Full circle with Chad Borja

The pop singer is back, recording with renowned producer Yutaka Yokokura

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Chad Borja, Yutaka Yokokura

AUSPICIOUS: Chad Borja (left) and Yutaka Yokokura pick up where they left off 14 years ago. Pocholo Concepcion

The timing could not have been more auspicious.

Chad Borja, the highly regarded Filipino singer who took a long break from the music scene while being treated for thyroid cancer, felt it was right to stage a comeback. Four months ago during a routine checkup, his doctors broke the good news. “They said I could now do whatever I wanted. It’s been 12 years since I fully recovered,” he told Inquirer Entertainment recently.

The only thing he wanted to do again, he said, was to sing. He longed to record a new album, and needed somebody to collaborate with.

He planned to relocate to Manila from Davao, where he was based with his family. His wife gave her blessing for Chad to pursue his passion.

He found his collaborator by chance, though he’s not just anybody, but Yutaka Yokokura—the jazz/world/ethnic fusion musician-songwriter-producer whose 1978 debut album, “Lovelight,” was produced by Dave Grusin and Larry Rosen on their GRP label.

Yutaka—who has worked with Patti Austin, Pauline Wilson, Sergio Mendes, and was involved in Lorraine Feather’s 2011 Grammy-nominated jazz album “Ages”—said he knew that Chad grew up with one of his relatives, Alvin del Rosario, in Cebu.

“Yes, Alvin was my best friend,” said Chad, who was with Yutaka in a restaurant in Ortigas Center during this interview. “I met Yutaka through Alvin in Los Angeles when I did a show with Kuh Ledesma in 1997.”

That first meeting led to Yutaka producing Chad’s 1998 album, “Show Me the Way” (Warner Music), which did not get much attention because that was also the time that Chad fell ill.

Hesitation

He admitted to initially feeling hesitant to go back to music—anxious that he might not have totally conquered the disease, even as his doctors had given him a clean bill of health.

But after reading a book by American cycling champ and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong, Chad realized that he really had been given a second chance.

Things came full circle when, out of the blue, Yutaka sent an e-mail saying he was flying to Manila for a visit. Chad was overjoyed. He knew this was a sign that he should proceed with his plan.

“In a way we felt that we didn’t finish it,” Yutaka said, referring to Chad’s ‘Show Me the Way’ album. “It was sort of hanging.”

Like Chad, Yutaka believed fate intervened and they should now seize the opportunity.

For starters, they worked on five songs that would be released as an EP. One of these tracks, a ballad called “Ikaw Lang sa Habang Buhay” (written by Jimmy Borja), will serve as the first single to mark Chad’s return to the scene.

More mature

Yutaka had the track recorded in Los Angeles, with a team of renowned session musicians including guitarist Ramon Stagnaro (who has worked with the likes of Celine Dion and Andrea Bocelli), percussionist Walter Rodriguez (who’s played with Herb Alpert, Robbie Robertson, Alex Acuña), and bassist Rene Camacho (who’s had stints with Celia Cruz, Tito Puente, Linda Ronstadt, Rickie Lee Jones).

As for the other songs, Chad said he enlisted the services of Vehnee Saturno, Jay Durias and Marvin Querido—all accomplished songwriters-producers.

The day after the interview, Yutaka supervised Chad’s recording of some vocal parts at Pink Noise studio in Quezon City.

“Chad sounds so much better now, more mature,” quipped Yutaka.

Asked how he stays fit, Chad said: “Bedtime at 9 p.m., wake up at 4 a.m., jogging … I avoid stress. I think I got sick from too much stress.”

While preparing for his album’s release, Chad is likewise gearing up for a one-night gig on May 23 at 19 East in Sucat, Parañaque. He will perform with an eight-piece band.

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