PH cancer victim 'lives' through Maroon 5 songs

Posted at 09/18/12 5:55 PM

MANILA, Philippines -- The memory of a 10-year-old Filipino boy lives on through the songs of Maroon 5, according to a member of the American pop-rock band.

A photo of Maroon 5 lead guitarist James Valentine (left) with Carlo Santiago

In February 2011, young musician and Maroon 5 protégé Carlo Santiago succumbed to neuroblastoma, or cancer of the peripheral nervous system. He was only 10.

"When Carlo passed away, it was very touching when James said, 'We'll never forget him, because he lives through our songs,'" Santiago's mother Toni said in an exclusive interview with ABS-CBN News, referring to Maroon 5 lead guitarist James Valentine.

Two months after Santiago died, the band dedicated a moment to him during their concert in Hong Kong in May 2011.

"They did a shout out for Carlo, which was really, really... which [would have been] really exciting for him. His friends were there watching, his teachers were there watching, and they did a shout out. He [would have been] very touched," said Toni, who had enrolled Santiago in a school in Hong Kong for a time.


Santiago's close relationship with the five-man band started in 2009, when they would visit cancer patients supported by the group Teen Impact in Los Angeles, California.

Diagnosed with the illness when he was four years old, Santiago had been staying in LA since 2005, where he sought treatment and became part of Teen Impact.

"James volunteers his time whenever they're in LA and not on tour to go to the hospital and teach guitar to kids, and that's how we met him, and it was kind of an instant bond between him and Carlo -- the music, the guitar and them," Toni said.

"He adores James, and James is his best teacher -- he would always say that," she added.

Whenever Santiago would get his guitar lessons from the Maroon 5 member, Toni recounted, he would be overtaken with enthusiasm despite his condition.

"You could feel... that Carlo's there, that he was there," Toni said. "In fact, he said, that cancer was both a curse and a blessing, and his blessing was James."

Band 'celebrates' Carlo

Unlike most who would only see or hear of Maroon 5 through television and the radio, Santiago had known of them as "real musicians," Toni recalled.

"Carlo would always say -- he knows that fans shriek for Adam and for the whole band, they're gorgeous, they're handsome -- but Carlo would say, 'They have to look at them as real musicians,' and Carlo was a musician," she said.

"He would always get upset, 'They don't have to scream like that, they have to look at them as real musicians,'" she added, laughing.

During Santiago's memorial service, the band performed a last time for the boy -- a "private concert for the family" of sorts, Toni said.

"James was there at the memorial service, he did acoustic guitar, he provided the music during the service, and we did a life celebration of Carlo, and the whole band was there," she said.

"They've been there for us really from the start really to the end," she added.

'Genuine heart'

Looking back on her son's bonding with group, which had given him inspiration despite battling cancer, Toni only has good words for the five-man band led by vocalist Adam Levine.

"They're not only good musicians, they're celebrities to everyone, but they're the real deal, real people with a genuine heart," she said.

"They had no fanfare [in helping people], they're very humble guys. They went to the hospital without security, went to my son's bedside, whispering to him," she recalled.

Toni said she only remembers fond memories of her son whenever she hears a song by Maroon 5.

"Whenever I hear [their] music -- Carlo's favorites were 'Secret,' 'The Sun' and 'Sweetest Goodbye'  -- so whenever we hear their music, it's like Carlo's there, and it's not so lonely, because this is how Carlo lived," she said.

As the band is set to perform their songs for a third time before a Filipino crowd on Tuesday night, Toni said her son will surely be there among the crowd.

"Carlo, he's here, he's going to be at the concert, he's going to be listening to their new music," Toni said. "We'll be there tonight."