LJ Manzano: Davao’s award-winning singer and composer

by Admin-Phmp

By Henrylito D. Tacio

Once in a while, there are singers who don’t sing the songs they compose. Such was the case of Lionel Richie. He wrote the song “Lady” as per request of Kenny Rogers. When it was released in September 1980, it was an international hit and became one of the best-selling songs of the decade. The song was also the biggest hit in Rogers’ solo career.

Richie’s composition came to mind with the song “Kamang Malamig.” LJ Manzano composed the song and was supposed to sing the song himself. But he thought otherwise. So, he looked for someone who can interpret it best.

It took him sometime until he met Clyde Aquino, who is from Cagayan de Oro City. And that was how Aquino got to sing the song. Manzano was also the lead guitarist of the song.

In just two to three days after the song was uploaded on YouTube, it reportedly gained 100,000 views. One day it was posted on Facebook, there were already about one million views.

The music and lyrics plus the video made “Kamang Malamig” an instant hit. But there was an interesting story on how the music video came to be.

“At one point, Gigi de Lana and I talked about writing a song for Gigi. Then weeks later, I was thinking of Gigi to appear in the music video. I asked her and she didn’t hesitate to be one of the cast,” Manzano recalled.

James Torres (Bite King) also joined the cast because “he simply loved the song after he heard it,” Manzano said. Eldel Daniles was the other man in the cast. The music video was directed by Vince Vesiete.

Manzano is perhaps one of Davao’s most talented artists when it comes to music. He is a guitarist, singer and songwriter rolled into one.

“Personally, I don’t feel complete without any of these,” he admitted. “But if I have to choose only one, then that’s playing guitar because people say I am ‘one of a kind’ when I do such a thing.”

Well, playing guitars is also his first love. He was 12 when he became fascinated with guitars after hearing her mother playing the song “If” popularized by a group named Bread. “When I saw my mom playing that song, I was encouraged to play the guitar,” he recalled. “Later on, I realized I started singing pop and rock music and even my own original songs secretly.”

If you hear and watch him playing his guitars, you can really say LJ is one of a kind. On how he does it, he replied, “I combined everything that I have learned from the Internet.”

He added, “As I learn, I also create my own ideas. Mainly though, I teach myself and I love to improvise. I think I was born a very creative person.”

Michael Hedges and Ross Bolton are two of his favorite guitar players who influenced him. Hedges is an American acoustic guitarist and songwriter. His discography included “Breakfast in the Field,” “Live on the Double Planet,” and “Torched.” Bolton, on the other hand, provided guitar work for soundtracks of such movies as Switch, Into the West and Friday.

Paul McCartney – that’s the singer he wanted to play for if he is given a chance. “He is also one of my most admired songwriters of all time,” he says. Among the famous songs he composed were some of the songs he sang with the British band, Beatles, including “Love Me Do,” “P.S. I Love You,” “I Saw Her Standing There,” “Hold Me Tight” and “All My Loving.”

Yes, LJ is more of a songwriter than a singer. “I was more of a song writer and a virtuoso guitarist during my school years,” he admitted. There was a time when he did some backup singing, and he considered it as “the bravest thing I’ve done in singing.” His reason: “That was the time when I formed my bands called ‘The Beatitudes’ and ‘Myxtreme.’”

So far, he has composed more than 40 songs already. Among those who have sung his musical compositions include Morissette Amon, Ben&Ben, JBK, Mark Garcia, and Joan Da. Some local singers have also crooned his songs like JR Oclarit.

He singles out “Hay Nako” and “Naririnig Mo Ba” as his most favorite songs. “Hay Nako, which I sang personally, has already reached more than 50 million views online. It is being used by popular YouTubers until today.

“Naririnig Mo Ba,” sung by Morissette Amon is also a favorite “because that song was very emotional and many people liked it as well. The song became trending when Antonette Tismo sang her own rendition on ‘Tawag ng Tanghalan,’ which gained two million views in less than a week.”

“Naririnig Mo Ba” earned him an award for Best Ballad Recording in the Awit Awards. His “Ngano” was adjudged champion in Iloilo for Star FM’s Bombo Music Festival Songwriting Competition. “Magtanim ng Bago” was one of the winners (second runner up) during the Tofarm Songwriting Competition.

In 2017, Manzano won the Kadayawan Songwriting Competition.

But LJ considers “Aalagaan Kita,” as the most memorable song he has composed so far. “This was the song I wrote for my wife,” he says, “and I sang it on our wedding day.”

If you are still wondering what LJ stands for, it’s Lover Jay. He is the second, youngest and only son of Fely Manzano and Angelito Te. His eldest sister is named Love Joy. “Ten years ang gap namin ng sister ko,” he said.

LJ graduated from Davao Central High School in 1999. In 2006, he graduated from Ateneo de Davao University (majoring in Mass Communications) and North Valley College (Nursing). Yes, he finished two courses. “I didn’t like these courses but I have to do it since I was afraid that my sister wouldn’t support me financially if I didn’t finish college, especially nursing,” he revealed.

In 2009, LJ went to London to study health and social care. But deep down in his heart, he wanted to make music there personally, especially that as a solo guitarist, he has gained more than 4 million views on YouTube. “As guitar instrumentalist, I wanted to extend my guitar skills to other nationalities,” he said.

What he wanted to do came when he was invited to the biggest Christian gathering in O2 Arena (Hillsong Conference), where almost 10 thousand people attended. “When the Hillsong invited me to be part of their Music Team, I played for the opening part,” he said.

That was the start. Every time foreigners saw him playing his guitar instruments – whether live in pubs or in streets and concerts – his CDs were always sold out in just a matter of 30 minutes.

In 2011, LJ returned to the country since he had to renew his Visa. “I went home earlier since I badly miss the joy of being home,” he said, “As the saying goes, there’s no place like home.”

It was at this time that the group named MP3 came into existence. “I formed the MP3 to make my imaginations come into reality,” he said, adding that he wanted to fulfill his dream of making a unique band with a different setup of having human beatbox, crazy tapping guitars, and still with a singer.

Then came the unexpected; MP3 found themselves among the contenders in the Pilipinas Got Talent Season 4. “As a musical arranger of this group, I really took the responsibility of what we will do on stage,” he said. “The medley song (Come Together, Billie Jean, Moves Like Jagger, Yugyugan Na, and the Mission Impossible Theme) we always play on our gigs that caught the attention of people was the piece I arranged especially for the MP3 Band.”

Right now, LJ describes himself as lucky. “I am blessed to have a God-given gift in doing the best of both worlds,” he says. “My guitar video (Toxic by Britney Spears) is something that I had made that no one else in the world does. I am also blessed with my songs which have been monetized.”

When asked how he sees himself ten years from now, he replies, “I really don’t know. Because for me, I am happy right now with my career and I think I have already fulfilled creating a name in the industry.

“But tomorrow may have another surprise for me,” LJ adds. “I am also happy with our business that is going well and I am also looking forward to expanding our business. That’s apart from pursuing my career, of course.”

His final words: “Always follow who you are. Learn to ignore those people who will try to put you down. When it comes to gifts and skills, find your strength and be true to yourself and to everyone because that’s the only way you can excel on something.

“At the end of the day, God created each of us with strengths and weaknesses. Some are doctors, some are lawyers, and some are teachers. I am for music and I am also for building my own business – two things that I am good at. You have to find what’s yours!” – ###

Photos courtesy of LJ Manzano

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