The Soundtrack of My Life

(L-R) Rico J. Puno (Source:, Apo Hiking Society (Source: and the Hotdog band (Source:

(L-R) Rico J. Puno (Source:, Apo Hiking Society (Source: and the Hotdog band (Source:

It’s amazing what treasures one can unearth when trying to unclutter a life.

I was holed up in my garage recently, putting stuff together for our annual bulky garbage pickup when I came upon this box that, by every reasonable standard, fell in the throw-out-everything-you-haven’t-used-for-one-year category. I had forgotten about it, had not even opened it since we moved to this house more than a decade ago.

Were I a bit more disciplined in completing my task, I would have done the logical thing--discarded the box and its contents without a second thought. But discipline is not one of my strong points, and in this particular instance I thanked my lucky stars for my being easily distracted. Else I would have missed out on one intensely gratifying nostalgia trip.

The box had all the cassette recordings that I brought with me when we moved to the San Francisco Bay Area 26 years ago. Some of them were no longer usable; many I already have the CD versions of. Looking through the collection, however, I was hit by a wave of memories of 40 years ago, when our country was still in the throes of adjusting to martial law, curfew was the order of the night, the military reigned supreme… and Rico J. Puno was lamenting the pain of lost love with his very original rendition of “The Way We Were:” Alaala/nung tayo’y mag-sweetheart pa/Namamasyal pa sa Luneta/nang walang pera… (Memories/of those days when we were sweethearts/strolling at the Luneta/without a cent). Remember?

The Way We Were

It was Rico J. who made us stop and take note of the possibilities of Pinoy creativity and musicality. Before him most of us ignored the plaintive kundimans of Ruben Tagalog and Diomedes Maturan because they were too syrupy and sentimental, too uncool for our Beatles-loving ears. But with lyrics that spoke of such a universal experience as first love, especially when prefaced with pero bakit ganyan ang panahon/kung sino pa ang mahal na mahal mo/siya pa ang nawawala sa yo/ siya pa na mas mahal mo kaysa sa buhay mo (why do you lose the one you love more than life itself), we had to listen because the song told our story in words that were basically ours.

Then came 1974. Imelda Marcos, after she was almost assassinated by a knife-wielding assailant, was already wielding her power to put the Philippines on the world culture map. Muhammad Ali and the “Thrilla in Manila” happened; so did the Miss Universe pageant and, more significantly, so did the phenomenon that was eventually tagged “the Manila sound.” Hotdog, the band, crashed into our collective consciousness with “Ikaw Ang Miss Universe Sa Buhay Ko” (You Are My Life’s Miss Universe). Suddenly original Filipino songs took a trendy twist. Gone were the flowery lyrics and the predictable melodies and beats; instead we got rock, disco and songs that captured familiar, day-to-day stuff.

Ikaw Ang Miss Universe ng Buhay Ko

Hotdog came out with such hits as “Pers Lab,” which had colegialas (exclusive school girls) humming; “Bongga Ka Day,” which gave mainstream listeners a hint of “swardspeak” (Filipino gay lingo) via a very danceable tune; and “Annie Batungbakal,” a disco song that elicited sympathy for this ordinary salesgirl who transforms into a dancing queen at night: sa umaga, dispatsadora/sa gabi, siya’y bonggang-bongga/pagsapit ng dilim, nasa Coco Banana/Annie Batungbakal, sa disco isnabera/sa disco, siya ang reyna”(a salesgirl by day/a hit at night/comes dark she’s at Coco Banana/Annie Batungbakal, a disco snob, a disco queen)

Pers Lab

Bongga Ka Day

Annie Batungbakal 

With Hotdog paving the way – and with the government requiring radio stations to play at least one original Filipino music (OPM) every hour – Filipino musicians were finally recognized and rewarded with top hits and public adulation. The field quickly became crowded with talents previously unnoticed and a generation came of age identifying with songs that spoke of their concerns, in their language.

Who among us will not stop what we’re doing if we hear once again Basil Valdez’s rich baritone promising: Ngayon at kailanman/sumpa ko’y iibigin ka…/sa hirap at ginhawa pa/asahang may kasama ka…(Now and forever, I promise to love you, in times of hardship and contentment, I shall be by your side)?

Ngayon at Kailanman

Who was not able to relate at some point in his life to the Apo Hiking Society’s “Mahirap Magmahal ng Syota ng Iba” (It’s Tough to Love Someone Else’s Girlfriend): I-dial mo ang number sa telepono/Huwag mong ibigay ang tunay na pangalan mo/Pag nakausap mo siya sasabihin sa yo/Tumawag ka mamaya nanditong syota ko” (When you call her/ don’t give your real name/she’ll tell you to call back because her boyfriend is with her).

Mahirap Magmahal ng Syota Ng Iba

And who was not touched deeply by Freddie Aguilar’s now classic “Anak,” when it became a big hit as we were rocking our newborns to sleep?


The Apo’s version of Winnie Arrieta and Louie Ocampo’s “Ewan”: Sana naman itigil mo na yang/Kakasabi ng ewan at anong bola na naman yan/Bakit ba ganyan, binata’y di alam/Na ang ewan ay katulad na rin ng oong inaasam (I hope you stop saying I don’t know and stop pulling my leg/a guy does not understand that your ‘I don’t know” actually means the coveted “yes”) was all too familiar to Filipina girls brought up to play coy.


And Hajji Alejandro’s rendition of Jim Paredes’ “Nakapagtataka:” Walang tigil ang gulo/Sa aking pag-iisip/Mula ng tayo’y magpasyang maghiwalay/Nagpaalam pagka’t tayo’y hindi bagay/Nakapagtataka… (The turmoil in my mind has not stopped since we decided to break up/I still wonder why) evoked in me not just memories of break-ups, but also of the many afternoons my little children and I spent in our porch in UP Village, straining to listen to Hajji rehearsing the award-winning classic, “Kay Ganda ng Ating Musika” in composer Ryan Cayabyab’s studio across the street.


Kay Ganda ng Ating Musika

I spent the rest of the afternoon almost four decades and thousands of miles hence, awash in the memories that the songs brought back. Those were trying times in our homeland’s history, but somehow Rico J, Hajji, Basil, Celeste, Jim, Danny and Boboy, Florante and Mike (among others) took the edge off the pain. It was the music–the original Pilipino music–that kept us alive and in love. With life and everything that came with it.

A version of this blog was first published in Filipinas Magazine.

Gemma Nemenzo

Editor, Positively Filipino