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Recalling Snaffu Rigor

The late songwriter and OPM stalwart Snaffu Rigor (leftmost) in 2005 producing the band Syato at Greenhills Sound Studio, with original band members (from left) Ronald Jayme, the author, Joseph Gonzales, Mike Santos and Jay Flores. Seated is recording engineer Joel Mendoza.

MANILA, Philippines – Bet the highly-respected OPM songwriter Snaffu Rigor would have likewise picked the same word “recalling” for this article’s title. Besides he was really into music with recall, with a number of songs he wrote now among the most unforgettable in OPM canon.  

I met Snaffu in 2004 after he found a band I was a member of deserving to be signed by Ivory Music where he worked as an executive at the time. He pushed for it and christened our group Syato, referring to the traditional Pinoy stick street game that gadget-savvy kids now may find too analogue. 

Given the go-signal to perform our originals, Syato, with me as bassist and co-songwriter, recorded via digital technology, off the street. Yet with Snaffu on board as record producer, we crafted a 10-song, all-Tagalog album that sonically embraced the good ol’ school Manila Sound, with its cool mint vocal harmonies and catchy guitar riffs he encouraged and helped created. 

Obviously, he’s not revered as a Manila Sound pioneer for nothing. 

“Importante sa banda ‘yung maramdaman ng lahat ‘yung sarap ng tugtugan,” Snaffu pointed out in one of those summer nights in 2005 when we’re gathered inside the famed Greenhills Sound Studio. His approach to music was grounded on the right feeling. In a song called Sa’yo Lang, he asked us to transpose the chords just one fret higher after the bridge part. It felt nice hearing in my head phones that shift intensifying the chorus. 

In Scorpio, later a radio-released track that hit No. 16 on MYX Pinoy countdown, Snaffu suggested a punchy riff using the D chord that we felt helped turn the song into a single.

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Syato’s self-titled album, released in CD form that year, is now also available in digital format through noted avenues such as iTunes, Spotify, Deezer and Spinnr. Our band’s original line-up dissolved in 2007 and a personnel that still included me held on to the name. 

With Snaffu’s musical guideline, I led the band’s progression to pop-rock fusion and we crafted another originals album (Sticking By) that Candid Records distributed in 2009.

Sir Snaff gave me a tap and assuringly said, “Gel, continue doing what you love.” Hearing it from his authoritative voice, it meant much.

Now under exclusive license to MCA Music, Syato’s sophomore collection, retitled Gabing Bilog Ang Buwan, was eventually remastered and released digitally last July 29 ­— just a few days before the man left for the great beyond. It has a couple of new tracks, one an ode to a still popular street game in the Philippines called basketball (Basketball Pinoy). Me and my mates in the original line-up met on “the day the music died” and planned to record an original as a tribute move for Mr. Rigor. 

Personally, I have fond recollection of the hitmaker sharing his songwriting adventures. He told me he watched the finals of the first Metropop competition after which he promised to himself he’d join the following year. He came up with Bulag, Pipi at Bingi, inspired by the Three Blind Mice, and won the grand prize with Freddie Aguilar interpreting the piece. 

In the ’90s, with an old photograph in hand, he penned Larawang Kupas which put Jerome Abalos on the ballad rock map. Before that, he found an Indonesian tune so good and wrote Tagalog lyrics to it which became the now-classic Gusto Kita. Singer Gino Padilla once shared, “Yes, I was with Snaffu Rigor doing that song and I won’t forget us stuck in one of the lines because I couldn’t say the words properly. But it was all fun.”

The Snaffu songwriting catalogue is rich in surprises for the uninitiated. Who wouldn’t be when you learn for the first time that he had a lot to do with the writing of Macho Gwapito (Rico J. Puno), Eto Na Naman (Gary V.), Mr. Dreamboy (Sheryl Cruz), Paano Ang Puso Ko (April Boy Regino) and of course, T.L. Ako Sayo (Cinderella)? 

In a casual talk with Rico J., the singer quipped, “Mas gwapo ako kay Snaffu pero magaling ‘yung mama na yun.” 

Somehow, his last work that earned strong radio airplay is the Love Añover ditty Bumper to Bumper. But as far as that type of music is concerned, he had another one that almost floored me in amusement. 

In an office chat with Sir Snaff, I asked how one can write a jingle as effective as possible. He replied in his remarkable smile, “Years before I wrote a jingle about a wallet and I came up with ‘Seiko, Seiko wallet/Ang wallet na masuwerte.’”

The next line I couldn’t resist singing with him, “’Balat nito ay genuine/International pa ang mga design...”

Once again Snaffu Rigor, who spent his last decade happily performing with specially formed groups he fronted, proved that music is about recall and the right feel to it. The listener has to sing along.

(Note: Snaffu was diagnosed with lung cancer and passed away last Aug. 4 and his wake was attended by several key Philippine music industry figures. He would have turned 70 last Aug. 8.)

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