Once named by a local radio station as the “King of Ilocano Songs,” Ernesto “Erning” Olarte used to dominate the campaign airwaves with his novelty jingles that either launched the candidacy of political neophytes, beat the competition or gave prominent names a homegrown flavor.
His daughter Frances Tanicala recalls that Olarte carved a career in singing and composing campaign jingles after he wrote a song for Congressman Rodolfo Farinas who was then a young politician in 1980 when he first ran as Laoag mayor.
Olarte also composed and sang the campaign jingle of Congressman Farinas’ elder brother Roger Farinas when it was his turn to run for mayor in 1995.
“He can wrap a jingle in 30 minutes. He brings out his guitar, looks up and begins humming like he’s reading something from the clouds,” daughter Frances said.
She said her father doesn’t ask for a fee for the jingles he composed.
“He would just accept any amount that his clients would give. Some are TYs (thank you) but he doesn’t mind because it was his pride that the candidates carry his tune especially if they win the elections,” she said.
Tanicala said her father doesn’t have a going rate for the songs he creates, to the family’s chagrin, because some have made money of out his compositions while her father was not given what was due him.
Tanicala said her father once made several original Ilocano compositions which a businessman-friend funded by making a CD album and sold copies abroad where large Ilocano communities live.
“The CD compilation was a hit among our kababayans abroad because they were hungry for Ilocano songs. But my father was not given anything in return,” she said.
The family sought legal advice on whether they can sue for royalties. The family decided to drop it when they were told that the CD was carrying the name Ernesto “Ularte,” which suggested that it wasn’t their father’s name that was used on the label.
Olarte’s granddaughter Christian Tanicala remembered that her grandfather sent her to deliver a handwritten-letter to his friend who commissioned him to record the CD compilation.
“He was merely asking for a cellphone unit in exchange for the songs that he composed. I went back to his friend’s shop several times but I failed to catch her. Each time, I went back home empty-handed,” she said.
His talent in music was discovered in his high school days when he became a member of the west Riverside rondalla, a school-based musical group.
He was also skilled in violin but spent more time with his guitar until he learned how to compose Ilocano songs.
He was given a plaque by local radio station, Dzjc Aksyon Radio where most of his original compositions were played, naming him the King of Ilocano Songs in 2000.
Olarte was also one of the first Lifetime Achievement awardees in 2006, a recognition given by the non-government group Gameng Foundation (which is behind the Museo Ilocos Norte operation) for homegrown talents who had contributed to the enrichment of Ilocano heritage.
In his Gameng awardees’ profile, Olarte mentioned how proud he was when he was invited to sing during President Ferdinand Marcos’ birthday in Malacañang twice in a row in 1984 and 1985.
Of his three children, only Olarte’s youngest son Jojo followed his love for music. Jojo dabbles as a base guitarist for a local band which plays during town fiestas.
Before he died in July 2011 at age 79, Olarte was still at it composing songs for politicians during the 2007 and 2010 elections. He has done it all from composing children’s songs, novelty, wedding, including songs for the dead. (MCA-PIA1 Ilocos Norte)