MAX Surban is my house guest. The Philippine music icon is set to perform on March 25 in Auckland, and he is staying in my home in preparation for the event. He has so many stories to tell.
A down-to-earth person, Max had funny anecdotes to share, but it was his life story that caught much of my attention. Unlike others, Max does not depend on record companies to produce his records, rather, he independently makes these and selects record companies for distribution. He acknowledges that two of his most important songs are “Gihidlaw Na Intawon Ako” and “Baleleng.” For first one, he was performing with a band in Japan when this was released and surprisingly became a national hit. When he returned, Vic del Rosario gave him the “red carpet” welcome. He asked Vic if he deserved a bonus, to which the Vicor boss handed him P1,000. For “Baleleng,” he asked record executive Ramon Chuaying to include this in an album for distribution, but the latter said that it was too slow and not novelty. He included the song in his next album distributed by del Rosario who agreed to its inclusion. “Baleleng” topped the charts.
This year is actually significant for Max as it is his 50th anniversary as a professional performer. He left Cebu in 1968 to pursue a music career in Manila. Initially, Al Comendador wrote the lyrics for his songs, but he gained enough confidence to write both music and lyrics early on. Few may know that in the waning years of the Vietnam War, Max performed in the US Airbase in Mactan as well as before US troops in the war zones in Vietnam. There was one instance that he and other musicians were aboard a helicopter that was fired upon by Vietcongs, and instead of the aircraft retreating, it went on to fire missiles towards the enemies.
He shared about the years singing in amateur contests and getting his first engagement in Insular Café upon the recommendation of the cashier who eventually became his wife and manager.
When we talked about the state of Visayan music, Max became serious. He said that OPM (Original Pilipino Music) is a misnomer as it refers only to songs with Tagalog lyrics. “Why doesn’t it include Bisaya, Hiligaynon, Waray and other Filipino languages and dialects?” he asked. He is concerned that traditional Visayan music, such as harana, may be forgotten, if government or institutions will give little attention, if none at all.
At 78 years old, Max does not intend to retire for as long as he can sing songs and make people happy. And it is but perfect for him to champion traditional Filipino music and the rights of songwriters who are not properly compensated for the copyright of their songs. He is thankful for the people who continue to love his songs and support his performances, but beyond that he hopes that Filipino musicians and composers preserve the traditional music while at the same propagate their own songs.