By Rogelio Constantino Medina
Jose Mari Chan is an unpretentious (what you see in him is what you get) performer; a great talent, a good conversationalist and a true friend, very helpful and generous, is always in high scale and always happy, so the late TV host and disc jockey Eddie Mercado, the “Frank Sinatra of the Philippines”, told this writer some years ago in his Las Piñas City abode.
Those were the similar comments of songwriters Louie Ocampo and Willy Cruz, TV and stage director Al Quinn, and talent manager Sandra Chavez of Chan.
Aconsistent hit maker, the songs of Jose Mari Chan for years served as landmarks of original Pilipino music (OPM).
Not too many know that he is the only Filipino artist to have attained unprecedented record sales of 20 times platinum for his Christmas In Our Hearts album and 16 times platinum for the Constant Change album. His other albums were all double platinum.
Since 1971, he has also been an active jingle writer for a wide range of consumer products and business institutions.
“He writes his songs from the heart, and that makes him more enduring. His songs are lyrical and he has captured the Filipino sentiments,” said back-up singer Kitchie Molina.
Joe Mari’s songs, according to musical director Archie Castillo, are influenced by Richard Harris and Henry Mancini. “He has his own distinct sound and style, very distinctly Jose Mari Chan.”
For the late talent manager Angie Magbanua, Joe has a very cool voice, just like that of Cliff Richard. “We speak the same dialect, Ilonggo, and that creates closeness within us. He’s very malambing (sweet).”
As a performer, he is a musical genius and a good comedian, said Moy Ortiz of The Company. “He is a very generous performer. He is not insecure on stage for he is ready and willing to share with other performers. He is fun to be with.”
Moy added, “Joe is quick-witted. He knows how to entertain his audience. He is also humble and treats people alike. Hindi siya matapobre (He isn’t aristocratic), considering he is a multi-millionaire (being the eldest son of the late Antonio Chan, a successful sugar magnate).”
To comedian Gary Lising, who has known Joe Mari since their college days at Ateneo, he has never changed. "He is still the same Joe I know. He’s an artist par excellence and a world-class performer.”
Singer Lindsay Custodio nodded her head in assen, “He is one of the best performers I’ve ever seen. He is down-to-earth, kind and humble.”
In 1974, Jose Mari Chan was awarded the TOYM and he received the Dangal ng Musikang Pilipino award from the Philippine Association of the Recording Industry and the Antonio C. Barreiro Lifetime Achievement Award from the Metropop Foundation.
When Pope John Paul II was still alive, he, together with Cris Villongco, had the privilege of singing at St. Peter’s Square in Rome, Italy at a holy Mass for the migrant pilgrims, attended by more than 50,000 people of different nationalities. “Italy has always been one of my favorite destinations when going on holidays. In fact, it was in Naples and Sorrento where my wife Mary Ann and I had our honeymoon,” reminisced Joe. “We’ve since gone back to Italy many times, rediscovering San Gimignano, Venice, Florence, Rome and other Italian cities through the eyes of our children (Liza, Jose Antonio, Michael, Franco, and Angelica).”
Joe’s entertainment career began in 1966 when he hosted a daily teenage show, Nineteeners, on ABS-CBN Channel 9. At that time, he was still in college at Ateneo de Manila taking up economics. It was however in 1967 when his first single “Afterglow” caught the cynosure of Filipino music enthusiasts.
“It was a landmark record because it was one of the OPM songs that broke the stronghold of foreign songs in our airwaves,” vividly recalled Joe Mari.
That was followed in 1969 by his long-playing album Deep In My Heart, which was a tremendous hit. Eventually, he began writing songs and scores for movies. He worked with directors Lino Brocka, Celso Ad Castillo, Nestor Torre, Ishmael Bernal, Luis Nepomuceno and Luciano Carlos, and movie stars like Hilda Coronel and Dolphy, among others.
In 1975, Joe Mari and his family migrated to the US. But he continued to write songs. He joined the Metropop Song Festival, and twice he lost. In 1986, he returned home. Later on, Universal Records convinced him to do a comeback album.
He was surprised to find out that the success that came after was greater than the success he enjoyed before leaving for the US, considering that he is much older and record buyers are getting younger. “It was a pleasant surprise…and it’s a blessing. I must have done something good in my previous life.”
Much of the blessings he has now in life must have come because there was a time that his wife Mary Ann and he served in Japan as lay missionaries.
Asked what he would want his legacy to be, Jose Mari Chan remarked, “As a father, to bring to this world responsible citizens who will constructively contribute to our society. As an artist and songwriter, to be able to write songs that not only touch lives but will live on long after I’m gone.”