isidro, among others. “Of course, the other versions are beautiful, as well, in their own right because it was performed by other very talented artists who shed a different feel and layer for ‘Tanging Yaman,’” she said.

“I think the only thing that sets my version apart from the others is the fact that it is also identified with this great and timeless film. I believe the film made its mark in the hearts of people. The fact that the title is the song itself, it is the first thing that you will hear when the film starts. That really makes the song very memorable.”

Meanwhile, Fr. Francisco explained that when he shared a particular composition like “Tanging Yaman” with the public, the song no longer becomes his exclusively property. “As a younger Jesuit, I would cringe when I would hear the ballad played in church accompanied by drums and electric guitar,” Francisco said.

“But as I have grown older, I have come to realize that when others sing a song I had written, it becomes theirs, too. They interpret it according to their spirit. And there will be as many renditions as there are singers. The song ultimately becomes our song.”

He was simply amazed about how a piece originally written for a church mass was able to transcend boundaries and was counted as a timeless ballad. “From church halls to radio airwaves and reach a wider, secular audience,” he pointed out.

“That is what I have been aiming to do as a liturgical composer. That is to bring God through music to wherever people are.”

Fr. Francisco admitted he was so used to hearing Valdez’s rendition of “Tanging Yaman” previously. “I never met Carol in person,” he said. “But her version surfaced another layer of meaning to the song.

“Every artist brings her whole history and interiority to a song she interprets. Carol's version of ‘Tanging Yaman’ added a painful tenderness and poignancy to the song.”

Fr. Francisco is modest enough to speak on behalf of composers of many liturgical and gospel tunes. “Our songs are more famous than we are,” he beamed. “People know the title of our songs, but not our names.

“Our songs get to travel around the world, which most of us aren't able to do. While our songs will always be attached to us, their creators, they are like our children. They will eventually have lives and destinies of their own.”

After the success of “Tanging Yaman,” the screen version, Fr. Francisco said the song, that was once only counted as religious theme, became inevitably relatable to a lot of people.

“Because they can interpret who their ‘tanging yaman’ is in multiple ways – God, a family member, a friend, even our people. The song thus can be meaningful to so many people, but in different ways.”

And popular, too, as “Tanging Yaman” has been considered a well-loved and best-selling ballad. “Since the song was based on the mystical writings of St. Therese and John of the Cross, I thought only contemplative nuns and monks would appreciate it,” said Fr. Francisco. “I am still amazed how so many others have embraced the song and included it in the soundtrack of their lives.”

During Lent, Guillen’s “Tanging Yaman” always makes it to the Holy Week schedule of films to be screened on TV. Expectedly, too, the inspirational ballad is lined up in church liturgical masses.

Fr. Francisco is known for his many other popular compositions, led by “Hindi Kita Malilimutan,” a piece that has been written about repeatedly. He penned other original songs through the years, like “Sa ‘Yo Lamang,” “Humayo’t Ihayag,” “Huwag Kang Mangamba” and more recently, “Far Greater Love,” beautifully recorded by Arman Ferrer.

Last December, he even released a new, upbeat Christmas tune, “Ang Tunay na Noche Buena,” a collaboration with Norman Agatep and recorded by the Bukas Palad Music Ministry.

EMBED : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QunugfNoAes

“Take and Receive” is one of Fr. Francisco’s earliest compositions that remains his favorite, too. “It is based on a prayer attributed to St Ignatius of Loyola,” he said. “I composed the melody back in third year high school, when I was thinking of entering the Jesuit novitiate and becoming a priest.”

“Gabing Kulimlim” is yet another favorite. “The lyrics of which I co-wrote with Jandi Arboleda. I composed the song during the last years of the Marcos regime.”

“Your Heart Today” is a poignant composition that Fr. Francisco dedicated to Ninoy and Cory Aquino. “It is a modern adaptation of St. Francis' Prayer for Peace. The song expresses what I hope and pray and strive to be – God's compassion wherever I am,” Francisco concluded.

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