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Vehnee Saturno updates his two-decade-old Christmas hit

Leah Salterio - The Philippine Star
Vehnee Saturno updates his two-decade-old Christmas hit
The veteran songwriter has injected rap and English lyrics to his Christmas ditty Sa Araw ng Pasko.
STAR / File

Prolific music composer Vehnee Saturno, who has charted nearly 900 songs in his four-decade songwriting career, is not throwing in the towel as far as creating beautiful melodies and stringing heart-rending lyrics are concerned.

“Songwriting is part of my routine,” Vehnee tells The Philippine STAR in an exclusive interview. “Especially this pandemic na wala halos akong ginagawa, irritable ako. Parang useless ang life ko kapag hindi ako nakagawa ng song.”

Four decades ago, Vehnee worked with Philippine Fuji Xerox, his first professional job. “Ang feeling ko, walang mangyayari sa buhay ko, so I stopped and concentrated on songwriting,” he discloses. “That was in 1979.”

Vehnee’s first maiden composition was Ikaw at Ako, recorded by Bobbi Mercado, the daughter of TV host Eddie Mercado. In 1981, Vehnee wrote Rafael Centenera’s, Ikaw ang Dahilan.

The big break came in 1982, when Vehnee wrote Sonia Singson’s winning song entry, Isang Dakot, in the Metropop Song Festival. The song did not become a huge hit, though.

Vehnee collaborates with the TNT Boys made up of (from left) Francis Concepcion, Mackie Empuerto and Kiefer Sanchez.

“‘Pag festival, bihirang bihira ang pang masa na market na song entries,” Vehnee explains. “After that, I still kept on submitting songs in other competitions, consistently trying my best.”

The year 1983 became an important one for Vehnee. Ako’y Ako, interpreted by Lerma de la Cruz, won second place in the Metropop professional division and Be My Lady, originally interpreted by Pedrito Montaire, landed as a finalist.

That same year, Martin Nievera recorded his version of Be My Lady for the latter’s Vicor album. “That became my pass to enter the mainstream and commercial songwriting,” shares Vehnee about his iconic hit. “That song introduced me to the public as a composer.”

Recording executive Chito Ilagan pushed Be My Lady to be Martin’s song and it undoubtedly became really popular.

After that, there was no more stopping Vehnee from becoming a certified hitmaker. “It was very rewarding to work in the corporate world, but I decided to master songwriting,” he asserts. “I knew there was something good that will happen in my career if I concentrated on songwriting.”

Through the years, Vehnee also wrote Christmas tunes, like Pasko Para sa Lahat featuring OctoArts International artists in 1990. However, Sa Araw ng Pasko in 1998 became such a big hit, rendered by all-star artists — Pops Fernandez, Jolina Magdangal, Carol Banawa, Jamie Rivera, Jeffrey Hidalgo, James Coronel, Ladine Roxas, Roselle Nava, Lindsay Custodio and Tootsie Guevarra.

That time, Vehnee produced Sa Araw ng Pasko with Star Records executive, Vilma Selga. However, no major artist revived the Christmas song in more than two decades.

This year, Vehnee offered Sa Araw ng Pasko as a collaboration of Vehnee Saturno Music with the TNT (Tawag ng Tanghalan) Boys — Mackie Empuerto, Francis Concepcion and Kiefer Sanchez — for Star Music.

Initially, Vehnee wanted to re-imagine Sa Araw ng Pasko as an all-star Yuletide ditty again, with Star Music artists. “But I realized ang hirap mag-record ng maraming artists. Then, the budget is also another issue.

“I needed a fall back. If not TNT Boys, I will offer the song to another label who will be willing to record it,” he adds. “That will even become a duet, trio or a group song. But TNT Boys decided to record the song.”

Surprisingly, Vehnee himself wrote the English lyrics for Sa Araw ng Pasko. “Pinag-tiyagaan kong sulatin,” he beams. “Hindi ako magaling sa English at isang linggo kong ginawa ang lyrics.

“Every time I need English lyrics, my daughter helps me write the song,” he shares. “Also, my songwriting partner si Tito Cayamanda. This time, sabi ng daughter ko, ‘Try mo.’ Nakalusot naman. She simply checked, proofread and corrected everything to make sure.”

Even the rap part in Sa Araw ng Pasko, with a few lines by vocal coach Froilan Canlas, was added by Vehnee. Their peg for the rap part was the 1984 English Christmas ditty, Do They Know It’s Christmas, the all-star recording of Band Aid.

“For the young generation, they will hear Sa Araw ng Pasko for the first time, interpreted by the TNT Boys, who are all very young. Bagets din,” Vehnee affirms.

The last Christmas song Vehnee wrote was Regalo ng Pasko, with Jay R, Kris Lawrence and Daryl Ong in 2016.

In his four-decade songwriting career, Vehnee was able to write around 150 “minor and major hits.” He has admirably written close to 900 tunes through the years. He was supposed to stage an all-star concert for his 40th anniversary at the Araneta Coliseum last year, but the pandemic took over everything in the world.

“Maybe we can still do 42 on 2022,” the award-winning songwriter hopefully states.

Vehnee likens his songs to “adobo and sinigang,” that always suit every Filipino’s palate. “Every time, I always tell this to a singer. ‘Kapag pipili ka ng kanta, dapat palaging bagay sa ‘yo.’ Ang kanta parang damit na isinusuot. ‘Pag naglakad ka at nakita ka ng tao, dapat laging bagay sa ‘yo ang suot mo.”

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