Jose Mari Chan shares an interesting story about Christmas in Our Hearts

DIRECT LINE CONVERSATIONS - Boy Abunda - The Philippine Star
Jose Mari Chan shares an interesting story about Christmas in Our Hearts
Jose Mari Chan shared the interesting story behind Christmas in Our Hearts during his guesting on this columnist's show Fast Talk. The melody was composed in 1988, based on a poem written by his good friend Chari Cruz-Zarate titled Ang Tubig ay Buhay, which she used as a high school jubilee song.

Jose Mari Chan is one of the icons of Pinoy music with countless hit songs such as Beautiful Girl, Deep in My Heart, Please Be Careful with My Heart, Can We Just Stop and Talk Awhile, A Love to Last a Lifetime, Tell Me Your Name, Can’t We Start Over Again, and Afraid for Love to Fade that have captured the hearts of listeners.

His romantic songs have become soundtracks of many couples’ love stories from their courtship to wedding. Some of his songs even became titles or soundtracks of teleserye and movies. Did you know that Joe is the singer-composer of Love at Thirty Thousand Feet, the commercial jingle of Philippine Airlines?

It has been more than three decades since the release of Christmas in Our Hearts and A Perfect Christmas but these well-loved yuletide songs still dominate the airwaves and malls during the holiday season.

These classic hits have led Filipinos to associate Joe with the Christmas season. Long before the “ber” months started, several memes featuring the singer-songwriter had already flooded on social media.

At first, Joe was confused about how to react the first time he saw the memes on social media.

He tried to find out who created those memes but he remains unsuccessful until now. He finds them funny, except for one which he thinks was quite irreverent.

He explained, “It showed St. Joseph and Mother Mary riding a donkey and she’s pregnant. Then she says, ‘Jose Mari Chan’ (gesturing to a protruding belly).” He admitted anything can happen on social media.

Some people call Joe the King of Christmas, but he would rather be identified as the Little Drummer Boy of Christmas. “There’s only one King of Christmas and that’s our Lord Jesus Christ. The baby Jesus,” he said.

Joe shared the interesting story behind Christmas in Our Hearts during his guesting on Fast Talk with Boy Abunda. The melody was composed in 1988, based on a poem written by his good friend Chari Cruz-Zarate titled Ang Tubig ay Buhay, which she used as a high school jubilee song.

“I wrote that melody and I never thought that two years later I was going to use that melody for a Christmas song,” he related.

This happened when his recording company Universal Records approached him and said it was time for Joe to do a Christmas album due to the success of his songs Beautiful Girl, Please Be Careful with My Heart, My Girl, My Woman, My Friend, and Constant Change, among others. He collaborated with Rina Cañiza in writing the lyrics of the song.

Joe approached Lea Salonga, who was a big name because of Miss Saigon and asked if she could sing a duet with him. She liked the melody and lyrics, but unfortunately her recording company would not allow her to record for a competing label. So, Joe next approached Monique Wilson who I was managing at that time and an understudy for the role of Kim in Miss Saigon. However, Monique lost her voice when she went to Tagaytay, so she could not record the song.

The people from Universal Records were already rushing him to come up with the album. “Sometimes I guessed the Holy Spirit was leading me towards my daughter. So, I went to my daughter’s bedroom and I said, ‘Liz, what are you doing?’ ‘I’m cramming for my exams,’ she said. ‘Okay, can you learn the song quickly ‘coz I’d like this to record with you?’ ‘Okay, when?’

‘This Wednesday.’ So to make the long story short, Liz and I went into a recording studio and the rest is history,” Joe recalled.

Joe never expected that Christmas in Our Hearts would be successful and become one of the most played yuletide tunes in the country. The producers at Universal Records even said that the song was too Christian.

They asked him to come up with a romantic Christmas song, so Joe wrote A Perfect Christmas. When the producers heard it, they said that was the song the radio would play. Joe said, “Without expecting that Christmas in Our Hearts would be a big hit.” Both songs have endured the test of time years after they were both released.

I asked him if a composer could earn a lot in this profession. “Not anymore because the technology has changed. Nobody buys records, CDs, and cassettes anymore. So, we earn a little bit from Spotify and also from endorsements and doing shows. That’s all,” he admitted.

He has a piece of advice for young singers and composers. “Now with the technology change, it’s very hard to live on music. That’s why my advice is to use that as a hobby or do music on the side but get another career in law, accounting, or medicine, and then, just do music on the side. Don’t lose it completely because that’s God’s given gift to you.”

Joe shared his process when making music. The melody almost always comes first before the lyrics.

“Sometimes, I hear a melody at night and I tell myself, ‘Tomorrow morning when I wake up I’m going to write it down or record it.’ Almost always, like a song in the night, it disappears. That’s why every time I hear a melody I have to sing it right away and write it down, so I don’t lose the melody. And then, the lyrics come afterward.”

The singer-songwriter has a distinct soothing voice that the moment you hear him sing, you won’t mistake him for someone else even if you do not see him. Joe never got a vocal coach. He would sing along with the songs he heard on the radio since he was a little boy. He even performed in a children’s hour show in his hometown Iloilo City.

Joe shared his rituals before a performance. “Usually before a concert, I would vocalize for about an hour and I would clear my nose, so I can breathe normally. I also have an idiot board because sometimes I forget my own lyrics. At my age, sometimes I’m already forgetful.”

He is very busy this Christmas season with several endorsements and shows here and abroad. But unknown to other people, Joe runs a successful sugar business, so he spends his time at work when he is not doing music. He happily shared that he has been married to his wife for 53 years and is now a “cool lolo” to nine grandchildren.

Joe said it is nice to be associated with the Christmas season. “It’s the biggest season in the Philippines and it’s the best-loved season.”

For him, a perfect Christmas is being with his family. “My personal wish is continued good health and happiness with my family. With my children and grandchildren.”

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