After a series of music releases that garnered multiple nominations, Nicole Laurel Asensio is set to release on December 1 a brand new original Christmas duet entitled “Sana Masaya Ka” with iconic OPM artist Jeffrey Hidalgo, produced by Gabe Dandan and released under Warner Music.
“Sana Masaya Ka” is a bittersweet duet that unfolds the story between former lovers spending their first holiday season apart. Nicole’s silken vocals evoke nostalgia and Jeffrey Hidalgo’s smoky timbre resonates deeply into the very fibres of the bed of instruments arranged by Gabe Dandan. The classic and organic elements brought by strings and woodwind sections blanket the song with a much needed warmth and familiarity as the characters sing of healed hearts and happier holidays to come.
“It was well past midnight when I was in the throes of compiling lyrics and melodies for a different Christmas release.
Gabe arrived at the studio coming from another Christmas project. Because the holiday spirit was still ringing in our ears, I wanted to try writing another Christmas song even if it was creeping close to sunrise. Gabe begun jamming chords with a classic OPM feel and slow jazz accents, I loved them instantly. The challenge now for me was to express my sentiments in Tagalog. Save for some lyrical adjustments, the songwriting was done in one session,” Nicole shares.
“Our process is very spontaneous, it creates a creative environment that allows us to surprise ourselves. After finishing the song, Nicole expressed that she wanted to try making it a Christmas duet because it was something we haven’t done. I immediately thought of Jeffrey Hidalgo as a perfect match for Nicole and the song because of his warm smoky vocal tone,” Gabe Dandan echoed.
“I was delighted hearing Gabe’s suggestion, I have a lot of respect for Jeffrey as a singer, actor and director, his voice really is something special. It took me about a week to muster up the courage to ask him if he was willing to do this and then send him a demo. It didn’t take Jeffrey long to respond and when he said yes, i was so grateful… it was a clear sign that I had to save my other Christmas project for another year and finish off 2023 with this one,” Nicole added.
“The last time I had a Christmas single was 25 years ago so I am really looking forward to the release of this track. Nicole and Gabe asking me to do this collab is really an unexpected blessing, ” Jeffrey Hidalgo exclaimed.
The Recording Process
“Working with Jeffrey for the first time and Nicole numerous times was very chill and spontaneous, we were just recording over food and drinks at Nicole’s home studio, despite the relaxed setting it was a very productive evening, ” Gabe Dandan added.
“This was one of the best collaboration experiences I’ve had in the studio if not, the best! My favourite aspect of being a musician is the recording process and recording this single was the most fun I’ve had in the studio. I enjoyed working with Nicole and Gabe immensely. I loved how they took me out of my comfort zone with out-of-the-box harmonies that were peculiar but so delectable to the ears. I loved their vision for the song form the get-go, so I was all in,” Jeffrey replied.
“Jeffrey has a beautiful signature vocal tone that can smooth over the rough edges of even the most painful lyrics and make it an easy listen. His depth as an actor/director makes his delivery and storytelling hit home. I learned a lot while tracking him. It makes me smile when I think about how this project is entirely homegrown and home recorded. Lawrence Nolan recorded himself playing drums from his home, Gabe played Bass, Guitar, Hammond and Rhodes as well as sang backup vocals from home. The strings and woodwinds played by Ted Amper and Carlo Mikhail were recorded by us in my home and our friends Jess Fermino, Mark Enriquez and myself took turns tracking vocals. Learning the quirks of the process and making mistakes was definitely part of what made this song even more memorable,” Nicole beamed.
“Recording the musicians was smooth because all the musicians we worked with are not just talented but patient, I did the string and woodwind arrangement on the spot and hummed it to Ted (Cello) and Carl (Woodwinds and violin) on the fly Carl and Ted were so easy to work with. I am thankful for our friends in music,” Gabe shared.
The song was then sent to Angee Rozul for mixing then to Waxie Joaquin and Enrique Santamaria of Waxiefied Sound Production for further Mixing and Mastering in Dolby Atmos.
“Though I’m more known as a pop balladeer, my personal musical preference really leans more towards the indie-alternative genre. I’ve been a fan of Nicole ever since General Luna, and a bigger fan now that she’s a solo artist. I love how distinct her voice is and how she seems to be comfortable in whatever genre she dips her feet into. Our collaboration might seem unexpected to some but after hearing our voices together, I love how it all just makes perfect sense. I love how Gabe and Nicole both know exactly what they want yet, they let me explore as well within my vocal range and style” Jeffrey replied.
“Hindi man tinadhana, sana masaya ka”
“It really is a bittersweet season for some, I wrote the lyrics and melody because not everyone’s Christmas is “Merry” Though it is easier said than done, focusing on the blessings gets us by. Relationships fail. People make mistakes and grow apart. However, the markings of truly loving someone is wishing them love and happiness even if you are no longer involved with them…you still want to know they are alright, and that they’ll still have a Merry Christmas even if you’re not in the picture anymore. I suppose one would dedicate this song to their TOTGA (the one that got away),” Nicole muses.
“I think I have 2 TOTGAs that I would have dedicated this song to, many many years back. I am just so glad I’m not in the position of the characters in the song nowadays. I’m in a much better place. LOL! But seriously, I am sure many people will be able to relate to this song if not at the moment, then at some point because because this has happened to a lot of us. You sincerely want to wish a past lover happiness, yet deep inside, you still really want to be with that person too. Ouch. Hahaha!,” Jeffrey jokingly said.
“Pagsapit ng bagong taon… saan ka man naroroon.”
“I am looking forward to next year because we will be working on compilations and EPs instead of singles, more ideas to execute, much more music to be made. I’m very excited for the different musical styles Nicole and I will be exploring,” Gabe said.
“Working with Gabe as a producer, sparked the producer in me as well and I am suddenly hungry to create more music next year,” Jeffrey gives a wink.
“I am grateful to still be making music and happy whenever inspiration strikes. More songs are already in the works for next year. I don’t know how many years on earth I’ll have to do this, and that makes me so much more grateful for the instances God allows creativity to flow, ” Nicole concludes.
Hiling ko lang ngayong pasko, Sana masaya kayo!
Lyrics: Nicole Asensio
Music: Nicole Asensio, Gabe Dandan,
Musical Director: Gabe Dandan
Drums: Lawrence Nolan
Bass: Gabe Dandan
Guitar: Gabe Dandan
Piano: Brad Coronel
Rhodes and Hammond: Gabe Dandan
Violin: Carlo Mikhail
Cello: Ted Amper Mikhail
Vocals: Nicole Asensio, Jeffrey Hidalgo
Backup Vocal Arr. Gabe Dandan and Nicole Asensio
Backup Vocals: Gabe Dandan, Nicole Asensio
Recording Engineers: Gabe Dandan, Nicole Asensio, Jess Fermino, Mark Enriquez
Mixing Engineers: Angee Rozul, Waxie Joaquin, Ek Santamaria
Mastering Engineers: Waxie Joaquin, Ek Santamaria