“I think musicians should always be on the lookout for opportunities to see beautiful things at any minute, and be able to write them down, and remember.”
Social Services for the Entertainment Sector
The late greats (Susan Fernandez, Edgar Avenir, Roger Herrera)
Exploring other genres
Noontime shows in corpse paint
What’s wrong with scenesters?
A gentler term for mediocrity
Musical creativity as an opportunity to see what people don’t usually see
I didn’t know what starstruck meant until I saw the Brownbeat All-Stars, fronted by Skarlet aka Myra Ruaro, play live. They usually headlined the gigs I went to when I was in high school and they were one of the few bands I would violently shove and fight my way to the front of the crowd for.
Right after my guitar player died I started feeling really low, so I decided to give up the bar and embark on putting up my own NGO, which provides health care and social services for musicians, especially yung mga may edad na. Actually, isa sa mga catalysts nun yung namatay si Susan Fernandez. When I presented it to some of the more established music organizations,sinabi nila sa akin na mahirap yung naisip ko, especially considering the typical egos and psyches of musicians we had to deal with.
So I had to give it some thought (which I did for one year), but finally when Koyang (Edgar Avenir) died, I realized I had to do this. I had to lay low in the bar scene—kasi dalawa na yung bars namin. My partner (Marben Romero of Badburn) and I had just opened up Hades (the rock bar) at that time. Before kase at Ten 02, naka-mix yung world, blues, soul, jazz, and underground rock under one roof. Yung mga medyo mature na audiences, minsan biglang pupunta on a Friday when we’ll have a hardcore show, nakuculture shock. So naisip naming ihiwalay ang rock kaya nagka HADES.
Short-lived siya—mga one-and-a-half years lang—kasi nga I decided to give up the entire bar biz thing. I needed to immerse myself, to know how to start-up an NGO. Fortunately a friend of mine, si Rely German, thought he should introduce me to Bam Aquino, whom I knew of and who used to watch my band before, but we had never been introduced. When we met, we discussed this successful social enterprise he put up called Hapinoy. Usually what happens is you hear about someone being sick, nag papa fundraising tayo agad but the financial impact we’re able to make is very low. Unti lang mga venues who allow fundraisers… usually Ten02, 70’s Bistro, Route 196, Saguijo. You don’t expect hotel bars to open their doors for these gigs.
I was a bar owner, and we promote these lalo na pag kaibigan ko yung nangangailangan. Nanghihingi na talaga ako ng specific amount of money. It’s just that we have to give more than the gateshare.
And then I realized this is too tiring. It came to a point, in Ten02, that I’d do four or five fundraising events in a month—ng mga kakilala ko pa, which was getting so frustrating. It saddened me so much, I ended up depressed. There was a time that i didn’t understand anymore. I guess the human aspect of it is wanting to help but sometimes you can’t because I also had some personal challenges.
Na-deplete talaga yung energy ko, as in yung spirit ko was super low. Tapos nagging catalyst nga yung namatay yung mentor ko. I had to say “Enough of this,” I had to decide. That’s when I decided to sell the bar.
So I met Bam. Luckily, for me, the Marketing Head of Hapinoy, RG Salazar, had just resigned to embark on his own social enterprise. Rg is a guitar player and he helped me out in making the foundation blueprint of Heart of Music. Now we have several members on the board.
I’m a musician, and I decided on that many years ago. Being a musician in the Philippines is not deemed as a career. It’s a luxury to become a musician in the Philippines. You can make it work siguro if you have a day job or if you’re well to do. As a musician, I aim to become excellent at it. I cannot just be singing Ska or doing my rock thingy all my life (laughs): I was so lucky that Jazz was knocking on my door (but even before Brownbeat it was already there). I was a closet fan, at ayun na, pinakawalan ko na siya.
I used to think I was too young to be singing old songs na pang-matanda lang daw—but that was the shallow outlook I had before I found out there were deeper meanings to singing Blues and Jazz. It is a stark contrast to singing, say, Ska and Reggae. With Ska and Reggae, it was a constant challenge for me to make people dance and party with us, and if I wrote a song with a political or social meaning to it, that was a plus (but you’re effective as it is, pag nakakapag pasayaw ka ng mga tao).
On the other side of the fence, you have Blues and Jazz. It is singing from within… more about how I feel at the very moment i’m singing it. And at the same time, pag ganun na yung parang spontaneous combustion of things: it’s you enjoying it first and making it your own, and then pag nakaka-relate ka sa audience, yun na yun. It’s not an outright message of, “I want to please you,”. it’s the opposite of what I used to do before doing ska. So I found the genre liberating.
There still a need for people to be more open to jazz. There are fans of Jazz: unfortunately, the majority of them like covers. Sometimes they’ll enjoy it na iba yung version mo, but I came up with an 80% Original compositions Jazz album, at yung comment agad, “Uy, di ka naman nag-cover ng popular tunes. but I think in due time, there will be changes.
What else do I do now (aside from loving my family to death)? I’m busy doing ground work for Heart of Music. Shempre gigging din… those are my priorities: my family, my music, and the NGO.
Looking back, I can still trace my current taste in music to the first time I heard The Skatalites. They are instrumental to why I’m singing Jazz now, because The Skatalites, the inventors of Ska ere all Jazz Players. This was in Jamaica in the late 1950s. They were Jazz musicians who created SKA by combining RnB, Jazz, and their own indigenous sound. From ska nag-evolve yun to Rocksteady and then Reggae.
So from there, I found out they listened to big band music, they listened to Chick Webb, and ayun na, nakita ko si Ella Fitzgerald, at tumanda ng tumanda yung preferences ko. So ganun yung evolution ng pakikinig ko: patanda, which I find addictive, actually. And up to now, I’m still a big fan
of something that has roots…luma…vintage – may it be music, may it be fashion, movies… And yung nang gatong pa sa akin to listen to bigband: si Rhanny Torres, the bass player of The Brownbeat All-Stars. He’s got a collection of Jazz materials na pinaghihiram ko.
The first album I purchased with my own money was Duran Duran’s Rio. Marami na kasing records sa bahay, pero collection yun ng father ko, ng ate ko, and my brother. Very eclectic yung record collection namin sa bahay: my ate was into 70’s Motown – mga Commodores, Blood, Sweat, and Tears, Michael Jackson…. kuya ko naman rock, folk and early metal ang collection. When I was growing up, vinyl was 40 bucks. I used to buy it at Gotesco Grand Central, in Monumento.
I’m a sucker for really sad songs. Kahit napaka animated kong tao, I’m still very sentimental. And I love writing my own songs. but most of the time it’s not music that attracts me first in a song – it’s the words. I get inspirations from reading a good book, or from reading an eloquent poem. Or if I hear a sublime sad song, and the lyrics hit me, yun na. I’ll tell myself, “I wish I could write something like that.”
Many times, I’ve been inspired to write similar sentiments na version ko. I love topics questioning why my life is like this… why some people are born rich…bakit kami hindi—yung mga questions na wala namang sagot—going into why I feel this way or that, or why I’d say different things from the goal I had in mind. I fear losing loved ones, at makikita mo yan sa lyrics ko. Several of the songs I’ve written are too dark, and I don’t know if it’s because my first band was into Goth (laughs). Ganun yung mga lyrics ko nung bata pa ako…baka medyo may ganun pa akong streak up to now. But I like sugar-coating my lyrics with happy melody.
I associate my music with family, with death, with love…and most of my songs were written in the dark. On several occasions, yung evil side of me sumisipa. May mga vengeance poems and prayers ako and I’d write that into a song. I need to purge that out kase so i could get over it… yung mga movies in your mind, sinusulat ko yun.
After high school, we joined Ardourn Delirium, which was a Goth-Punk band. Kahit sinong may production, nagtataas kami ng kamay. We had gigs in UST, La Salle, UP, Trinity College, mobile nights (yung mobile system, mga DJs dun nagspi-spin ng music—mobile talaga tawag dun!), mga carpark—Quad carpark, PICC Plenary Hall— ano yan, DJ tapos may sasampa na college band. At the time, yung mga nasa circuit nun sila Carla Abaya, sila Identity Crisis, the first lineup of The Dawn (bago sila nag-cut ng album), mga Charlotte Ruse, Pagan Away – that whole middle New Romantic, New Wave—labu-labo na dun eh… Post-Punk. At that time, nakatugtog pa kami sa SM North Edsa when they were still building it. Sa parking lot, maraming afternoon events: we’d start with a DJ at about 2pm, tapos tuloy-tuloy na hanggang madaling araw.
When I was in college in UST, we used to play in Mayric’s at 12 noon. So wearing my corpse paint makeup and ala The Craft gear, tatawid na ako sa overpass ng Espana to go to Mayric’s. Tumutugtog kami doon ng lunch; very “pub” pa yung dating Mayric’s noon. That was around ’86 to ’88. At around the same time, there was Red Rocks, which was a hole-in-the-wall na kaunting-kaunti yung nagpupunta. Yung mga counterpart naming doon, batang-batang Color it Red, Dean’s December, sila Binky Lampano, Anno Domini, Hayp, Half Life Half death. And then sila Domeng, patayo pa lang ang Trop Dep nun. I started playing at 15, and then dire-diretso na.
I’m one of the very, very few who got lucky. I witnessed the tail end of Pinoy Rock and underground Punk. I was 14, di pa ako lumalabas masyado. Pa-patay na yung eksena nung pumapasok kami, pero meron pa ring remnants. Sila Pepe, The Jerks, College, Urban Bandits – During my time, nag-lay low ang band scene, wala masyadong nangyayari unless there’s an underground gig. Basketball courts at small bars lang talaga yung nag-support sa amin.
I think there are two different kinds of scenesters: some are hardcore, some are progressive. The hardcore kids were like, “Ay, Myra, hindi ka na Ska, ayaw na namin sa’yo kasi nag-Jazz ka na.” May ganoon! I don’t care if you don’t follow me anymore. but if you do try to see me sing …salamat, matutuwa ako. May mga kids na genre-based talaga sila.
Yung mga suppoters na ’til now nanonood sakin , they are kin spirits… mga progresibo yung isip. They’re the ones who really grew up with me. Because they like me as a person…my being brutally frank. They respect my preferences and the principles that I follow in life.
The kids will remain kids! They will have their preferences and think that the rest is bullshit. Lahat na lang baduy sa kanila!
A scenester is a seenster. They want to be seen; when you evolve into a true music fan, that’s a different story. You start looking closely at the execution of each line of a song…finding meaning behind the words and the melody. Basically, maliit yung eksena: the audience in the scene, they’re transient. Your listening audience it changes every two years. Pag nagtrabaho na sila at hindi na sila college students, nawawala na sila sa eksena ng mga nanonood ng mga live na gig. imagine… I started when I was 15 and I’m 42 now. So 42-some na yung mga naging audience namin nung Goth pa ako, imagine that. ano na ginagawa nila ngayun? Malamang mga executives na sila or moms at pops na.
Recording has changed drastically. CD sales is obviously not a viable business anymore. Tignan mo – nagsasara na yung ibang mga recording companies. No one’s signing any new artists, so if you’re an independent producer for a band or as a solo artist, the most you can have is a distribution deal. So that’s what they’re doing now. the artists they would sign before had to be fresh because they wanted to offer something new. Now, madalang na talaga.
They would also handle the artist management, so sa endorsements and bookings na lang sila bumabawi. Yung recording nga ngayon, hindi na masyado naglalabas ng CD, kasi may mga downloadables na.
As much as I would like to record my own album—which I did, two or three years ago, independently as a solo artist (and I’m still doing something now for an EP). I can still refresh all of that and go viral. Kahit papano may unti akong ipon to be able to do that. But generally, this is not applicable to independent artists. Ang mahal, mahal ng studio. Pa-praktisin niyo pa kanta ninyo, kung banda kayo mas lalo na, you have to arrange your songs, magtatalo pa kayo sa practice studio. Bago niyo ipa-record ang kanta ninyo, naka-ten hours na kayo sa practice studio – accumulated. At iba’t ibang araw pa yon. Ipatong mo na doon yung pinamasahe niyo, pinangkain niyo— it’s not cheap. Magagalit talaga ang magulang niyo o asawa niyo. It is going to be an issue with your family. Eh kung wala kayong pambayad sa bills? Issue talaga yan!
It’s difficult for the industry kasi hindi sila bumebenta; so they’re finding ways to make money out of the music industry. Tapos yung mga artist naman na up-and-coming, kumbaga if they do record, madalas, it will be for their self-fulfillment. Pero talo talaga sila doon. Imagine, you have to get permits. May mga taxes yan.Eh, kung estudyante ka, gagawin mo na lang na underground yon. We are finding ways to encourage writing songs, and then recording albums. Kung tumama lang ako sa lotto, papagawa ako ng recording studio na mura lang talaga or in kind ang bayad…
But in the most challenging times lumalabas ang pinaka magagandang musika. Nagiging resourceful din ang tao. Sa mga tropa ko pa lang may ilan ang bumili na ng mga gear para makapag set-up ng home studio. ang there are studios n 500 lang per hour. Malay natin baka bumaba pa yan. Baka maging affordable na eventually for a kid to record.
I’m a product of a very good marketing arm of a major label. “Manila Girl” became a household hit not only because the song is catchy and unique at that time but also because magaling ang marketing arm ng OctoArts under Ricky Ilacad.
But now, everybody is into viral marketing. The world is flat. What we say about marketing of products like music and services like live gigging, viral na lahat. You introduce yourself. You make your own website. You record your own songs in your own room, lahat na, DIY na talaga. Nung bata ako, when you’d say DIY, it’s more like kids are doing it out of a need to be resourceful—lalo na yung mga punk.it’s part of the ethos. Dati, that idea of non- conformity was cool…DIY kami. kami kaya namin kaunti lang kami nakakagawa nito. Now, yun na ang mainstream.
Music writers. I think sila-sila pa rin eh. The same people who critiqued in the 80’s in Jingle magazine, they’re still the music writers now: we still have Eric Caruncho, Tony Maghirang, Ces Rodriguez, Pocholo Concepcion–Igrew up with their editorials and interviews. I was as a jingle fan, until now that I’m an artist at pare-pareho na kaming nagka idad. Kaunti lang ang sumunod sa yapak nila like my friend Joey Dizon (ex-Ed-in -Chief of PULP) who’s now the new director of Pinoytuner.
These music writers, they love music itself, and not just the industry, kasi kahit wala namang super big bucks andun pa rin sila. Ako as a musician… I owe these writers that i mentioned BIG TIME! Salamat sa kanila. Siguro dahil sa mga sinulat nila, may mababasa anak ko pag laki niya na magiging more proud siya sakin.
Lahat ng mentors ko, tingin ko sa kanila, iconic sila. Some are popular and most of them are not. The good thing about my experience as a musician is that I was able to work with the best, and not really the most popular. It’s different to work with that kind of breed from the ones who are really popular. I’m not saying that there’s a big difference, pero pagdating sa creative (aspect)…iba talaga eh…ibang iba talaga. For lack of a better term, I will quote Count Basie when Billie Holiday presented him a song she wrote: Billie wants Basie to arrange it for her. Basie said, “This is way too Beautiful…this will not cut a record because it touches too much of the soul and mainstream music industry is not into this…it favors the mediocre.”
Yun na. Formulas. Kailangan madaling maintindihan. general topics sell like “ulan” o “bagyo”, “tagaraw”, “beer”, “tropa inuman”… Pang akit ng sponsorships, gigs, and endorsements. Pero masakit kasi pakinggan yung word na mediocre para sa isang manunulat ng awit. The more apt word is, “Simple”.
Pero, siyempre, di ko ikakaila may mga kanta akong nakakangilo pakinggan.
May ibang musikero – kaya nilang maglagay ng emosyon sa tatlong nota–tapos maiiyak ka talaga sa ganda. As a fan sometimes i wonder how certain combination of notes executed well and the space between them could just grab and squeeze my gut just like that. I had several instances na dahil sa isang kanta na nadinig ko live, umiyak ako o kaya punta ako sa gig ng may lagnat paglabas ksa place magaling na ako…minsan kung gustong gusto ko nadidinig ko, sinusulat ko yung experience para di ko makalimutan.
But I did tell you earlier na particular ako sa lyrics at particular ako sa nota. Every time I watch a gig, parati akong pumipikit ako madalas kapag nakikinig–kahit rock yan, kahit metal yan–hinahabol ko every note, hinihimay ko yung linya ng tumutugtog. Minsan nahuhulaan ko kung ano gusto niya gawin at nagtutugma kami ng pattern nung tumutugtog. May iba na hindi mo masundan, and that’s challenging to me. It’s like a great ride: umaangkas ako sa trip nung tumutugtog.
Pero ‘di trip ng madaming tao yan eh. Pagdadahilan ng iba, “Eh kaya nga ako pumunta dito eh, nagtrabaho ako ng buong araw. Gusto ko makinig ng music na simple lang. Ayoko na mag-emote.” Ayaw nila yan, kasi malulungkot sila, at ayaw nila malungkot habang umiinom sila. “Emo na nga buhay ko, pati ba sa bars, makakarinig ako ng ganito?” Ito ang indoctrination satin. hindi natin nakikita ang music as a gift – as an outlet to express. Ang indoctrination sa atin – pang-gimik background music lang ang musiko, and that’s the requirement for recognition and finding gigs. Sayang.
I still believe that, regardless of what’s in front of us, as musicians we should always aspire to create. It should not stop. I would say that I do it for myself: may notebook ako lagi, nagsusulat ako ng kung anu-ano. Naka-imbak lang yun sa amin. Yung mga ganun na instances – I think musicians should always be like that. They should always be on the lookout for opportunities to see beautiful things at any minute, and be able to write it down… to always remember that moment and be inspired by that experience.
Yung iba kasi, when they listen to another musician (at nakakita na ako ng mga ganitong klase), they think, “hindi ko ma-dig yan,” at nagshu-shut down agad. Hindi nila tinitignan kung ano matututunan nila doon. O iisipin nila, “Mas magaling siya sa’kin…di na ako makikinig.” Na-iintimidate. Hindi sila nacha-challenge. Minsan naiingit, minsan aayawan. I think the best kind of musicians play their best everytime and gets paid good as well as opposed to a player na tumutugtog lang for the money to cover a basic need.
Iba din naman ang pagiging artist. For me wala siyang limit at di siya quantifiable. But I don’t like the kinds of ARTISTS na nagpapabaya ng sarili at ng pamilya para sa ARTISTRY nila. I think an artist should be able to sustain and maintain himself and his responsibilities. An artist should be responsible in all aspects–he should be responsible to himself, to his family and to his community.
The potential and future prospects are all up to the musician. Music and musicians can go underground–but going underground is good!–because you’re going back to what’s important in your life and how music play a big part of making a beautiful and meaningful life. Parang kang isang Puno…. Hindi lahat ng nakikitang nakayabong ang tanging mahalaga. Pwedeng magkaroon ng tagtuyo’t mawala ang lahat ng dahon mo; but if your roots are firm underground, kahit lagas ang lahat ng dahon mo at kahoy lang ang nakikitang natira sayo, buhay na buhay ka sa ilalalim. Lilipas ang tag tuyot at yayabong ka ulit.
Recorded at Pinknoise studios in Quezon City. Duration 65 mins. Transcribed by Alice Sarmiento and edited by Myra Ruaro.
Illustrated by Jose Gabriel Naguiat.