Review: Cabangon traces journey in 'Byahe' concert

Posted at 09/29/12 1:17 PM

President Aquino watches concert at Music Museum

MANILA, Philippines -- Singer-songwriter Noel Cabangon's solo concert at the Music Museum on Friday night wasn't just an extended show to promote his latest album, "Tuloy ang Byahe." Taking on the CD's -- and the concert's -- title as the main theme, audiences were taken on a musical journey of Cabangon's entire career from a struggling folk singer to a best-selling recording artist.

Although he crossed over to the music mainstream very late in his career only three years ago, when he signed up with Universal Records, Cabangon has quickly established himself as one of the industry's genuine music artists with the release of his well-received "Byahe" albums, consisting of his own hits and reinterpretations of OPM classics.

His Friday concert was power-packed both on and off stage, with no less than President Benigno Aquino III taking time off to watch the singer. Also in attendance were Cabinet members Mar Roxas and Jun Abaya, Senator Francis Pangilinan, Rissa Hontiveros and Philippine Investment Management Inc. (Phinma) CEO Ramon del Rosario Jr.

Cabangon's guests were just as illustrious -- rapper Gloc-9, balladeer Christian Bautista, rocker Bamboo and actor-singer Ogie Alcasid.

Backed up by a full band led by musical director Bob Aves, with a string quartet, a saxophonist-flutist and the vocal group Opera, Cabangon's songs took on a richer flavor, heightening their various emotions and musical influences from the bluesy sound of "Tinitiis" to the jazz leanings of "Pumapatak Na Naman Ang Ulan" (with "happy" photos of Filipinos during the recent habagat were flashed on the giant screen) and the wistful romance of "Kanlungan."

The repertoire consisted of several songs from the "Byahe" albums from his first commercial single, a grown-up rendition of "Kahit Maputi Na Ang Buhok Ko," to his more recent hits, "Tuwing Umuulan at Kapiling Ka" and "Kahit Na."

But Cabangon also included many of his own compositions, which mirrored his own journey, from a self-confessed tambay ("Dito sa Kanto") to an artist for social change ("Ako'y Isang Mabuting Pilipino").

He even looked back at his time as a folk singer, performing a cover of James Taylor's "Fire and Rain."

Cabangon also did a medley of some of commercial jingles he wrote (mostly for local governments such as tourism songs for cities like Puerto Princesa and Iriga), as well as songs he composed for the Philippine Educational Theater Association or PETA, which produced the concert as a fund raiser for the theater group's endowment fund.

Although used to singing in regular gigs, Cabangon still had that shy demeanor when doing spiels, although he has become more comfortable in interacting with other artists. His duet with Bamboo on "Tatsulok," which Cabangon composed with his group Buklod and re-recorded by Bamboo, was one of the more successful musical collaborations last Friday.

But it was his duets with Gloc-9 on Hotdog's "Manila" and more impressively on the rapper's latest hit "Sirena," that brought the house down, perhaps because the two share many qualities as artists who have been thrust into the solo spotlight after many years of toiling in the music scene.

Throughout the three-hour show, Cabangon made it clear why he continues to matter in the OPM scene now more than ever. Apart from the clear tone of his voice that is comfortable to the ears, there is that sincerity in his delivery that hits the heart, that unmistakeable Filipino flavor in his songs in terms of imagery and sentiment. His musicality also shines in his reworking of these OPM songs as if they were his own.

And in songs such as "Panaginip" he instills real hope and pride.

Yet beneath the image of Cabangon as a musical activist, there is still that folk singer in him that touches the heart simply with his voice and guitar. One of his most touching performances was the encore number, "The Secret of Life" by James Taylor. Sitting there onstage with his guitar, imparting life lessons, one can't help but be uplifted.