Jose Mari Chan recalls story behind 'Christmas in our Hearts'

At a glance

  • Jose Mari also said that he does not like being called the King of Christmas. "There's only one King of Christmas, and that's our Lord Jesus Christ. The baby Jesus. Some people call me Chan-ta Claus."

Jose Mari Chan (Images courtesy of Fast Talk With Boy Abunda)

It's September, and Jose Mari Chan's Christmas carols are playing. But what exactly is Jose Mari doing, and where is he when the "ber" months haven't started yet?

"I'm neither at home nor at work in my business," said Jose Mari, when asked what keeps him busy, during an interview on "Fast Talk With Boy Abunda" on GMA Network recently.

Jose Mari, 78, has been known as "The Father of Philippine Christmas Music" following the release of his blockbuster album "Christmas In Our Hearts" in 1990.

Jose Mari answered about his music-making process. "Almost always, it's the melody. Sometimes I hear that at night, and I tell myself tomorrow morning when I wake up, I will write it down or record it. Almost always at night, the song disappears."

He continued: "That's why, from now on, every time I hear a melody, I have to sing it right away and write it down. So that I won't lose the melody. And then the lyrics come afterward."

Jose Mari also said he had yet to get a vocal coach in his five-decade career.

"I never got a vocal coach. Since I was a little boy, I would sing along to the songs I heard on the radio. I even performed in a children's hour's show in Iloilo City at one time," he said.

As he got older, he admitted that he was also becoming forgetful.

"Before a concert, I would vocalize for almost an hour. I would clear my nose so that I could breathe normally. And then I also have an idiot board because sometimes I forget my lyrics at my age. Sometimes I'm forgetful na," he added.

'Christmas In Our Hearts'

Jose Mari reminisced about the origins of "Christmas In Our Hearts."

"The melody itself was composed in 1988 to a poem by my friend Chari Cruz Zarate, "Ang Tubig Ay Buhay," which she used as a high school jubilee song.

"So I wrote the melody, and I never thought that two years later, I would use that melody for a Christmas song. And Universal Records approached me and said it's time we make a Christmas album because of the success of "Please Be Careful With My Heart," "Beautiful Girl," etc.

"So I thought of that melody, and I got a friend of mine Rina Caniza to come to the house, and I gave her the melody. Together, we worked on the lyrics. 

"At that time Lea Salonga was a hit because of Miss Saigon. So I approached her and asked if she could do a duet with me. Sabi niya, 'Yes, I'll be glad, too!' She heard the song and liked the melody, except that her recording company would not allow her to record for a competing label.

"So my next choice was Monique Wilson, an understudy of Miss Saigon. I like her. She's a nice person with a beautiful voice. Unfortunately, she went to Tagaytay and lost her voice. She called me.

"I think the Holy Spirit was leading me towards my daughter Liza. Since Universal Records was rushing, 'Joe, it's October, we need to come up with an album!' I went to my daughter's bedroom and said, 'What are you doing?' She said, 'I was cramming for my exams.'  I said, 'Can you learn the song quickly? I want to record this with you. Okay. When? This Wednesday. To make a long story short, she and I went to the recording studio, and the rest is history."


Advice for young musicians

Jose Mari shared his advice with the younger generation of musicians.

"Especially now with the technology change, it's very hard to live on music. That's why my advise to the young composers and singers is that use that as a hobby or on the side but get another career either in law, accounting, or medicine.  And then just do music on the side. Don't lose it completely 'cause that's God's gift given to you," he said.

On his memes, Jose Mari said: Natutuwa ako except for this one na medyo irreverent. It showed Saint Joseph and Mother Mary riding a donkey. She was pregnant of course. And then it said, "Jose, Mary, Tyan." 

Jose Mari also said that he does not like being called the King of Christmas. "There's only one King of Christmas, and that's our Lord Jesus Christ. The baby Jesus. Some people call me Chan-ta Claus."



Vehnee Saturno

Famous Filipino composer Vehnee Saturno reacted to the advice of Jose Mari on young musicians.

"Tuloy lang. Even Jose Mari Chan is a very good songwriter, a very good singer, and a very successful businessman.

"Pero ang puso kasi ng isang musikero, hindi pera eh. It's not the money kundi yung passion n'ya on what's inside. Ano ba yung magagawa ko? What can I deliver?

"So sa akin, ang masasabi ko lang sa aspiring songwriters, and musicians, tuloy lang. Kung kakayanin.

"But of course totoo naman ang sinasabi ni Jose Mari Chan na kapag wala kang finances, wala kang pampabuhay ng pamilya, mahirap din.

"Think wisely kung paano ka makakatawid doon sa tulay na kahit papaano masaya ka pa rin na even hindi ka equipped with everything. So puso at pagmamahal pa rin sa musika. Yun pa rin ang importante.

"Sabi ng mother ko, when I was starting as a musician, naku anak, hindi ka makakabuhay ng pamilya dyan. That was late 70s noong nakikinig ako ng mga music. 

"Pero sabi ko gagawin ko talaga yung makakaya ko, at talagang nagsikap ako. First and second attempts ko sa Metropop wala. And then noong 1982, I was able to write a song 'Isang Dakot.'  Ang inspiration ko noon mga squatter's area na pinagbintangan. During that time, paparating si Pope. So yung mga squatters area pinapuntahan. Parang naawa ako sa mga Pilipino parang ganun. Pero sabi ko susulat ako ng isang kanta, yung iyak ng isang mahirap na maramdaman na sila ay may puwang sa society," he said.

"Isang Dakot" won the best composition at the 1982 Metro Manila Popular Music Festival.

Vehnee is also the composer behind the monster OPM hits "Be My Lady," "Sana Kahit Minsan," "Mula Sa Puso," "Till My Heartaches End," "Bakit Pa?" Wala Na Bang Pag-Ibig," "Forever's Not Enough," and more.

Jeri Violago

Rising singer Jeri Violago also reacted to the advice of Jose Mari.

"Family friend namin si Mr. Jose Mari Chan. It depends on where you're coming from. Mr. Jose Mari Chan is very established. When you think of Christmas, you think of Jose Mari Chan. Because of that, he has a lot of exposure and endorsements. It's not just music, but he has different businesses. I think if you're passionate about something and you see yourself becoming what you believe, through your support system, I think it's something that you can push through," said Jeri, who will release his two songs entitled "Gusto Kita," and Ipapangako Ko," both composed by Vehnee, under Tarsier Records.