Passions and Obsessions

‘Maangas’: What creative believers
went through for Leni Robredo

The musicians explain why, to their team, this went beyond
producing the jingle that’s gaining popularity

FlipMusic, clockwise from top left: Nica del Rosario, Nolan Bernardino, Justine Peña, Mat Olavides Jumbo De Belen, and Jeli Mateo (Contributed photo)

Flashback, 2009: Jumbo De Belen, the head producer of FlipMusic—then an at-home producer—almost bit off more than he could chew. In a span of three years, he had expanded his catalog past what might have been considered healthy for someone mixing multiple tracks from his bedroom. No big labels or official websites. His contacts were fellow bedroom producers and would-be full-time musicians writing from their living rooms, eager to break into the underground music scene.

FlipMusic officially began in 2011, with help from co-founder Nolan Bernardino and eventual CEO Jeli Mateo.

“There were too many projects to handle. I needed a manager of sorts,” Jumbo, chuckling, says in a Zoom call with TheDiarist.ph. “Jeli was that person. Back then I was offering a lot of stuff for free, and my publishing contracts were messed up because I wasn’t too keen on details.”

The existence of the trio allowed for Jumbo, in his words, to “just worry about the music.” They capped off the first year of FlipMusic with a shiny new office and a fully-furbished studio—a far cry from the set-up the previous year, although nobody was complaining.

By 2016, they were already famous for helping create Sarah Geronimo’s hit, Tala.

When former Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda (my father) approached FlipMusic, it wasn’t with the intention to make the next great Filipino campaign jingle. Lacierda had been sending out “Let Leni Lead” stickers on his Facebook, and Nolan caught wind.

“I just wanted to support Sir Edwin and get some of those stickers to give away to my friends and family,” Nolan says. “I mentioned that I am a director, and also co-own a sound production house called FlipMusic. Sabi ko sa kanya, ‘If there’s any need for video material or jingles, let us know so we can help.’”

The former Cabinet member replied in an instant. “Nolan, medyo out of the way ito, can I ask you to compose catchy music for #LetLeniLead?”

“I didn’t hesitate,” Nolan recalls. “We’d do it for free.”

He hadn’t told his team yet, but Nolan already agreed to the entire gig. “I know in my heart that my team, bukas naman yung loob nila for that, for what VP Leni stands for, for what every person behind her stands for.”

For the longest time, Leni Robredo has been branded by her detractors as a critic who stood in opposition to government efforts for the sake of doing so. Never mind her signature Angat Buhay program, which had helped over 300,000 families and secured PPE for thousands of front-liners. Never mind her repeated efforts to focus on “front-liners, not politics.”

Lacierda wanted something upbeat; the campaign needed a song that people could rally behind in this grueling war against COVID-19 and with a generation seemingly bereft of a clear future. FlipMusic was tasked with this equally grueling effort of creating the song to rally people behind. With the amount of time they had, there was only one Zoom meeting possible between the #LetLeniLead team, Nolan, and Nica Del Rosario, FlipMusic’s head writer behind Tala. Later on, Mat Olavides, a senior producer and electronic dance music (EDM) specialist, would become a second backbone for the project.

When they talk about the work behind the scenes, it feels like one is witnessing the creation of something never seen before, primarily because that was exactly what they were doing at the time.

“Right from when we were briefed, we knew there had to be a shift in how people perceive Leni,” Nica says. “A lot of people still don’t know who she is and what she’s capable of doing. They just see her as this mabait mother figure who can take care of people in a nurturing way. But she can also be a leader. She can fight for people.”

The project wasn’t so much about recasting Leni as a leader as it was shining a light on the qualities that were already there. “She had it in her,” Jumbo says. “It really wasn’t sort of a reframing. It was actually sort of a retelling—that that’s her also.”

By the time the briefing ended, there were two big takeaways: Be upbeat to get people’s attention, and have a “maangas factor”

By the time the briefing ended between FlipMusic and the #LetLeniLead team, there were two big takeaways: Be upbeat to get people’s attention, and have a “maangas (loose translation: gutsy) factor,” says Nica. “There had to be a shift in how people perceive her, and this had to be translated into song.”

It’s no small feat to record music. Hours are poured into the lyrics alone, yes, but songwriting is more than that. Each note is weighed and measured against the artist’s intentions. Every instrument is a foundation in building the overall feel of a song, its groove, and the way it either lifts you or kicks you in the stomach. If you’re lucky, you get people behind you who care about what you have to say.

Even with a team, you still wouldn’t be very lucky if you had to do to all that in three days, record every track separate from your team, and produce a solid output that hopes to change the public perception of the Vice President, all from within the confines of your home studio.

FlipMusic started working on a demo as soon as their meeting with the #LetLeniLead team ended.

“I remember we were in the meeting, that was a Tuesday night. I told Sir Edwin I’d give him an update Wednesday night,” Nolan says. “It was in a Zoom meeting, tapos sabi niya, ‘Guys, take your time. Take your time, Wednesday morning.’”

In the Zoom call, the team bursts into laughter at the memory. It sounds full of relief, if not a bit unbelieving of the idea that they managed to pull the whole thing off. Lacierda insists it was a joke, but it clearly got them going.

Nica recounts her story like something from a fever dream, but with perfect clarity. She talks about the hectic songwriting sessions and long hours as though it had been just the night before, still waiting for a response from her team in case something needed fixing. “I was under a lot of pressure because I knew it was Leni and it was really important. I wrote everything at home because there was nowhere else to go,” Nica says.

The informal deadline required that alterations be done concurrently between her and Mat, something that would continue well beyond the first draft. “Everything was simultaneous,” she continues.

‘I was under a lot of pressure because I knew it was Leni and it was really important’

By the time they got the green light on the first demo, FlipMusic had kicked into full gear. After each update, Nolan would run their ideas by Lacierda, who’d wait past midnight for revisions before offering his own.  Despite the fact that the majority of the team lived in the same building, social distancing demanded that they refrain from seeing each other. Even worse, Mat, the main beatmaker and producer of the song, wasn’t in the building at all.

“For that last pass, the challenge was that Mat didn’t live with us,” Jeli says. It’s customary that the final track be listened to by more than just one pair of ears. Because they were not in the same place, the feedback came in a staggered manner of mercurial internet connectivity and group chat messages. “Jumbo would hear something, and then I would hear something, then Mat would adjust, and then he’d adjust again.”

She holds her face as her eyes dart towards Mat in the Zoom call, reliving the whole thing in her head. “Basically, Mat and I were talking and readjusting everything until…3 in the morning?”

“Yeah, about 3:30, mga ganon,” Mat says.

Jumbo chimes in, “I think Mat’s project file was open the whole time. He was waiting for comments from everyone.”

“There was this one time,” Nica adds, “Mat was about to send the final na, and I was still calling Jeli and I started messaging him, ‘Wait! Wait!’”

They converge on the moment, each having stories to tell about the experience. You’d think that a production team with thousands of hours under their belt would be more placid about making music, but it couldn’t be further from the truth. If anything, experience probably made them more excited, even more ecstatic to work on a new assignment and build something bigger than the last.

“Nobody rested until we had the final product,” Nolan says.

“Sometimes it’s just a project, and you have to create and do your best to be professional, regardless of your opinion of the party or the candidate,” Jeli adds. “But for this one, I had a wonderful experience with my team exploring this. We’re all really fortunate to be given the chance, somehow, if this is a part of VP Leni’s decision to run. It means a lot to us, not just as a company, but as individuals, as well.”

‘Sometimes it’s just a project…But for this, I had a wonderful experience with my team. It means a lot to us….’

Nica says, “I put myself under a lot of pressure not just because of the time constraints, but I really felt like, jingle or not, this is one of the most important things I’ve ever written in my career. It was really important to me because we are all really supportive of Leni.”

She looks down for a second, but her head shoots back up before a beat. “I was scared of getting it wrong, because if I get it wrong so many people will attack me, and our team, and Leni, and I just…I really felt like we could help her out. It’s a huge honor. I mean, I’m pretty sure I speak for all of us that it’s a huge honor for us to contribute something, whether she decides to run or not.”

By the end of the project’s run, Mat’s folder had about “12 project files with different versions.” He adds, though, that he doesn’t mind. “This is my first ever campaign song that I produced, but I think this is the most special for us as a team. We really believe in the candidate.”

To some extent, the team’s goals have always been much bigger than themselves. Ten years ago, FlipMusic’s objective was clear. It was in the very name of the company.

“At the time, we envisioned flipping the music scene of OPM, or at least contributing to it. I’m not saying we’re the best or anything, but we know for a fact that we can offer something, give something that can enhance the pool of choices for Filipino music,” Jeli says.

Their official number of songs as of August 2021 is 2,327, so it’s hard to say they didn’t live up to the hype. For FlipMusic, to be an artist of a certain caliber demanded one shared one’s talent with the world. It meant being a channel through which other artists seeking to making a dent in the industry could better their own music, as well.

“We wanted to expand our reach as Filipinos, especially now in the digital space,” Jeli says. “We can also create globally competitive outputs, not just cover songs and not just sound like Mariah, not just sound like Whitney, but we can sound Filipino. It is essential for us to also choose our projects, to also get a good night’s sleep thinking that, ‘Okay, what I did with my music, we’re not just contributing to the sea of content.’”

‘It is essential for us to also choose our projects, to also get a good night’s sleep’

“We have to have passion in it,” Jeli continues. “It’s not just an automatic thing. Maybe it’s the reason why we were able to create more than a thousand songs: because we’re still passionate enough to create more.”

Nica, her partner and fellow singer Justine Peña, and Jeli trade vocals during the bridge: “Kay Leni Robredo hindi ka bigo/May tapang, may puso para sa Pilipino.” It’s a chant that rises and elicits images of people dancing in crowds, clapping to an electronic beat. It beams against a backdrop of lockdowns and quarantines that diminishes hope on a daily basis, reminding listeners that they can believe in something.

Since releasing Kay Leni Tayo, the team hasn’t been called out yet, which must indicate a step in the right direction. They’ve received thank-you messages from strangers, gained more followers, and prompted inquiries from talents impressed with what they pulled off. The song has become an informal anthem among groups supporting Leni, a testament to people’s belief in both her efforts as Vice President and her moral character. It’s gained airway on FM and AM radio for its riveting bassline and earworm of a hook, which isn’t too shabby, either.

They’ve received thank-you messages from strangers, gained followers, and prompted inquiries from talents

“When the music came out, it was on Twitter, it was on Facebook. I’ve been getting tags and seeing these personal messages to Nica, to Jumbo, and it was just an affirmation of what FlipMusic does,” Nolan says.

It’s a love for what they’re doing that keeps FlipMusic at the top of their game, and they aren’t showing any signs of slowing down. Between Kay Leni Tayo, branching wider into advertising, and signing songwriters cross-country, they’ve helped compose an entire soundtrack for the first Viu digital musical series, Still, starring a slew of well-known actors such as Julie Anne San Jose and Gab Pangilinan.

Jeli doesn’t forget to highlight Nica’s cameo in Still. “Nica’s also there in the series—”

“—as an extra,” Nica, humble as ever, adds.

“I’m really thankful for the connection with Sir Edwin,” Nolan says. “I’ve been a follower of his since his spokesperson days and I’m glad I was, because without that connection we wouldn’t have been able to create something like this. We thank Sir Edwin for this opportunity to somehow be a part of this awareness project for Leni. I think I speak for everybody when I talk about how grateful we are for our opportunity. What VP Leni stands for, it’s very reflective of the team effort. I saw the teamwork that we had the whole time—small part, big part, everybody was awake, everybody was putting in their contributions.”

The Zoom call goes quiet, except for Nolan.

“Parang sa akin, in that small world of mine, I saw how people could come together and unite for a cause. And that’s something that’s really special.”

A bout of silence follows, where no one really knows what to say.

“Amen,” Nolan finishes.

The rest of the team erupts in laughter.


Credit: #LetLeniLead/YouTube

About author

Articles

He is a 19-year-old AB Communication student at Ateneo de Manila University who dreams of becoming a journalist.

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