Gary Valenciano on the uniting power music and fathers possess

The OPM icon shares the story behind his latest song ‘Make Us Whole Again’ and his message to his great father

Gary Valenciano

Gary Valenciano, one of OPM's iconic artists, is no doctor but he has a prescription to help us with our daily struggles—music.

"Healing can happen anytime when it comes to music," he says. "People listen from the beginning to the end of the song... In just three-and-half-minutes, they were captured. There’s healing in a way that others may not understand."

While many tried to kill that languishing feeling by baking food trends at home and binge-watching movies and series non-stop, the country's Mr. Pure Energy focused on creating something that would affect people from within. That is his latest track "Make Us Whole Again."

Although the song has this calm sensibility to it, the same cannot be said of the process of making it happen. But thanks to his family, which has always been part of his creative process, the song has seen the light of day with its Easter Sunday release last April.

This Father's Day, Manila Bulletin Lifestyle chats with the singer-songwriter about his pandemic life, his process in creating music, and how the artform influenced his role as a husband to his wife Angeli Pangilinan, as a father to their children Gabriel, Paolo, and Kia, and as an extended dad to his grandchildren.

What inspired you or pushed you to write the song ‘Make Us Whole Again’?

It was inspired by the shutdown of ABS-CBN. That’s why when you hear the chorus of the song, it has to do with what the artists do. I was looking at the gravity of the loss of the shutdown upon all the 11K+ employees of the network. That is why the chorus went “we will sing in the storm and dance in the rain.” No matter what happens, we will still continue doing that.

But when I finished the first chorus last year, I couldn’t get myself to continue the song, to finish it. I just left it as I always have done with all my other unfinished songs, of which there are several. I left it in the closet. I didn’t want to force it. I never wanted to force myself to finish any of my songs.

Until some time in February of this year, when all of a sudden, there came the second wave. The network kind of came back, and still I wasn’t inspired to finish it. I was back at work, but still it wasn’t driving me to a point to complete the song. It was when I saw the rising numbers of COVID incidents that a change came again. This time, it came with matching messages from people I knew, people I personally know who have passed away or who have a loved one who has been suffering from it, almost on a daily basis. Including the times when I go to "ASAP" for taping, among my friends there were talking about people that are so close to home that have been dealing with this. That’s when the inspiration started coming again. That’s when I became so sure about what I was writing. I finished it this year, a few months ago.

The lyrics of the song, when you just read it, it sounds like a prayer. Is that one of your goals for this work?

There was no goal except to give a little hope to those who have been so hopeless. Even if you haven’t lost anyone, many are still living alone.

Many who have never suffered from mental challenges before are now dealing with mental challenges now. That was the main goal. Maybe subconsciously it was inside of me to come up with a song that lent itself so much to the current situation we are all facing. But there was never a goal to come up with something that would have a kind of impact this time.

It just so happened that in Holy Week, I think among all Holy Weeks, this was the one when people are really trying to communicate with the Almighty. I said, yes—his could be my way of reaching the Almighty, I’m glad that somehow it reflected the prayers of a lot of people today.

Did your songwriting change through the course of the pandemic?

Yes, because there were other songs I wanted to write. You’ll get a message online or talk to some people asking you to release a song about the pandemic because there are many who are suffering. It challenged me, but it made me realize that I cannot flow that way.

It has to come from a personal experience that’s enough to trigger my writing. It kind of reminded me of that. It is really hard to write a song when you're being forced. It changed, it brought it back to the way it is supposed to be. When it came to “Make us Whole Again,” everytime I stepped into this studio to try and write it, it was a moment. It’s a part of the process in writing, which I think today kind of brought me back on track as to how I'm supposed to write. You write because you don’t want just another hit song. You write because you’re expressing yourself. Some may like it, some may not, but at least you have a piece in your heart to know that you put something out there that you wanted to share with people with no agenda in mind.

Your new song is all about uniting people amid testing times. As a father, how did you keep your family united or whole during this pandemic?

I must say that if there’s any time that I would like to thank technology, it is now. Whether in the form of video chats, which I have had with my children, technology was able to keep us in touch with each other.

I want to make people know that with so much talk about social distancing from the very onset of the pandemic, which is important that everybody should do, is not equivalent to emotional distancing. You have to stay emotionally connected to people. I think, more than ever before, it is now that emotions are raw enough to accept good, encouraging, assuring words from anyone. With my family, that’s how we kept it together. We stayed in contact with each other.

How significant music is in your family life?

I think music can play a role in any family’s life because I have always told people that, Jose Marie Chan once told me this, “Music is the language of the soul, not of the heart, but the soul.” I know it kind of sounds the same, but it sounds better when it is soul, because it is deeper. It means that there is something that only you and the song would understand.

I think music can play a major role in families today. Like in my family, right now my children are not here but I have my nephew and my niece, they are part of my creative team. But when we are all together, sometimes Gab would say, “Dad, can I make you hear something?” So we’ll sit down in the living room, then he’ll start making me listen to mixes. Everyone has their own thing, but it is music that keeps us together. Sometimes, you’ll hear Angeli asking, “What’s that song? That’s nice.” It builds up moments of communication. It set a mood in the house.

If you’re going to give a message to your father, what would it be about?

My father passed away seven years ago. I only hated one thing in my life, that’s the word goodbye. I hate the word. Even in a concert, I don’t say goodbye, I say good night because I’m looking forward to another day with the people as well.

I don’t like that word but it is something we have to deal with almost on a daily basis. What I did with my dad—my dad and I were very close without saying or showing it. How could we show that we love each other without showing it? We succeeded in doing that.

In the last few years of his life, however, I made it an effort of mine to not get too close, because I didn’t not want to get too close and end it with another goodbye. So, if I have another message to my dad, I’ll probably say that I’m sorry for the years that I could have spent talking to you, getting to know more about you. I’m sorry that as my dad, you always watched me onstage, always capturing moments with your camera, and as a son, I didn’t spend enough time to capture you. I would tell him how much I love him. And I think he would look at me and say, “I always know.”

Wait for me in heaven, because there, you and I will be forever. We will have more moments to make it count together. You should have seen your great granddaughter. She is a joy. You would have probably ended up running out of film with the amount of pictures you’ll be taking of her. She is a blessing, dad. Thank you for being a major part in keeping my feet deeply rooted on the ground. You’ve always been the epitome of humility to me. Happy Father’s Day, dad!

Listen to "Make Us Whole Again" here.