Levi Celerio

Filipino of the Century – Levi Celerio

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I didn't know him personally but this man wrote beautiful songs that made me proud of my country.  His name is Levi.

His songs have entertained the whole nation for almost half a century.  More than entertaining, his music is a part of the Filipino people's heritage. To say the least, his music represents the best of the Filipino culture.

Truly, there are no more beautiful words in a song than those written by a simple man they call Levi Celerio. His songs cherish life, convey nationalistic sentiments and utter grand philosophies that all sound wonderful. His melodies are even more impressive and proud is the least a Filipino could be upon hearing them.

As a composer and lyricist, Levi wrote more than 4000 songs. Among them are popular pieces, which many would hasten to call "immortal". At one time or another, no Filipino could miss the tune or lyrics of Levi's Christmas songs: Pasko na Naman, Ang Pasko ay Sumapit, and Misa de Gallo.

Who would not fall in love upon listening to the following love songs: Saan Ka Man Naroroon, Kahit Konting Pagtingin, Gaano Ko Ikaw Kamahal, Kapag Puso'y Sinugatan, and Ikaw. Who would not feel like dancing upon hearing the lyrics and melodies of the following folk songs: Ang Pipit, Tinikling, Tunay na Tunay, Itik-Itik, Waray-Waray, Pitong Gatang, Ako ay May Singsing, Alibangbang, Alembong, Galawgaw, Caprichosa, Ang Tapis Ni Inday, Dungawin Mo Hirang, Umaga na Neneng, Ikaw Kasi and Basta't Mahal Kita.

His best songs combine great poetry, philosophy and passion. These are O Maliwanag na Buwan, Dahil Sa Isang Bulaklak, Sa Ugoy ng Duyan, Bagong Pagsilang and Sapagkat Kami'y Tao Lamang. Levi also wrote nationalistic songs such as Ang Bagong Lipunan, Lupang Pangarap, and Tinig ng Bayan. Imagine the world without these songs, and the Philippines would have been less known for its happy, romantic and enthusiastic people.

Known as a poet of Philippine music, Levi wrote songs that set the standards for class and quality. Other Filipino songs, which lack luster and rhetoric, were soon forgotten and rarely heard again. But not Levi's songs. They are classic, if not timeless. The full meaning and emotion of a particular theme is best captured in his lyrics, as in the song, Ang Pipit:

"May pumukol sa pipit sa sanga ng isang kahoy
At nahagip ng bato ang pakpak ng munting ibon
Dahil sa sakit, di na nakaya pang lumipad
At ang nangyari ay nahulog
Ngunit parang taong bumigkas,
"Mamang kay lupit, ang puso mo'y di na nahabag,
Pag pumanaw ang buhay ko
May isang pipit na iiyak!"

Ironically, Levi, the master lyricist, became famous around the world for his other distinct talent. For a time, the Guinness Book of World Records has recognized him as the only man who could play beautiful music with a leaf.

Because of his rare talent, Levi was invited to the Mel Griffin show where he played "All The Things That You Are" with 39 musicians in front of nine microphones and camera. Using his leaf, Levi wowed the crowd and got the attention of the Guinness Book of World Records. The Book later listed the entry: "The only leaf player in the world is in the Philippines".

Born in Tondo on April 30, 1910, Levi received his scholarship at the Academy of Music in Manila and became the youngest member of the Manila Symphony Orchestra. A great number of his songs have been written for the local movies which earned for him the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Film Academy of the Philippines. In 1997, he was chosen as the National Artist in Literature and Music.

The award is the highest national recognition given to Filipino artists who have made significant contributions to the development of Philippine arts and to the cultural heritage of the country. It is aimed at recognizing Filipino artistic accomplishment at its highest level and to promote creative expression as significant to the development of a national cultural identity.

In his old age, Levi occasionally appeared in public, like when there was a big thing happening at the Cultural Center of the Philippines.  He was also playing at a Quezon City bar from time to time.  He just could not be stopped from making beautiful music, even when shuttling between home and hospital.  

Levi was a poor man, so poor in fact that he could not pay for his hospital bills.  A newspaper report said that "This shouldn't be happening to him."

That is Levi. He wrote 4000 songs and remained poor. But that is something every man of his kind takes pride of. As they say, poverty is an honor and privilege bestowed on all great poets. Levi has been a great poet, the most heard Filipino poet of all time. He has been a poor man all these years, but his songs have enriched the Filipino's identity and culture.  Particularly, the man I've never met a single time touched me in many ways.

He died at the Delgado Clinic in Kamuning Quezon City on April 2, 2002.  At 91, a beautiful song ended.  Levi!

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