Noel Cabangon's journey goes on

MANILA, Philippines - Remakes almost always pale in comparison to originals.

Just imagine the pressure on the artist to equal – if not surpass – the performance or rendition of the original artist that led to the popularity of the song and made it worthy of being remade in the first place.

Clad in jeans and a striped black and white polo shirt, Filipino singer-songwriter Noel Cabangon looked more “prosperous” the afternoon members of the Fourth Estate met up with him at Patio Carlito, just off the Pinoy Big Brother House in Quezon City.

He still has a mustache and a goatee – now salt and peppery – and wears the obligatory bracelet with tiny beads.

Cabangon was nursing painful arms from playing golf (!) with his “NFF” or newly-found friends.

Indeed, Noel Cabangon has come a long way.

But once he sat on his elevated seat with his ubiquitous guitar slung on his shoulder, everyone fell quiet. That raspy voice seasoned by rallies, weekly gigs and other performances was — unmistakably — Noel.

You could actually hear the distinct sound of his fingers moving — nay, sliding — from string to string, and that “pluck.”

His singing brought back a lot of memories, of countless Wednesday nights at 70s Bistro along Anonas Road in Quezon City where he performed for over a decade (or maybe a decade and a half?) until he found a new home in Conspiracy bar.

He regaled us with his versions of “Tuwing Umuulan (at Kapiling Ka)” which THE Basil Valdez popularized, Zsa Zsa Padilla’s “Kahit Na” and Rey Valera’s “Kahit Maputi na ang Buhok Ko.”

Noel recently released a follow-up album to double platinum 2009’s “Byahe” — aptly titled “Tuloy ang Byahe.”

This new album consists of remakes such as the ones we mentioned above, as well as “Anak,” “Malayo Pa ang Umaga,” “Ikaw Lang ang Aking Mahal,” “Usahay,” “Huwag Mong Sabihin,” “Sika Laeng Iti Biag,” “Paano,” “Lagi Na Lang,” “Iduyan Mo,” “Pumapatak ang Ulan,” “Manila” (that he performed with Gloc 9), “Joey’s Theme (Umaga na Naman)” and “Handog.”

The songs were previously interpreted by the likes of Freddie Aguilar, Rey Valera, the APO and Florante, among others. 

Ang album na ito mas makapal ang areglo, may orchestration; tsaka different genres,” he said. He added that he thinks, “Bagay ang lyrics sa ’kin.”

If remakes are almost always lackluster, how come Noel’s versions are fab? It’s because Noel gives — and invests so much — of himself that the song comes out so much richer.

“I’m not an actor,” Noel quipped, even if he had in the past brought to life roles such as those of Jose Rizal, Emilio Jacinto and Jesus Christ. “Kundi binabaril, pinapako,” he said of the fate of the protagonists he’s played with PETA in the past. 

Hindi s’ya gwapo, hindi s’ya bata, pero credible s’ya,” notes Peter Chan, the operations manager and international label director of Universal Records Philippines, Cabangon's recording company.

The younger artists in Universal’s stable actually look up to Noel — and he provides inspiration to younger and unknown artists elsewhere — because he is considered a “breakthrough artist.” 

Although not made of the mold of other artists being built up (read: young and handsome), still, he’s managed to sell so many records that they not only turn gold nor platinum but double platinum! 

And for the “Tuloy ang Byahe” CD, Chan says, “We’re targeting a specific (demographic): CD buyers who appreciate Noel’s rendition of OPM classics.”

Sadly, Chan laments, a lot of people opt to buy pirated CDs, or download music illegally so CD sales (in general, that is) are not picking up. 

It seems, he says, that while physical sales are declining, it is still not a habit among local consumers to download music legally.

There was very interesting discussion about the younger generation having strong colonial mentality, and of radio stations merely trying to address the needs of the people.

And, well, this trend of making remakes is not going to disappear anytime soon, as Noel himself realized that while “we’re challenged by foreign music, we’re (also) very much challenged by OPM. We have to release songs that are familiar…” 

After all, it all boils down to economics.

Meantime, he assures us that the indie sector continuously creates music and there just has to be venues for all this production of music to be heard.

What better way to promote and patronize locally-made music than to watch concerts by our own artists? The people who wish to watch Noel’s concert, also entitled “Tuloy ang Byahe,” will definitely not feel shortchanged.

Performing with Noel tonight, Sept. 28, at the Music Museum are Christian Bautista, Gloc 9 and other special guests. Show starts at 8 pm.

The concert is for the benefit of the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA). -