Ramon Magsaysay Awardee Ryan Cayabyab on Being Happiest While Teaching
The musician grew up around music, and has since passed on his talents to the new generation that he mentors
“Music was all around me and there was no escaping that,” says Ryan Cayabyab, whose songs and works have long been a constant staple in Filipino pop culture and Filipino households. Lovingly and always referred to as Mr. C or “maestro,” Cayabyab became a Ramon Magsaysay laureate in 2019—a year after he was named National Artist for Music.
Known for songs like “Kailan,” “Paraiso,” “Kay Ganda ng Ating Musika,” “Tuwing Umuulan at Kapiling Ka,” and so many more, Cayabyab has always been surrounded by music, and knows the exact moment he became a musician: “[when] I learned how to play the piano and became aware of the music that surrounded my growing up years.”
Cayabyab, after all, is the son of an opera singer and a faculty member at the UP College of Music. He’d grown up on the sprawling grounds of UP Diliman, their home welcoming a handful of lady boarders all taking up music.
In his teens, he took it upon himself to help his family financially. “I auditioned for a radio announcer job at 15; I joined a painting contest at 14, and even if I wasn’t successful, I continually dreamed of landing a paying job. I discovered that I could play the piano very early in life, and I used this as a vehicle to land my first job: a pianist-accompanist for a choir at the age of 16.”
From there, he’d learned how to write music, enrolled in college as a music major, and was offered a teaching position in the same college his mother had taught in. The works, too, kept coming—until today, the maestro is still writing and releasing new songs.
He was bestowed the Ramon Magsaysay Award in 2019 for “his compositions and performances that have defined and inspired Filipino popular music across generations; his indomitable, undeterred confidence to selflessly seek, mentor and promote young Filipino musical genius for the global stage; and his showing us all that music can indeed instill pride and joy, and unify people across the many barriers that divide them.”
For someone whose life has been deeply embedded in the art of music, it’s no surprise that it would mean something profound to him. “Music means many things to me,” he says. “The chance to create, to perform, to collaborate, and to teach how music works.”
But to him, what’s most essential is that he is able to give back: to nurture and mentor a new generation of musicians. “It is a lifelong process of giving back,” he says, “because I believe in, and I keep on saying this mantra: the next generation should be better than ours, and the way to achieve this is to teach them everything we know, including our mistakes.”
It is what makes him the happiest, too. “I am happiest when teaching,” Cayabyab says. “Performing with other artists in a concert also makes me happy, as much as writing new music, new songs, new creative collaborations.”
As a musician, and as a champion for the joyousness that music allows, especially in the development of a nation, Cayabyab says: “Music, anywhere and everywhere in the world has its purpose for a people, for a country, for a small or large community. And the greatest effect of music (for the Filipinos), especially OPM, is its power to unite the people.” “I have been to Filipino fiestas, gatherings and social events in other countries and what do they sing together? What raises their longing for home? What brings them all back home in an instant?” Cayabyab asks.
“OPM,” he says. “The love songs. The dance music. The inspirational and patriotic songs. The traditional songs (which we basically call now as original Pilipino music, whatever genre it may be). Even the songs of the different regions using our varied and colorful languages. Music unites people.”
This weekend, tune into Bravo, ASIA!, a two-day digital arts festival that will showcase the region’s excellence in the arts, happening this Sunday and Monday, November 28 to 29, 7 to 9 p.m. PHT.
It will feature the work of six Ramon Magsaysay awardees: National Artists Nick Joaquin, Bienvenido Lumbera, and Ryan Cayabyab, as well as awardees from other countries, like Akira Kurosawa (Japan), Lin Hwai-Min (Taiwan), and T.M. Krishna (India).
Bravo, ASIA! will also screen Rashomon online via Vimeo from Nov. 28–29. Visit bravo.rmaward.asia and follow the Ramon Magsaysay Award on Facebook and YouTube for more updates and to watch the free film screening and live streaming of the shows.
Lead photo courtesy of the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation