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“Usahay” composer’s original version: Because “love is always, not just sometimes”

TAGUM CITY (MindaNews) — Noemi Raymundo Ortega was a majorette at the Davao Central Institute in Toril district in the 1950s when she met Gregorio Responso Labja,  band leader of the Harvardian Colleges, during her school’s Foundation Day.

It was apparently love at first sight for Greg, who later stood, arms akimbo, gazing at her at the bandroom as she entered. But it wasn’t for the beautiful Noemi, a junior high school student then, who detested Greg’s stance, causing her to trip. “Napandol ko” (I stumbled), Lola Noemi, now 79, breaks into a smile recalling that first meeting.

Greg Labja wasted no time. He offered her a scholarship to join his school’s band as sponsor and majorette, and persistently pursued the love of his life who later accepted the scholarship and stayed along with other scholars at his aunt’s boarding house near the Sta. Ana wharf.

Suitors and admirers Lola Noemi had so many, among them captains and crew members of the boats that docked. But it was the musician Greg who won her heart.

Lola Noemi says  Greg composed “Usahay” (Sometimes) because “yung nakita nya na ako” (when he first saw me), she paused and coyly giggled like a high school junior, “hindi na nya ako makalimutan” (he couldn’t forget me).

pic1 pic2 pic3

Five songs

At 79, Lola Noemi has been noted to have memory lapses but her face lit up Tuesday noon, lighting up the interiors of her house when she told MindaNews her husband composed so many songs, five of these were for her — three in Cebuano and two in English: “Usahay,” “Kanunay” (Always), “Gugma Ko” (My Love), “Darling” and “Four years ago.”

Ofelia Labja Cerbas, 56, the eldest of 10 children, remembers her father playing the piano at dawn, the same piano in the living room that awaits some repairs and tuning. Second daughter Jennifer Labja Mendoza says one or two of the songs her mom mentioned may have been composed for others, but stored in her mom’s memory are these five songs.

As the youngest son, Filgrino or Nonoy, played the CD of his father’s songs that the family asked a local singer to record, his mother Noemi would close her eyes and sing along before sharing the story behind each song. She sang the first lines of “Kanunay” — “Kanunay ko ikaw ginadamgo, sa adlaw ug gabii” which she said Greg wrote when she went on vacation in Pagadian City.

“Gugma Ko”  whose first lines she also sang — “Gugma ko, ikaw ang akong pinalangga” – was composed “nung gi-accept ko na siya” (when I accepted him), she said.

“Darling,” volunteers Nonoy, was composed after their wedding while  “Four Years Ago,” according to his mother, was composed years after she told him she did not believe in the saying “bahala na’g saging basta loving” (bananas are enough for as long as we love each other) so she would accept his marriage proposal if he could wait for four years more until she graduates (she was taking up Education, he was finishing Law).

In the end, Noemi whose childhood friends in Toril included the actress Amalia Fuentes, didn’t get to finish her course (Ofelia says she finished second year in Education) as the lovestruck Greg followed her in Pagadian (a two-day travel by bus and ship then),  to ask her to put on his hood during graduation. Lola Noemi said her brother in Pagadian  allowed her to  return to Davao with Greg if they were married.  The wedding took place in Pagadian, where their eldest child, Ofelia, was later born.

The Law graduate and his wife moved to Pantukan, Davao del Norte (now in Compostela Valley province), Greg’s hometown (he was born in Sibonga, Cebu but the family settled in Pantukan). He served as police chief in Pantukan for ten years before transferring to Tagum City, where he moved his family to a newly-opened subdivision then. Wherever he was assigned, the musician-policeman organized a music band, Lola Noemi said.

His last assignment was at the regional command in Camp Catitipan, Davao City where he served as Regional Director for Adminstration.

Noemi engaged in  business,  including logging, and had a three-story building where she did some catering and whose third floor they intended to convert into a music studio.  But Greg had fallen ill and eventually passed away. His last composition, according to Jennifer, was the Tagum Hymn, which he completed four days before he died.

Greg Labja passed away on April 18, 1991 at the age of 59 without having been recognized as the composer of “Usahay.” For a long time, the composition was credited to a Nitoy Gonzalez of Cebu.  It was only in 2010, Jennifer said, when the Supreme Court ruled the composition was her father’s.

Late recognition

It took almost two decades after Greg’s death before he was officially acknowledged as the composer of “Usahay.”

Jennifer told MindaNews that sometime in 2005 or 2006,  they were informed that there was some amount as royalty for the composer of “Usahay” that was held in escrow because of an authorship question.

Jennifer approached the Filipino Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (FILSCAP)  to inform them that “Usahay” was a composition of her  father and that she had the musical score sheets to prove their claim.

In the course of the case where FILSCAP was interpleader and Jennifer represented the Heirs of Gregorio R. Labja, she recalls having been asked by the judge to sing “Usahay” and her father’s other compositions.

FILSCAP is a non-stock, non-profit association of composers, lyric-writers and music publishers set up in 1965 “to administer the public performance, mechanical reproduction and synchronization rights granted by law to creators and owners of original musical works.”

Jennifer is grateful to FILSCAP officials Gary Granada and Nonoy Tan, both Dabawenyos, for their help in finally getting the recognition due their father.

“Hindi royalty ang importante sa amin. Mas importante ma-recognize yung father namin,” (Royalty is not important to us. What is more important is that our father is recognized), she said.

At the Labja residence in Tagum, Nonoy showed MindaNews an Awit Awards 2005 trophy for “Usahay.”

As the story goes, South Border won the Awit Awards’ Best Regional Recording for “Usahay” in 2005. Aside from the trophy the band got, another trophy was given for the composer.  South Border accepted that trophy on behalf of the composer. Fortunately, according to Nonoy, a Tagum-based relative of the saxophonist of the former Davao-based band, informed the saxophonist that the composer of “Usahay” is Labja from Tagum.

The trophy is now prominently displayed at the Labja residence, the first ever award that Greg Labja received for “Usahay.”

“Matagal bago ito nabigay sa amin” (It took sometime before this reached us), said Nonoy.

A saxophone intro

“Usahay” is  about six decades old now. Lola Noemi recalls those early days when during an affair in Harvardian Colleges, her then suitor Greg performed the song, dedicating it to “Miss Ortega.”

But his serenade of “Usahay” she will never ever forget: Greg opened the song by playing the saxophone, then sang the verses of the song that had become a favorite for nearly four decades since an abridged version was recorded commercially by Susan Fuentes in the late 1970s.

Lola Noemi says her husband was upset that the song was recorded without his consent.  Her children took turns narrating that the song found its way to a recording studio when their father attended the birthday party of a prominent person in Tagum (now deceased).

The music band their father organized in  the police headquarters performed there to also solicit funds to purchase additional musical instruments.  “Gi-tape pala,” (The performance was taped), said Ofelia. Jennifer recalls how her father told him that days later, another prominent person (also deceased) came to “borrow” the musical score.

When the song hit the airwaves, Greg Labja, a Law graduate thought of suing but opted against it. Jennifer says her father told her he would be facing prominent opponents.

“Usahay’s” abridged version has been immortalized by, among others, singers Fuentes, Pilita Corrales, Dulce, Vina Morales, Aegis, South Border, Gary Granada, the former First Lady Imelda Marcos,  and politicians campaigning in Cebuano-speaking areas. It is an all-time favorite in videoke bars and amateur singing contests,  its melody hummed as lullaby for millions of children in Mindanao and the Visayas. In what is now Mati City,  according to a former resident who is now in her early 60s, it was sang during masses.

But if millions fell in love with the abridged version of “Usahay” they would love even more the original version which is longer (five four-line verses, including a bridge, and a two-line coda, against the commercial version’s two four-line verses), its lyrics far more romantic.

In the abridged version, some lyrics and notes were changed, the bridge deleted (Usahay nagabasol ako / Nakita ko ikaw sa mga damgo ko / Ug unya, ningtalikod ka lang /Nga unta gugma man ang gibati ko).

But the most important aspect of the composition that the abridged version did not include is the essence of the love that the composer offered for his beloved.

The  original composition ends with these lines: “Ang gugma kong matuod kanimo da / Kanunay gyud ang gugma, dili usahay.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)


USAHAY (original composition)*

Gregorio Responso Labja


Usahay, nagadamgo ako
nga ikaw ug ako nagkahigugmaay

Ug nganong gidamgo ko ikaw

Gidamgo sa kanunay sa akong kamingaw


Usahay, ning kasing-kasing ko

Nagbasol nga nabuhi ning kalibutan

Kay imong gitiaw-tiawan
ang gugma kong gihalad, kanimo da


Usahay, nagabasol ako

Nakita ko ikaw sa mga damgo ko

Ug unya ning talikod ka na

Nga unta gugma man ang gibati ko


Usahay, nagadamgo ako

Nga ikaw ug ako nagkahigugmaay

Ug nganong gidamgo ko ikaw

Gidamgo sa kanunay sa akong kamingaw


Usahay ning kasing-kasing ko

Nagbasol nga nabuhi ning kalibutan

Kay imong gitiaw-tiawan

Ang gugma kong gihalad kanimo, da

Ang gugma kong matuod kanimo da

Kanunay gyud ang gugma dili usahay.

* transcribed by MindaNews from the Labja family’s recording of the original composition


(commercial version)**

Usahay, nagadamgo ako
Nga ikaw ug ako nagkahigumaan
Nganong damguhon ko ikaw
Damguhon ko kanunay sa akong kamingaw

Usahay, nagamahay ako
Nganong nabuhi pa Nianing kalibutan
Kay nganong gitiawtiawan
Ang guma ko kanimo Kanimo, da.

** http://www.songlyrics.com/pilita-corrales/usahay-lyrics/#BR2R3CW54TGrpCUR.99

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