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Departing Akafellas member tops PhilPOP songwriting tilt

The Akafellas and Mark Bautista perform the grand-prize winning song "Bawat Hakbang". (Rhoy Cobilla/InterAksyon)


A diverse collection of genres and catchy tunes distinguished the 14 entries that composed the finalists of the first ever Philippine Popular Music Festival (PhilPOP) held at the Philippine International Convention Center Saturday night.

Karl Vincent Villuga, a member of the eight-man vocal group The Akafellas, turned “Bawat Hakbang”, a personal song about overcoming a personal crisis, into the P1 million Grand Prize winner.

A financial consultant who plans to leave the group and pursue an MBA degree in Singapore, Villuga admits that while he has written a few original songs for the Akafellas, this was only his second attempt to join a songwriting contest.

It is not known if his PhilPOP victory will affect his decision to pursue graduate studies and leave Akafellas.

Interpreted by the group and Mark Bautista who is no stranger himself to talent contests, “Bawat Hakbang” is quite a departure from the usually unaccompanied “popcapella” sound that the group is known for.

Characterized by the inspired exchange of verses between Bautista and Villuga himself, the song nonetheless highlights the trademark harmonies the Akafellas are known for.

Karl Vincent Villuga sings his own composition. (Rhoy Cobilla/InterAksyon)


Veteran songwriter Soc Villanueva, who has written hits for artists like Bituin Escalante and Angeline Quinto, took home 1st runner-up honors and P500,000 with another R & B tune in “Kontrabida” as interpreted by Sam Concepcion.

Now based in Australia, Villanueva boldly said he did not join PhilPOP for the money. Instead, the seemingly semi-retired tunesmith wanted to find out if he’s not yet over the hill (or “hindi pa laos”, to use his own words) as a songwriter. His good showing in the competition proved to be a vindication.

Toto Sorioso, a singer-songwriter who specializes in alternative and folk tunes was first runner-up and won P250,000 with “Tayo Tayo Lang,” a song about the loneliness of playing music on a stage, in an empty bar, with no one really watching.

Two years ago, Sorioso won the Grand Prize in the Filscap Songwriting Contest with the song, “Wag Mong Isipin” which he also performed. For “Tayo Tayo Lang,” he asked former Sugarfree frontman Ebe Dancel to interpret the song.

The winners were chosen by a panel of judges composed of Noel Cabangon, Louie Ocampo, Ely Buendia, Jim Paredes, radio deejay Chico Garcia, Universal Records general manager Kathleen Digo and Maynilad chief finance officer Randy Estrellado.

A special Smart People’s Choice award was also given to the entry with the most number of text votes.

James Leyte, a cellular service support representative who submitted his entry with only five days to go before the deadline, won the prize for the reggaefied “Brown” which he himself interpreted with the band Brownman Revival.

Aside from the cash prizes, the winners each received a beautiful trophy designed by world famous sculptor Ramon Orlina.

Regardless of who took home the top prizes, the first PhilPOP Music Festival was a triumphant night for Original Pilipino Music as the PhilPOP Musicfest Foundation’s Board of Trustees led by Chairman Manny V. Pangilinan pulled out all the stops in reviving a renaissance for OPM that somewhat stagnated after the Metro Manila Popular Music Festival (or Metropop) folded in 2003.

“After so many years nang natulog ang OPM, the time is right to revive it once again,” Pangilinan said in a pre-recorded overview of the PhilPOP.

MVP also admitted that the project was fortunate to have gained the support of several big companies such as Maynilad, Smart, Meralco, PLDT, Resorts World Manila and TV5.

For MVP and the rest of the PhilPOP organizers, pulling out all the stops started with an elaborate stage set-up designed by Gino Gonzales, one of the country’s top production designers.

The aging Plenary Hall of the PICC was all dressed up as the sprawling PhilPOP stage borrowed its look from piano keys and musical scores featuring wave-like forms that go all the way up to venue’s ceiling.

From the entries themselves to the guest perfomers, the PhilPOP finals did not lack for star power, starting with hosts Ogie Alcasid and Nikki Gil who regaled the full-house audience with their humorous banter even during commercial breaks.

The memorable performances in between the presentation of the entries by batches included a powerhouse medley of the songs of George Canseco, Willy Cruz, Ernani Cuenco, Jose Mari Chan and Ryan Cayabyab by the Ryan Cayabyab Singers, Christian Bautista, Erik Santos, Basil Valdez, Regine Velasquez and Sharon Cuneta.

In their own segment, Jose Manalo and Wally Bayola together with the Hot Legs brought the house down with their performance of Rico J. Puno’s “Macho Guwapito.”

A touching tribute to Dolphy was another highlight of the show as Alcasid acknowledged the legendary comedian’s association with music by mentioning the song and dance numbers he used to perform in his films. A special video trubute to the Comedy King included the line, “Like an unforgettable song, his legacy will live on forever.”

The most memorable performance of the night was a Metropop tribute that featured a medley of its most celebrated songs as performed by Rachel Alejandro, Bituin Escalante, Gian Magdangal, Jam Nieto, Reymond Bajor, Kris Lawrence, Gloc 9, Cris Villonco, Barbie Almalbis, Kitchie Nadal, Rachel Alejandro and in a rare appearance, Hajji Alejandro who concluded the medley of “Kay Ganda Ng Ating Musika,” the first grand winner of the Metropop’s initial staging in 1978.

Not to be upstaged were the finalists themselves who also had their share of marquee interpreters. Selected from over 3,000 submissions after the competition was announced earlier this year, Ryan Cayabyab, PhilPOP’s Executive Director described the final 14 as “fresh and new.”

There was YouTube sensation Marie Digby performing Keiko Necessario’s playful acoustic ballad, “3AM” and Jay-R and Deejay Poblete dueting on Noah Zuñiga Cabalquinto’s ode to unconfessed love, “Dulo Ng Dila.”

Trina Belamide surprised everyone with a 1940’s swinging big band beat to her entry, “Bigtime” that was interpreted by the all-female trio, Baihana; Edwin Marollano teamed up with new singer Daniel Gorospe for the song, “Kesa” while Kennard Faraon went with comebacking singer Nyoy Volante in the very radio friendly, “Slowdancing.”

Thyro Alfaro gathered an all-star gang of vocalists that included Duncan Ramos, Luke Mejares, Loonie and Yumi and himself in his entry, “Himig Ng Panahon”; Byron Ricamara opted to rock it all out with the band Rocksteady in the Parokya ni Edgar-inspired “Takusa”; while Mike Villegas took a similar approach with “Negastar” as performed by Cathy Go.

Joey Ayala headed an elaborate modern ethnic pop setup with his take on Krist Melecio’s socially relevant song, “Piso” even as Gary Granada opted to keep it simple and interpret his own entry, “Minsa’y Isang Bansa” with a similar theme.

“Ang gaganda ng mga kanta! I have never heard anything so uniformly highly musical in performance. The arrangement themselves are excellent, the approach at least is new and the performances of the interpreters are indeed gems. I believe there will be several hits in the year’s batch. All of them are winners in their own way,” Cayabyab enthused.

The recorded studio versions of all 14 entries are compiled in a CD distributed by Ivory Records and now available at major music stores nationwide.