More than 20 years is a long time to achieve mainstream success as a musician, but Noel Cabangon is apparently enjoying the journey.
The singer-songwriter has lived the life of a troubadour, playing in countless small clubs around the country and overseas, nurturing a fan base that listened to folk-rock music whose lyrics poked the mind.
Cabangon didn’t stop performing after the breakup of his former group, Buklod, which was responsible for such classic tunes as the activist anthem “Tatsulok” (famously covered by Bamboo) and the ode to nature “Kanlungan” (more famously adopted by a McDonald’s TV commercial). He went on to write songs on his own and released independently produced albums.
But his shining moment came during President Aquino’s inaugural where he asked everyone to stand up and pledge to make the country proud again while he sang “Ako’y Isang Mabuting Pilipino.”
Cabangon has since gained wider exposure through the release of “Byahe” and “Panaginip”—two albums that topped the pop charts and made him a household name.
He has also hired a manager, Butch Dans, who guided the career of the Apo Hiking Society for some 40 years. Dans’ outfit, Thirdline, is behind Cabangon’s first major concert on December 2 and 3 at the Music Museum.
The Inquirer chatted with Cabangon via e-mail recently.
Your major label albums “Byahe” and “Panaginip” sold well, which means you’ve achieved mainstream success. Do you think your fan base has expanded to include a new generation of music fans?
Yes, it has definitely expanded. The mainstream allowed me to reach out to a bigger audience. Gusto ko rin yon, para marinig yung iba kong mga kanta. Universal Records gave me that opportunity.
One indicator is my Facebook fan page. Surprisingly a lot of them are from the young generation. I didn’t expect it, but I guess “Byahe” really paved the way for me having young fans.
You’re an officer of Organisasyon ng Pilipinong Mang-aawit (OPM), which has become quite active this year. What’s the biggest problem confronting it?
The group is saddled with organizational concerns and challenges. We already had a session on redefining our role, not only in the music industry but in society in general.
As an organization, OPM is always mistaken as the advocacy. Though we will always push for the advancement and development of OPM (Original Pilipino Music), the organization has to clarify its reason for being. We need to organize Filipino singers and qualify the kind of support that the organization can extend, especially their welfare and benefits.
OPM president Ogie Alcasid is very active and determined to bring the organization at the forefront of the music industry.
You’re likewise active in environmental campaigns like the Puerto Princesa Underground River’s successful bid to be among the world’s seven wonders of nature. What other advocacies appeal to you and why?
I’m also involved in the campaign for the passage of the Reproductive Health (RH) bill. It is imperative that Congress approve it. I’m likewise active in the peace campaign, as well as the debt cancellation campaign of which I’m directly involved as a board member of the Freedom from Debt Coalition.
I am now an ambassador of the Save the Philippine Rivers campaign.
I’m going to put up a foundation that will continue to advocate good citizenship. My song “Ako’y Isang Mabuting Pilipino” will soon be an art foundation. I collaborated with Team Manila to support this endeavor. We recently released some merchandise for sale to beef up its funds.
You’ve performed in a lot of small clubs around the country. Can you name a few that you could consider your second home?
’70s Bistro and Conspiracy. I’ve been a regular performer at ’70s Bistro since its infancy. It gave me a challenge to get better as a musician. Conspiracy allowed me to get in touch with my loyal fan base and nurture them. I consider my Wednesday gigs at Conspiracy as my regular job.
My Brother’s Mustache keeps me grounded to my roots, which is folk music. I think it is the only remaining folk house in Metro Manila.
Tell us about your Music Museum concert and why you have chosen to collaborate with Bob Aves.
It’s called “Simpleng Musikero”—my major concert for the year. I’m coproducing it with Thirdline, which now manages my career. I promise it will be a different music experience for both the fans and those who will watch me for the first time. I will have a full band backing me up, plus a string section.
This concert is for people who just want to listen to good music. I miss those concerts where we don’t need to have too many spectacles.
My wish is for the audience to enjoy the show so much that they will talk about it when they get home—like discuss the songs and their arrangements, and get to know who Bob Aves is.
I chose Bob to be the musical director because he’s a genius. I wanted him to explore the other possibilities of my songs and my music. I also wanted him to come out and be seen and heard by people, so they’ll be aware that there’s such a great artist.