‘Para sa bayan’: Lea honored to sing SEA Games 2019 theme song

Nathalie Tomada - The Philippine Star
�Para sa bayan�: Lea honored to sing SEA Games 2019 theme song
Lea Salonga hopes We Win As One — the official theme song of the 30th South East Asian (SEA) Games — will truly inspire the Filipino athletes to do their best.

MANILA, Philippines — Lea Salonga feels honored to be chosen as the voice behind We Win As One, the official theme song for the South East Asian (SEA) Games 2019.

National Artist for Music Ryan Cayabyab and Palanca-winning writer-director Floy Quintos are the song’s composer and lyricist, respectively.

The Philippines is the host country of the biennial sporting event, which is now on its 30th year of seeing countries in the ASEAN region come together for a sports showdown and sportsmanship. Happening on Nov. 30 to Dec. 11, it’s set to be the biggest SEA Games held in the country, involving 11 countries, 11,000 athletes, 9,000 volunteers, 530 events, 56 sports and 44 venues from Metro Manila to Clark, Subic. The Philippines last hosted the games in 2005.

Lea is in the midst of a very busy year: she has just staged the two-night Perfect 10 concert at Resorts World Manila; she’s coach on Season 4 of The Voice Kids; and she’s about to begin rehearsals for Atlantis Theatrical’s Sweeney Todd, which will travel to Singapore after its Manila run this October. But she still found time to work on the SEA Games project.

“(Sabi nila) para sa bayan, gawin mo na ito para sa bayan. I think it was like, do this for the country, do this for our athletes,” she told The STAR on the sidelines of the press launch of We Win As One at the Grand Bar and Lounge of Resorts World Manila last Tuesday.

“I love the song! It’s not just two wonderful, renowned, multi-awarded artists that did it; it’s also two friends that did it. So, it’s different because they are able to imagine my voice more, pati na rin pagbigkas (including the delivery)… and just how the whole thing has been positioned,” she added, referring to the song’s message of unity and sportsmanship.

This isn’t the first time that Lea has sung for a sporting event. She also performed at the 2006 Asian Games in Doha, Qatar.

Lea shoots the music video for the SEA Games song, with images of New Clark City as background. The Philippines is the host country of the biennial sporting event.

The Tony award-winning singer and actress said that she always has to put her best foot forward whenever she performs outside the Philippines “para maganda ang sinasabi sa Pilipino at sa Pilipinas.” Nevertheless, there’s something special about being tapped to represent the country “because the Philippines is going to host the games.”

She said, “That’s when I really have to be mindful of the representation. That every note I sing dapat walang mali, dapat hindi pumapalya, dapat hindi sintunado (should be without mistake, flawless and not out of tune). Everything has to be in its place because there’s a greater impression to be made. It’s not just ‘Oh, it’s Lea Salonga singing it,’ but it’s ‘Lea Salonga from the Philippines who is singing it.’

“There’s a difference in the mindset, there’s a difference in the execution, even in my mind. So, for me, when I know I’m like, consciously representing the country, there’s a whole different mode of thinking that I kind of just launch into. We all have to represent the country as well and as best as we can. It’s always an honor to do it.”

Lea hopes the song will truly inspire the Filipino athletes to do their best. “I guess, the intention is not just to entertain. I mean, I’m hoping that people will like the song, but I’m also hoping that it serves as a source of inspiration, especially to the athletes who will be competing.”

Meanwhile, Maestro Ryan Cayabyab, also fondly called Mr. C, offered a glimpse into the making of the song. The National Artist for Music, who also wrote the entire soundtrack — from theme song to parade of athletes to the lighting of the torch ­— of the 2005 SEA Games, recalled: “When I was told that Lea (was going to sing it), I really had to pattern it to her voice, to the type of songs that she sings. This is tailored fit for Lea Salonga.”

Asked how it was working with Lea again, Mr. C said, “I like working with her because she’s very open. She doesn’t beat around the bush when she tells you something like ‘ang gulo’ or ‘di ko maintindihan.’ That’s what she said because that’s exactly what the first demo was about.”

He didn’t make the first demo, but gave a draft to a music producer with instructions to write it with 11 singers in mind. “So, can you imagine, you give that to Lea? Definitely, when she heard it, she said, ang gulo, di ko maintindihan. She was saying, how will I fit in here?”

Lea is joined in the recording studio by National Artist for Music Ryan Cayabyab, who composed We Win As One.

Nevertheless, when it was finally confirmed that Lea was going to sing the theme song, Mr. C went back to drawing board and reformatted it. “It was on the R&B side, very different. I also liked it, but definitely not (fitting) for Lea.”

The final version is a soaring, anthemic number that features orchestral strings and horns. According to Lea, interpreting songs like We Win As One definitely differs from delivering say, love songs. “There’s more of a grandness to singing an anthem for an event like this, which is going to be viewed and watched by so many people all over the world. There’s a different mindset going into it. There is a different emotional feeling, there’s a different gravity that comes with it.”

Meanwhile, the unarguably world-class stage actress and music icon drew from her own wealth of experience in offering words of support to the Pinoy athletes. “Just always bear in mind that you’re representing not just yourselves, individually, even though if you win, you get a gold medal that says job well done. It should be job well done regardless of whether you win or lose, or you place or even be the last place on the roster. That doesn’t matter. You always have to represent the country and be always mindful of that.

“Even if you lose, kailangan ‘wag pikon, like how do you outwardly respond or react to something? It’s not just about you; it’s a reflection of your countrymen, your coaches, the people around you. That has to be the mindset of every athlete. That’s also true when you win — be magnanimous in victory and thank everyone who helped you get up there.”

Lea also said, “You have been training for years and years, and your moment is coming. Keep your eyes on the prize and know that whatever happens, the Philippines is behind you and hopefully inspiring you to do your best. Even if your best means you’re not going to win, you still have to push yourself harder than you have ever pushed yourself in your entire life.

“Sometimes, the most heartwarming stories from games like this don’t come from the ones who win. It’s sometimes the ones who lose but who lose with so much heart and dignity... Always be mindful that you might just be the most inspirational story of the games whatever happens.”  

(The music video can be viewed at the 2019 SEA Games social media pages and website www.2019seagames.com.)

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