Behind the Music: 'Make Believe' by Marco Sison

Leah C. Salterio

Posted at Jul 03 2021 01:22 PM

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Marco Sison never planned anything in his life when he was younger. He simply loved to sing, and that was why music came as an easy career for him.

“When my high school classmates in Laguna saw me before, they would tell me, ‘Natupad din ang pangarap mo,’” Sison told ABS-CBN News. “To be honest, I didn’t have a dream at that time. Wala talaga akong pangarap noon.”

Sison became a contract artist of WEA Records, that later became Universal Records, and was given a single, “Mahal,” by James Villafuerte. Unfortunately, that song didn’t take off.

“When you’re a struggling singer, marami kang ini-isip for many years,” Sison recalled. “Sisikat ba ko? You would often ask yourself. They gave me a second chance in recording with ‘Make Believe’ by Paul Melendez.”

The first time Sison heard the song, he honestly didn’t like it. “In the '80s, the demo of the songs, super rushed. Most the composers at that time, they didn’t know how to sing. They knew how to think and how to create.

“When they sing, they were in tune, but they were not really excellent singers. Exceptional na nga si Rey Valera.”

For Sison, “Make Believe” was the song that changed his life. “One day, when I woke up, my song was already a hit,” Sison recalled. “Sobrang bilis lang. Hintay ako ng hintay. Naiba talaga ang mundo ko noon. Ang saya.”

He came from abroad to perform as an exchange artist in Malaysia, Singapore and Taiwan. “When I entered the plane, sabi sa akin ng stewardess, ‘Sir Marco Sison, ang ganda ganda ng kanta mo.’ I know she was referring to ‘Make Believe.’ Hindi ko mapaniwalaan.”

“Lahat ng mga kaibigan ko, narinig na paulit-ulit ang song sa radio. Ako, nagmo-monitor, palipat-lipat pa ako ng stations, hindi ko mahuli para mapakinggan. Wala akong marinig.”

Subsequently, offers came Sison’s way for performances both here and abroad. “Heaven ‘yun for me,” he said. “Ang tagal kong naghintay. ‘Make Believe’ became my first hit. Although written in English ang lyrics, its sentiment was very Filipino.”

The eldest of four children, Sison grew up in a tightly-knit family in Biñan, Laguna. “Hindi kami mayaman, pero hindi rin kami mahirap,” he unabashedly disclosed.

He was assigned to wash the plates in their house when he was younger. Whenever his friends would hear him sing, they would surmise he was simply washing the dishes.

He was also tasked to fetch water for the family. “Taga-igib ako noon,” Sison said. “Ang duty ko noon from school, punuin ang malaking drum ng tubig kasi wala kaming Nawasa. Ang bahay namin nasa tabing kalsada lang.” 

His friends would frequent the sari-sari store in front of their house and exchanged stories there. “To remove my stress from school, alam na ng mga friends ko na delegated ang duties naming magkakapatid,” he said. 

Sison, accompanied by his mom, often brought money from singing contests all over Laguna. “Sa buong Laguna, laging may singing contest kapag fiesta,” he shared. “Dumadayo pa kami sa ibang bayan. Parang naging hanap buhay na namin ng nanay ko ‘yan. 

“Ang alam ko lang, magaling akong kumanta at pwede kong pagkakitaan. Lagi akong nananalo. Ang dami kong sinasalihan. But even then, wala akong pangarap na sumikat. Maybe that was why it took me a long time to make it as a singer.”

He also used his talent as a tool to win girlfriends in his hometown. “Mabilis akong magka-girlfriend,” Sison beamed. “Every time may nagkaka-crush sa akin, nagiging girlfriend ko na agad. Pasikat lang.” [Laughed]

Sison took up college at the Philippine College of Commerce that later became Polytechnic University of the Philippines. There, he became a choir member so he would also become a scholar. “Para wala akong bayaran na tuition,” he said.

In 1975, Sison was fielded in by his choir to join “Student Canteen” only on its second month on TV at that time. “Maybe, my fellow choir members saw something in me. Why will they ask me to join ‘Student Canteen’?”

Sison became an undefeated champion in “Student Canteen,” from 1975 until 1981. Eventually, he was also taken in as host of the noontime show.

He also joined a band for a while, Carding Cruz and His Band, where he became one of the vocalists. “I didn’t last long in the band, because I was studying,” Sison said.

When “Make Believe” became a hit, it took a while before Sison embraced the song’s popularity. “Kilala na ako noon, but I still didn’t have a car,” he recalled. “I would take the bus to go home to Biñan.

“From the plaza, I would walk to our barangay. Tapos, naglalakad ako, naririnig ko ang kanta ko sa mga tricycle.”

It was a five to ten-minute walk from the plaza to the barangay where Sison used to live. “Nahihiya ako ‘pag nakikita ako ng mga tricycle driver, pero ano ang gagawin ko? Wala akong choice. Tatawid ka lang ng tulay, barangay na namin. Lahat ng tao, kilala na ako.”

Recording executive Tato Malay, an A&R (artist and repertoire) manager at that time, previously told Sison, “Malalaman mong sikat na ang isang kanta ‘pag ang mga tricycle or jeepney driver at ang mga nagtitinda ng sigarilyo, kinakanta ‘yun.’

“Make Believe’ ang daming naka-relate sa song,” Sison said. “Filipinos are very fond of love songs in any form, from ballads to rock, jazz, R&B. I remember there were American producers who came here and observed. They commented that Filipinos are a very peculiar market.

“There are artists in the US who have long retired and are no longer performing there, but we still invite them. There was even a clamor for those artists to perform here, from Jack Jones to America. We love to love. We are too emotional up to now.”

Yet, Sison insists it’s nice to know that his audience grows old with him. “I always tell the fans, ‘Let’s keep this relationship. This is a relationship with no restrictions or commitment, but we love each other up until the end.’

“I see the same passion, same faces, but now older yet still with the same love and support. Nakakatuwa. Their lives have changed. They now have their respective families, with kids.

“When I’m in the mall, may mga lalapit sa akin. ‘Sir, Marco Sison?’ they will ask. Once I nod, they instantly bring out their phone cameras and ask, ‘Can I have a picture with you? Naku, matutuwa ang mommy ko.

“May nakasalubong ako one time, mga basketball players. I’m not sure if from Ateneo or where. ‘Sir Marco, pa-picture. I will surprise my mom.’ Nakataba ng puso ‘yun. Ibang klase.

“Unlike before may maririnig ka lang nagtitilian. Now, alam mo naipamana na sa mga anak. Ibang generation na ang mga may kilala sa ‘yo.”

In 1982, “Make Believe” landed in Sison’s album that had covers of songs by Barry Manilow (“Somewhere Down the Road” and “If I Should Love Again”), Michael Johnson (“Doors”), Paul Anka (“Think I’m In Love Again”), James Ingram (“One Hundred Ways”) and Kenny Rogers (“Through the Years”).

“Make Believe” also had a re-imagined version by “Pilipinas Got Talent” first grand winner, Jovit Baldivino, in 2012.

Meanwhile, Sison’s “My Love Will See You Through,” penned by Nonoy Tan, has become a classic to date. “It’s now in a different level,” he said of his song. “Hindi na siya namimili ng edad.

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Sison remains clueless for a long time about the popularity of his hit song. “As an artist, laging last song ko ang ‘My Love Will See You Through’ in my concerts. Iba ang reception ng audience sa song. I would tell my audience, ‘Sabi ko na nga ba, nandito lang kayo para sa kantang ‘to.’

“Sometimes, a few songs into the concert, may nagre-request na agad ng ‘My Love Will See You Through.’ Then I will tell them, ‘Sige, ‘pag kinanta ko ‘yan, tapos na ‘tong concert na ‘to.’

“Then, when I sing that, pati mga teenagers, they will bring out their cellphones at nire-record na nila ang song. Kakaiba siya talaga. Natanggap ko na ‘yun.”

For him to get invited to ABS-CBN’s Sunday noontime variety show, “ASAP Natin ‘To,” where he was given a tribute, was truly an honor for him. “You hear Martin [Nievera] and Gary [Valenciano] sing a few lines of your song that was given new arrangement. Nakakatuwa. Iba ‘yung feeling.”

Except for “Si Aida o si Lorna o si Fe,” most Sison’s hits are in English. Aside from “Make Believe” and “My Love Will See You Through,” there were “I’ll Face Tomorrow,” “Always” and “All of My Life,” among others.

EMBED : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kmms-hPyZrA

“The '80s was the era of English OPM hits,” Sison pointed out. “I think Nonoy Zuniga started it when he recorded ‘Never Ever Say Goodbye.’ Even Ric Segreto had ‘Give Me a Chance’ and it became a big hit.”

Through the years, Sison has done concerts here and abroad, acted in teleseryes and even in films, when he did Laurice Guillen’s “Beautiful Girl” (1990) and Marilou Diaz- Abaya’s “Jose Rizal” (1998).

He expressed his desire to have another set of hits. He actually produced a CD, but until this day, he hasn’t released it yet. One of the songs include “Sabik na Puso,” which he penned.

“Hirap ako to accept what has been happening now in technology,” Sison said. “Ang Facebook nga, more than two years ago lang ako nag-start. It took me a long time to accept it. Marunong na akong mag-post at mag-follow. Pero may resistance pa talaga. 

“I have to learn how to vlog, then you go to a certain channel to sing. You invite people to subscribe, view and follow you. That’s a challenge to me, but I want the new challenge.

“There are moments where you get tired of hearing the same songs over and over again. I want something fresh. In your art, you have to have growth. That’s what I want to do.”