MANILA -- Martin Nievera was only 19 when he clinched a recording contract with Vicor Music, that started his illustrious singing career in the Philippines.
Fresh off the plane from Honolulu, Hawaii, where he was previously based, Nievera impressed Vicor’s then big boss, Vic del Rosario, who spotted him when he guested in a TV program.
Del Rosario said, “I want that guy,” and lost no time in signing up Nievera to a recording deal on August 18, 1982. Not before long, Nievera saw himself inside a recording studio.
Del Rosario, now the man behind Viva Entertainment, established Vicor 54 years ago with his his cousin, Orly Ilacad. Nievera’s return to Vicor coincides with the company’s plans to revitalize the iconic recording label.
Nievera was barely 20 when he recorded Vehnee Saturno’s chart-topping composition, “Be My Lady,” for his “Take One” debut album, released in 1983. The album turned gold in only six weeks. At that time, gold records strictly registered sales of 20,000 copies.
“Take One” also included Nievera’s early hits like “Holiday” and “Pain,” Alvina Eileen Sy’s composition which went on to win the grand prize in the sixth Metro Manila Popular Music Festival.
“When I promoted my other new song, ‘Holiday,’ ‘Penthouse Live’ came into my life,” Nievera told ABS-CBN News. “I was going on all the different TV shows like ‘Student Canteen’ and ‘Eat Bulaga.’ Coming out in all those shows became my launching pad and my audition to the industry. ‘Penthouse Live’ taught me how to do television.”
Nievera undeniably scored many of his biggest early hits in his storied recording career with Vicor Music. “The Gift” (1984) carried the sentimental tune, “Each Day With You.”
The eponymously titled “Martin” (1985), contained a couple of pop gems and fan favorites like “Please Don’t Throw My Love Away,” “You Are To Me” and “On the Right Track.” The album also included Nievera’s successful attempt at recording his first Tagalog hit, Cecile Azarcon’s “Ikaw ang Lahat sa Akin.”
“Miracle” (1987) carried the title track that Nievera wrote for his eldest son, Robin. The holiday-themed album, “A Martin Nievera Christmas” (1988), included his first Christmas hit, “Christmas Won’t Be the Same Without You.” “Dream” (1989) rounded off Nievera’s recordings with Vicor Music.
After releasing six albums with Vicor, Nievera was prompted to move on. Yet, he insisted there wasn’t any bad blood between him and Vicor when they parted ways.
“There was no problem, no falling out,” Nievera clarified. “There was not anything bad that happened, no ill-feeling, nor tampuhan. It was not about money or numbers. None of that. The recording industry was changing. Maybe Vicor was going in a different direction at that time.”
Admittedly, Nievera experienced his “yabang years” when he was with Vicor. “My first album with Vicor turned gold in six weeks,” he granted. “That never happens. The more you feed a 19-year-old boy about his fame and how popular he is and he starts believing that he is all that, then, that becomes a problem.
“There was a time in my life I was all that. I was unapproachable. If I were to see myself back then, I wouldn’t like myself. But I was never complacent at that time.”
Today, after 38 years in the music industry, the esteemed balladeer returned to Vicor Music. The recording company asked him back and made him ink a new contract.
Returning to Vicor is “magical” for Nievera. “Nowadays, hindi na uso to come up with a product, have a CD signing, do a meet-and-greet,” he said. “All of those things are things of the past. We are not even doing albums anymore. When they asked me to go back to Vicor, it was really more for nostalgic reasons. We started together.”
Nievera acknowledged that Vicor took a really “big risk” when the company signed him up then. “Wala pa akong boses, wala pa akong pangalan at that time,” he said. “For them to ask me back after all these years, this is a big thing for me.
“To go back to Vicor now, I really hope we can relive the old days and the good times. Like spending more than one hour to record a song because we are still chatting. I’m 38 years in the business. I don’t want something new.
“I want something that’s lasting. I want something that feels more permanent in this temporary life that we lead now. In this new normal. Something that really fits. Vicor and I, we truly fit.”
Back in the '80s, Nievera experienced recording albums and releasing records for Vicor. “Vinyls, 33 and 45,” Nievera proudly said. “We couldn’t make that many albums as quick as we can now. When we graduated into the CD world, Vicor and I did it together.
“We went through so many of those new changes in the recording world. I’ve lost count. During my Vicor days, that was when I recorded the most original Pilipino music. Not too many of the revivals. Back in the day when we were trying to find out new songs, new sound, new composers and different arrangers, that was when it all started with Vicor.”
Nievera keeps the faith that one day soon, he can record again in a studio. “I recorded so many songs. I hope we can do it again in a studio. There’s nothing like the authentic sound of a recording studio with those big, beautiful, warm microphones. I hope we can do it in a studio and still follow the rules.”
Nievera feels excited that he gets to record anew with Vicor. He is set to release new and not-so-new songs and albums. “I wanted to do some revivals, as well,” he said. “I am asking if we can start remaking some of the new sound, the new songs, from the new composers with the old voice and old face.
“I am hoping that I can learn a few tricks. Old voice, but we will try to bring some new life to some of the new songs that the millennials have been listening to. That’s what we will start with. We’re still trying to compile some new songs. Plus, there is a market of going back to vinyl records.”
Executive vice president of Viva Music Group, Verb Del Rosario, also the vice president of Vicor Music, confirmed they will re-release Nievera’s original six albums with Vicor on vinyl.
With his return to his original home, Nievera can also re-record his old songs, owned by Vicor and Viva. “I can remake my own songs now, because before, I couldn’t,” he lamented. “This is my homecoming to Vicor. My journey with them continues.
“I’m very happy to be back. It was a no-brainer when Vicor asked me to join them again and help them celebrate 54 years of Vicor Music. They couldn’t have asked me at the best time in my life, where I’m still thinking to come up with some new music constantly.”
The young Del Rosario noted Nievera has “one of the most beautiful voices in the country” and the company rolled out the red carpet to welcome him again with open arms.
“Vicor trusted me with their music,” the Concert King said. “I will always have a soft spot for the label. I started my recording career with them.”
Asked about the one important thing he will probably tell his 19-year-old self, the first time he went to Vicor, Nievera immediately maintained, “I asked myself that question, but I’ve never been asked that question. I’d probably tell myself not to be in such a hurry. Back when I was 19, everything had to be fast. Now that I’m not 19, maybe 19 two or three times over, I find myself remembering the past, wishing that it had not gone so fast.
“Some of our artists today, it’s very easy to make it because of the social media. We didn’t have it back then. For me to say that my showbiz rise was too fast, it must have been really fast. Fast then is not fast today. Fast today is really fast. So it happened too fast. So I will tell my 19-year-old self, ‘Relax, enjoy every moment of every victory. Learn from every defeat. And if you’re patient, really patient, Vicor will ask you back.”
Yes, he became “too fast and very furious, sometimes too furious.” Still, he did not have any complaints. “I’m very blessed to be asked to go back to the company that I started with,” Nievera said. “That means they still have faith in me. I don’t know why. I’m not going to ask.
“I’m happy to be in the position where I’m in now. I am where I am today. Professionally, personally, I wish I have invested better. I wish I was more of a businessman then. I will tell my 19-year-old self, ‘Save your money. Stop with the girls’.”
Has he really stopped with the girls? “Oh yes, I’m a good boy now,” Nievera beamed.
Two months ago, Nievera went to the US to visit his 13-year-old son, Santino, who returned to Manila with him since there is no school in the West Coast. “Santino is now here so I can watch over him,” Nievera said. “He has special needs. It’s important that I have him next to me 24/7, so I know his struggle is not increased.
“Because of this lockdown, he gets very bored easily. He has to go out and do things all the time. I’m trying to keep him entertained, educated and exercised during this one little vacation that he has. He’ll probably be here until Christmas.”
Meanwhile, his eldest, Robin, is set to return home from the US this month and bond with the family anew.
Nievera’s recent air travel compelled him to undergo repeated swab tests for COVID-19. “My nose will never be the same,” he complained. “My throat, even my nostrils and fingers, too. Everything now, we have to be extra, extra careful. We need to do it. We got to be sure. Until we can conquer this virus, I’m okay with it.”
He insists that the only way to beat this pandemic is to be positive. “I didn’t want to fall into that negative vibe,” Nievera said. “I tried to stay positive in tackling life and situation. The year 2020 is really pounding us with challenges. Even losing ABS-CBN was hard.
“My biggest challenge is to learn to stay positive, so that it can project to people who see me on the different platforms or when I’m on TV again. I am hoping that I can be living proof that we can defeat anything by just being positive or with prayer and with faith in each other and more importantly in God.”
Ever since the lockdown happened last March, Nievera unselfishly started his nightly “Quaran-Twins,” singing and entertaining with twin sister, Vicky. To date, they have done more than 100 nights – 116, to be exact.
“In this new normal, we are trying to do things that are creative,” Nievera maintained. “We decided to do things on Facebook Live, Kumu and some other new platforms to keep my singing going. We want to entertain the lonely, the scared, the unsure, the unhappy. That is my whole purpose of the whole thing, not knowing that I will also be healing myself in the process.”
He thanks his neighbors, who donated speakers and other gadgets that they used for their set-up. “I’m very meticulous about the sound,” Nievera admitted. “Mixer with microphone live. All the singers now, we all learned how to be production people, directors and sound engineers. That’s my biggest lesson learned throughout this whole new normal. That’s what I’ve been doing.”
Although technology is such a challenge for him, Nievera is learning to be a multi-tasker of late. “Because if I don’t learn this, I’m never going to be part of the new normal,” he reasoned out. “That should also help educate me. We old dinausaurs have to listen to the young people or we’re going to be lost.”
He credits his sister, Vicky, for joining him in “Quaran-Twins” nightly. They started with singing for three hours every night. “Then I realized, my God, we’re going to run out of songs. So, we made it two hours. I am doing this to keep people company, not to make money. I don’t want people to get tired of what I’m doing. I just want to help. I don’t want to be helped.”
He insisted Vicky is the original singer in the family. “But she doesn’t have the craziness. You have to be crazy to be in this business. You have to be willing to be crazy. Vicky is very smart. She is way smarter than me.”
Nievera does not deny that he misses performing live onstage. Recently, he was in Balesin Island and he did his regular Facebook Live show. He nearly forgot the sound of applause that he got completely surprised when the few people who were around clapped for him.
“It wasn’t a real show,” Nievera insisted. “It was impromptu with an audience. I invented plexiglass, so I could sing with people watching and my droplets will not be dropping. What I did not expect was the sound of applause. I forgot that.
“That night, with a very small audience, when they all clapped, I asked, ‘What was that?’ I nearly had a heart attack. I though it was gun shot. They were all in masks. I can’t see what their expressions were. Are they smiling. Are they having fun? Are they singing along?”
Nievera didn’t think he would hear applause again at this time. “When they all clapped. It was music to my ears. I almost cried. It was a no-brainer show. Emotionally, it brought me to my knees in gratefulness. Boy, I have missed that feeling of immediate reaction by way of applause.
“When I heard that applause, I knew I was at the right place, at the right time. I felt positive that it was going to happen again, not just for me, but for musicians, performers, directors and writers. If I could do it on a small island of Balesin, with just a little plexiglasss, then anyone can do it. It can happen again.”
Nievera has been unbelievably busy welcoming every invitation that comes his way. “Believe it or not, I’ve been very busy,” he said. “I’ve been doing corporate and charity shows to inspire people and thank the frontliners.
“I made myself available every time. I can’t even lie that I am not available. I’m just in the house. I can’t say no. Everything is yes now. I’ve never been more busy. Even birthday greetings, I welcome them.”
Collaborating with other artists seems to be the new normal, according to Nievera. “In concerts, television, songs, recording, collaboration is very needed right now. I think there’s no room anymore for soloists.”
He has managed to adapt to the new normal of dressing up the top half when doing shows from home. “I’ve been doing shows with suits, boxer shorts; long sleeves shirt, boxer shorts; T-shirts, boxer shorts. I’m not wearing any pants. That’s the only change in all these years. That’s what’s nice about the new normal. I’m enjoying it.”
Nievera does not deny the fact that he also aspired to be known in the international scene and become a household name.
“The one thing that I have always wanted to do, but have not done yet is to be known worldwide, not just by my own people," he said. “I feel I haven’t peaked yet. There will come a time, a reason or a project that will catapult me to the international scene, like the Lea Salongas or the Arnel Pinedas. I want my that, too.
However, in case that no longer happens, Nievera is not totally worried. “I’ve already come to terms with that,” he said. “It’s more important that I tell myself, ‘Don’t quit.’ I hate to watch a performer who is complacent. Or an artist who is happy or feeling he is larger than life. I think a singer worth watching or signing up with a recording company like Vicor. is the one that’s still has a lot of fire.”
With the same enthusiasm that has always been associated with him, Nievera is always eager to get started. “To give myself fire, I need to tell myself that I still look forward to being a household name around the world, like Lea. Truth is, I know I missed that ‘bus’ already. But I’m okay with it. I just have to keep pushing. I still look forward to many more things to happen ahead.”