Stepping up

By Nickie Wang

Noel Cabangon’s songs are more popular than his name. Little do people know that Noel has been around for more than two decades creating traditional and beautiful acoustic music.

At a time when Noel’s song called “Kanlungan” (some people even thought the title of this song is “Pana-panahon”) was being played on the radio regularly and included in almost all acoustic compilation albums, the folk music artist has remained low key and continued doing what makes him comfortable —writing simple songs with honest lyric not just for him but also for other artists who are in need of new material to record.

In 2004, when a fast-food chain used the song “Kanlungan” as a theme to its television commercial, everybody thought that the artist and the gentle voice behind the anthemic song was a newcomer.

“That’s the positive thing about reviving old songs, they get to be reintroduced to the younger generation,” Noel said.

The singer-songwriter started his career as a folksinger in 1982 and since then he has been performing in various folk houses and music bars around the metro. He wrote a couple of songs for singers like Agot Isidro, Janno Gibbs, Cesar Montano, Nikki Gil, Randy Santiago, Dingdong Avanzado among others.

Noel was actively involved in the creation and popularization of alternative Filipino music. In 1987, together with Rom Dongeto and Rene Boncocan, he formed the folk group called Buklod. In its short stint in the ’80s, the group had produced three albums that tackle socio-political-cultural issues: “Bukid at Bahay” speaks of the lives, struggle, and aspirations of the Filipino peasants; “Tatsulok” is an album on human rights; and “Sa Kandungan ng Kalikasan” is an advocacy album on the environment.

With Noel’s contribution to the Pinoy music scene, he is revered by the new generation rock musicians as one of the most influential figures in the local music industry. Recognizing his contributions, rock band Bamboo even covered the single called “Tatsulok,” which was lifted from Buklod’s album of the same title.

“I wanted to include ‘Tatsulok’ in the new album but it is very political [theme of the song] and the one I’m promoting right now has a particular theme,” the artist, who is a native of La Union, shared when he met the press to talk about the latest album called Byahe.

Making his way to mainstream music

In a press conference held at the head office of Universal Records last week, Noel sang a few songs to entertain the scribes who attended the launching of the album Byahe. Using an acoustic guitar, he amused his audience with his rendition of “Kahit Maputi Na Ang Buhok Ko” (originally popularized by Sharon Cuneta), “Pinay” (originally done by Florante) and his very own composition “Ang Buhay Nga Naman” (movie soundtrack of indie flick Ded Na Si Lolo).

“All of these songs are included in the new album,” he told the press before he started strumming his guitar.

Now signed to Universal Records, Noel takes the sonic road trip down memory lane with the15-track album that features his creative arrangement of OPM classics from the ’70s and the ’80s plus three original compositions.

“I wanted to come up with an album that people can listen to while they’re driving or nagbyabyahe. Also, the album serves as a tribute to the most prolific composers that we have. These are the songs that I grew up with,” the songwriter, musical director, and environmental advocate explained.

The album includes collaborations with Parokya Ni Edgar’s Chito Miranda in “Dito Sa Kanto,” and with Imago’s Aia deLeon in “Kanlungan.”

“I chose to work with Chito because his personality has this novelty aspect that suits the theme of song that we did and with Aia because I simply believe in her talent.”

Noel grew up a shy boy running away from people who enlist his name every time there’s a singing contest in their town. Now, he strums his guitar with outmost confidence, a sign of being an adept musician. To think that he has created songs that already made credible feat, Noel remains humble most especially when he talks about his music.

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