Behind the Music: 'Kumukutikutitap' by Ryan Cayabyab

Leah C. Salterio

Posted at Nov 21 2020 02:18 PM | Updated as of Nov 21 2020 10:01 PM

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MANILA -- Who would have thought that the rarely-used or heard words, “eskusesa’t guhitan” would be associated with the popular Christmas ditty, “Kumukutikutitap,” three decades after National Artist Ryan Cayabyab penned the tune?

Rather far-fetched to most Filipinos. Yet, “eskusesa’t guhitan,” which literally means “scotch and striped,” was indeed part of the definitive history of “Kumukutikutitap.”

“On the 30th year of this song, I changed the rhythmic value of a part of the song when I finally realized exactly what eskusesa’t guhitan meant,” Cayabyab told ABS-CBN News. “So all these years, everyone had been singing ‘Kumukutikutitap’ wrongly, specifically, guhitan.

“I thought it was guhìtan, a verb, to draw a line. The writer, Joey Reyes, explained to me that eskusesa’t guhitan meant scotch and striped – adjectives to mean that the ribbon was of scotch and striped design. So now, every time ‘Kumukutikutitap’ is sung, you will know who got the update and who didn’t get it.”

Although the title is a bit mouthful to say, it was back in 1983 when Cayabyab composed “Kumukutikutitap” for a musical, “Bituin (The Star of Bethlehem),” written by Jose Javier Reyes. The song was to be used as a contest piece in a spectacular competition of choirs in a company.

“The annual competition involved several choirs,” Cayabyab narrated. “The choral leaders of each choir exhausted all possible materials having staged this competition for quite some time. So this particular choir who normally hires me to arrange their competition entry, decided to do an original work. ‘Kumukutikutitap’ was one of two complete songs in the mini-musical.”

All the choirs were preparing for the showdown in December that year, but on August 21, 1983, the inevitable happened. “Ninoy Aquino was shot on the airport tarmac and the competition was canceled,” Cayabyab sighed.

“The song ‘Kumukutikutitap’ was originally for choir, so since the song wasn’t used, I gave it to the Singers’ Foundation to learn for their Christmas caroling fund-raising activity. The Singers’ Foundation choir included it in their repertoire starting Christmas of 1984.”

Members of that group included many big-name OPM singers during that time – Celeste Legaspi, Basil Valdez, Leah Navarro, The Apo Hiking Society, Rico Puno, Marco Sison, Nonoy Zuniga, Eugene Villaluz, Louie Reyes, Pat Castillo, Jacqui Magno, Tillie Moreno. Even the duo of Subas Herrero and Noel Trinidad joined the group, plus the backup singers Babsie Molina and most of her colleagues.

After “Kumukutikutitap” was performed, all the other choirs who heard the song asked for a copy of the choral score. As the years passed, the song became a staple of choirs every Yuletide season.

Joey Albert, who was a popular recording artist in the ‘80s, was the first to record the song. “Her producer for that Christmas recording requested to include ‘Kumukutikutitap’ in her album,” Cayabyab recalled. “By the time Joey recorded it, the song had gained popularity with choirs and singing groups. But her recording boosted the popularity of the song, since Joey was a big recording artist in the ‘80s.”

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After Albert recorded her version of “Kumukutikutitap,” Cayabyab came up with his a capella rendition released in 1991 for his “One Christmas” album. The San Miguel Master Chorale and the San Miguel Philharmonic Orchestra also recorded their version in 2005.
“Kumukutikutitap” has undoubtedly become one of the most familiar OPM Christmas tunes ever recorded. 

“Happily, ‘Kumukutikutitap’ has become a Christmas staple in the mainstream and has achieved the mark of a traditional classic,” Cayabyab beamed. “If I may say so, it is the contemporary equivalent of our traditional Filipino Christmas songs, such as ‘Ang Pasko ay Sumapit’ or ‘Pasko Na Naman.’”

“Kumukutikutitap” is the first original Christmas song that Cayabyab penned. Through the years, he wrote other OPM Christmas songs like “Heto Na Naman,” “Anong Gagawin Mo Ngayong Pasko?,” “Paskong Walang Hanggan” (with lyrics by Joey Reyes), “Isang Taong Lumipas” (also with Reyes’ lyrics), “Munting Sanggol” and several other Christmas songs included in the San Miguel Master Chorale and the San Miguel Philharmonic Orchestra CD, “Pasko!”

Cayabyab has two new Christmas songs that will be released this season.

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