JOSE MARI CHAN AND THE CHRISTMAS ANTHEM
No Christmas song has ever achieved what singer-songwriter Jose Mari Chan has accomplished with “Christmas in Our Hearts,” a song with a perfect melody and so uplifting that it is lapped up by young and adults alike, by baby boomers and millennials, and by people from all walks of life.
That song, which forms part of the album with the same title was recorded on November 17, 1990 and was certified a Diamond Record in Sales awardee and is now perched atop the chart by the Philippine Association of Recording Industry (PARI), followed by “Constant Change,” another album by Jose Mari Chan.
“Christmas in Our Hearts” has become the anthem of the holiday season, wafting in the airwaves as early as September, when the memes of Jose Mari Chan’s face start appearing in Facebook threads, signifying the start of the Christmas season.
The song’s remarkable success is due in part to the message that it brings which is the essence of Christmas couched in meaningful lyrics that anyone can immediately commit to memory, a fact borne by the way it was recorded three decades ago, when his daughter Liza had learnt the song in one day and record it in the next.
Jose Mari Chan offers an explanation for the immense success of the top-selling song in an interview by The Financial District.
“I believe that the success of “Christmas In Our Hearts” is, first of all, because of its uniquely catchy melody which appeals to both children and adults. The melody combines the East and the West which makes it unique and interesting.
The first 2 verses are in Minor mode (Eastern) and then the Refrain is in the Western Major mode, which illustrates that Christmas is a
universal celebration,” he said.
“Second, it carries the real message of Christmas. Indeed, I am grateful for having composed this song. It is a Gift from the Holy Spirit,” he added. And yet the song took a while to take wings, and here one sees the way Jose Mari Chan lends a helping hand. And he credits the Lord Almighty for the way the song was born.
“The Holy Spirit works in magnificent ways. The song Christmas in Our Hearts began as a Filipino poem entitled Ang Tubig ay Buhay, written by Chari Cruz Zarate whose high school class was celebrating their Silver Jubilee,” he said.
It only took Jose Mari Chan half a day to come up with the melody that he later transformed into a Christmas carol, with help from a young songwriter, Rina Caniza, who had earlier tapped on his windshield as he was coming out from Sunday mass, offering to collaborate with him.
“We all thought that Lea Salonga and I would make the perfect pair for the song. Unfortunately, her studio contract would not permit her to record for another label and with only two weeks to go before our scheduled release, someone suggested that I ask my (then) 19-year-old daughter Liza instead. Liza had to learn the song quickly and go into recording the next day. It could not have been better the way the Holy Spirit worked it out: father and daughter singing a melody that’s a blend of East and West, delivering the real message of Christmas.”
Jose Mari Chan accomplished those unprecedented feats while working full time in his role as chairman and CEO of Binalbagan Isabela Sugar Company, sitting down during the moments he gets those aha! moments for snippets of lyrics and scribbling the notes and the music that would accompany them. But he hastened to add that business and music do not mix. “To a certain extent, my being known as a singer-songwriter can open doors, but in our sugar business, that does not count,” he said.
Christmas in our hearts has resonated far and wide and, in the Iloilo-Negros area where his business is located, it is not uncommon for personalities in the sugar plantations to be heard humming the song. For Lillian Golez Urbina, the message of the song is unmistakable and the hope that it brings forth is gratifying for its meaningful take: “Let’s light our Christmas trees/ For a bright tomorrow /Where nations are at peace/ And all are one in God,”
The huge success of Christmas in our hearts cemented the stature of Jose Mari Chan as a singer-songwriter of note. In 1989, he produced the album “Constant Change” which became the first unprecedented Diamond Record Awardee in sales in the country. The album contained his giant hits like “Please Be Careful with My Heart” and “Beautiful Girl”. These songs were sold in other Asian countries as well and were recorded by Japanese, Chinese and Indonesian singers.
For now, Jose Mari Chan sees an immense challenge for the industry. For one, the market for physical CDs has disappeared with the stores that used to sell the CDs having closed down. Also, the number of active recording companies has gone down from 10 to only 2 “so the songwriters today no longer have an aggressive market for their songs, he said, adding that venue left for them is the digital platform, and the challenge there is how to promote their songs to the download-buyers of music.
Aside from the sea-change in the selling of CDs, Jose Mari Chan also bared that even the concert scene has undertaken a metamorphosis.
“Last night, (December 21) I was asked to do an on-line concert for a group. That’s because of my being a known artist. But for the new breed of singers/songwriters, they first have to be known and established. They need to think of ways to get their songs heard and for them to be known.”
Jose Mari Chan is happy at the way his children and family have taken to singing. In fact, last September, the family had a YouTube upload where they were all singing the country’s anthem every Christmas. On this, he said “the fruits don’t fall far from the tree, they say.”
“Well, I’ve been blessed with children and grandchildren who love and play music. In fact, my 3 sons have begun to compose their own songs in their own style. And all of them not only can carry a tune, they all sing well.
My 2 elder sons have had their original compositions recorded and commercially released on CDs. It’s just too bad that the present state of the music industry has not driven them to greater heights,” he said.
Asked how he wished to be remembered he said: “I want to be remembered, first, as a good husband and a model father. A true and reliable friend. Thirdly, it is my dream that long after I am gone, my songs will still be sung and loved by future generations of music lovers. My songs are like my children whom I have brought up into the world. As all fathers, I want my children to become good productive citizens, happy and successful in their chosen career.”
Jose Mari Chan said he is thankful at the turn of events in his songwriting career. “I am grateful always for my success as a singer-songwriter. My music is my gift to my countrymen. This music talent is a gift from God and what I have done with the talent is my gift back to God. In all my Christmas songs, I glorify God.” (Lito U. Gagni)