When The Rainmakers beat the Apo in a high school singing contest 2
The Rainmakers today: Jojo Grospe, Ramon Villanueva, Joel Macanaya

When The Rainmakers beat the Apo in a high school singing contest

ANCX caught up online with The Rainmakers’ current lineup as they prepare for their 50th anniversary concert on March 2 at the UST Alumni Center.
Pocholo Concepcion | Feb 28 2024

Mel Villena was right. The conductor of the AMP Band, introducing a number in the repertoire of the 18-piece orchestra’s recent performance at 19 East, said one of the most beautiful Filipino love songs he has heard from the 1970s is a tune called “Binibini.”

But while AMP’s instrumental version underscored the track’s mellifluous melody, and even as it has also been covered by Brownman Revival, not to mention countless others on YouTube, nothing beats the original by The Rainmakers.

Interestingly, The Rainmakers, one of the most popular vocal groups in OPM’s heyday in the 1970s, was formed when its original members — Joel Macanaya, Luke Gaston, Jojo Grospe, Ed de Guzman, and Tom Callueng — were in high school at the University of Santo Tomas (UST) and joined a Student Catholic Action music competition. The group won for two consecutive years, even beating a group from Ateneo de Manila University then called the Apolinario Mabini Hiking Society.

ANCX caught up online with The Rainmakers’ current lineup as they prepare for their 50th anniversary concert on March 2 at the UST Alumni Center.

What were your earliest memories of singing?

Joel: At age 4, I learned to play the ukelele. My sister Linda taught me the simple chords… A, Am, B, Bm, G, Gm, C, Cm, etc. Soon I was strumming and accompanying myself to sing The Beatles’ 'I’ll Follow the Sun.'

Ramon Villanueva: I was in elementary school, grade 4, when my eldest brother Titos encouraged to go into music. He convinced me to join an amateur singing contest and taught me my winning piece, 'Rosita.' By grade 6, I had joined a 'combo.'

Jojo: I volunteered to replace a singer who chickened out from an assigned solo part in a school play, and ended up getting the role I never wanted! 

You were all in high school at UST when you auditioned as a group to join a Student Catholic Action singing competition. What was the group called, what was your individual audition pieces, and what songs did the group perform that won the contest for two consecutive years?

We have always been The Rainmakers from the very start. We became professional singers searching for our place in the sun.

Joel: My audition piece was The Beatles’ 'Yesterday.'

Jojo: The Bee Gees’ 'To Love Somebody.'

Our competition songs were 'Beyond the Sea' (popularized by Bobby Darin), 'Donna, Donna' (a Yiddish folk tune), the Cuban patriotic song 'Guantanamera,' and the 5th Dimension hit 'Up, Up and Away.'

Yes, we won for two consecutive years, defeating the Apo Hiking Society once.

You continued singing in college at UST and turned professional. Did the group do club or bar gigs at the time, and did you plan to record songs?

Joel: Oh, we sang in many clubs, including those along Roxas Boulevard — Romulus, Eduardo’s, Wells Fargo, Bay Side, Wild Duck. In Quezon City, we performed at Spindle, Taxco, Heartbeat… Name other clubs, most probably we have played there.

We also went on tour in Japan, Hong Kong, and in Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg, and Toronto in Canada.

In 1974, Joseph Lansang, he with the falsetto voice, joined The Rainmakers. That was also the time the group started writing its own songs. But the big break came when they recorded George Canseco’s “Pang-umaga, Pang-tanghali, Pang-gabi” as the theme song of the movie of the same title. How did the group land the deal?

Joel: Snafu Rigor asked us to see Vic del Rosario at Vicor Records. At that time, Snafu, aside from being a composer and the drummer of Cinderella, was also an A&R executive at Vicor. That’s where we met the prolific George Canseco. He gave us movie theme songs that we recorded on Blackgold Records, a sub-label of Vicor. 

The Rainmakers eventually recorded an album that yielded hits including 'Ale-ale,' 'OK Sa Akin,' and 'Binibini.' Would you consider 'Binibini' as the group’s biggest hit? Who wrote it, and was it about a particular woman?

Joel: The melancholic melody popped in on Joseph when he had sore eyes, hahaha! The beautiful lyrics were written by Lukas Paredes, better known as Lolo Hugo of 'Kuwentong Kutsero.' Lukas later revealed he wrote the lyrics with his wife, Erly, in mind, and the Virgin Mary. 'Oh, kay ganda, oh, kay gandang mag-alay sa iyo…'

What was the best thing about the ’70s and ’80s, or the golden age of OPM?

Yes, you bet, the ’70s were about the Manila Sound which evolved into OPM! The best! You can still hear the songs of the ’70s and ’80’s being played regularly on radio and on Spotify. Suwerte ang panahon namin! 

What keeps you busy these days?

Joel: We’re in the thick of rehearsals with the best young session musicians for “Golden Harmony: The Rainmakers’ 50th Anniversary Concert at the UST Alumni Center. Gates open at 6 p.m., buffet dinner to be served at 7 p.m. Lani Mercado Revilla is our special guest. Kababata namin at kasama nang matagal.