The last five years: Top 5 local songs

This is the first in a series of posts this week about something, more of which I will disclose over the coming days. Oddly enough, this is a coda to the Fete de la Musique experience I had on the 18th, as four of the acts whose songs I have on this list played there, three of them in the same stage.

My criteria are that, apart from the tunes being mostly well-crafted and obviously of local origin, these have personal resonance for me. Almost all of those in the top 5 (yes, I owe this concept to both High Fidelity and Filmspotting) and others in the “honorable mentions” list have been in and out of my personal music playlists over the years. The songs represent, in one way or another, landmarks in my own journey as an arts and culture writer.

5. “Para Sa Tao,” Humanfolk

My piece on the album on which this track appeared was the first music-related article I ever wrote. I discovered the band by sheer serendipity, as I happened to be in the area where MCA was having an afternoon press event launching the record. (It was too early for the Vinyl on Vinyl exhibit opening later that night.) It turned out to be a veritable super-band, and in a way tied together several strands of music that would emerge as those I would be following in later years. For example, the fusion jazz strand which Johnny Alegre represented would find contemporary resonances in the likes of Extrapolation or Farewell Fair Weather. Cynthia Alexander epitomized the singer-songwriter strand which I was already following in some way through the Folk U series. Malek Lopez, who worked on the album’s electronic beats, stood for the electronic and experimental music that would converge and diverge in such things as Fete de la WSK and the Buwan-Buwan Collective. Abby Clutario, the band’s keyboard player and vocalist on this track, was part of the burgeoning progressive music community that paved the way for instrumental rock–and through her partner Eric Tubon in Fuseboxx, a key musical act in the current landscape.

The whole album itself is interesting but the full lineup has never been together since that May 2011 launch, for which, I distinctly recall, I had to contact my editor in utter excitement. These days, Clutario and Alegre are still together in Humanfolk, along with a newer lineup of musicians.

4. “There’s a Lonely Road to Sunday Night,” Ciudad

I was making up my mind between whether to include this track or Mikey Amistoso’s solo project Hannah+Gabi’s “Waiting for the Rainfall,” which is also a personal favorite (and an honorable mention), but if 2012 marked anything, it was the year when music helped me, in a big way, to get into independent film. This is the second single from the soundtrack to Marie Jamora’s film Ang Nawawala. I recently had a brief discussion about its impact with another writer and producer on the sidelines of a Red Turnip event, and we agreed that in a way this did lead others to local independent cinema in a big way. It was a film that had little to do with the kind that was often being touted as the standard aesthetic of what had gone before. But what counted was how it used music in a compelling way, something which other films here had done. What Ang Nawawala used in that memorable way was a musical palette that straddled generations, with Tagalog folk tunes sitting alongside Tarsius’s “Deathless Gods.”

On a bit of trivia, the song “Jonestown” by the Strangeness, which appeared on the said film’s soundtrack, became the closing credits tune for Dodo Dayao’s Violator, a rare instance of a song appearing in two non-studio films. I mention Violator because, well, I think viewers of the film already know.

3. “Misteryoso,” Autotelic

It was in November 2012 that a few Twitter users I followed were raving about this new band that featured, among others, Maya’s Anklet lead guitarist and composer Josh Villena and Fuseboxx’s keyboard/keytar player and composer Eric Tubon. “Misteryoso” was the first song Villena wrote for the band, whose name means “self-fulfilling” in Greek.

This is not the place to describe how big the band has become since then. This is about the time I skipped a gig of theirs to visit a Buwan-Buwan Collective night at a club called Purgatory, back in May 2013. Before dropping by, I had dinner at McDonald’s near Greenbelt, and my table happened to be across that of a woman who was not only physically attractive but was, memorably, using a computer a wee bit smaller than a netbook. I took note of her for a few minutes before she left. It then hit home that what Villena wrote about in “Misteryoso” was precisely the experience I had, and I told the band’s drummer Gep Macadaeg about it.

The version I prefer is the EP version from April 2013, a seven-minute tour de force that includes Eric Tubon’s synth intro. It reminds me that before “Dahilan” and “Laro,” the early contours of the band’s sound were partly shaped by someone who had a flair for the memorably grand keyboard hook, and since then Autotelic has found other interesting ways to reel listeners in.

Another honorable mention is another Autotelic song, “Unstable,” which is the second song Villena composed. It was used in the 2015 film project Where the Light Settles. The band played this, “Misteryoso,” “Laro,” and “Dahilan” last Fete de la Musique at the indie stage, where they have been playing since 2014.

2. “Nakauwi Na,” Ang Bandang Shirley

This song has been in my consciousness before I started writing about music, when I would drop by a Meiday gig or two to catch Outerhope and then hear Shirley end their sets there with this tune, composed by Ean Aguila. This was before I later learned that the best way to enjoy the tune live was to dance to it with a group of people while trying to shout along.

In an interview I did for the now defunct site pindiemusic, I asked Aguila about the story of this song. He explained that he wrote it for a woman he was dating up there, and it consisted, lyrically, of lines from their conversations he remembered. He and Shirley lead vocalist Owel Alvero went up to Cagayan to serenade her with the song. Sometime after, I asked him in person how that went, and he merely gave me a big smile. Read into that what you will.

Ian Urrutia of Vandals on the Wall noted their performance of it at Fete de la Musique’s indie stage as one of the night’s most memorable in a piece he wrote for The Philippine Star. The crowd’s reaction, as he described it, is the reaction I will always associate with the song. As I would put it, it is energetic singing and dancing from a crowd that shares the song’s sentiments about love and finding home in a loved one.

1. “In Darkness,” The Sun Manager

The first time I heard the song was in March 2014, when I was invited to catch the third Songs from a Room gig here in Manila, but April Hernandez and her musical work was not quite unknown. The last two acts I list here are both from the UP Underground Music Community, a group whose musical and personal imprint I felt the most in the last five years. April played for at least two of their bands. But it was her solo project, a Folk U performer twice over (talk about it being life-changing!) was what turned out to be the most memorable, and personally resonant.

It may help to note that in May 2012, I asked Bob Lyren and Jesse Grinter to play the song “We Walk the Same Line” by Everything But The Girl from their 1994 record Amplified Heart on their Lost in Translation radio show on Jam 88.3. It was my birthday, and I remember hearing it as I was about to board the train to Makati. The song’s refrain had a lyric, “If it’s dark, baby/there’s a light I’ll shine.” It was yet another lyric that echoed, in a way, a line from one of my favorite passages from the Bible:

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” – Jn. 1:5 (NRSV)

Two years later, April performed that song, and again I heard those resonances. But it spoke more to me at that time when I was on the verge of gaining yet another second chance on life, a few months later. And in November 2014, I was speaking with someone with whom I would be working on a project, and when I listened to her story, the opening chords of “In Darkness” echoed in my head. That was when I believe Where the Light Settles was born.

“In Darkness” was one of those songs that made it past Jam 88.3’s Fresh Filter poll in its first week and, at one point, made it to the top three in the Ten Top Tracks on that station. But if you ask me, it is right up there with the small list of songs that changed my life. Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” is one of them. Arnel Aquino’s setting of Psalm 116, “I Love the Lord,” is still another. What they all have in common is that, in ways explicit or otherwise, they remind me of that profundity which I hope I will be able to spend the rest of my life reflecting upon, and handing on to others.

Here are some other honorable mentions, with a brief summary of reasons:

  1. Kate Torralba’s “Northfleet” (and why Folk U changed my life)
  2. Fando and Lis’s “Sapat Na” (ditto)
  3. Stomachine’s “Your Turn” (and its connection to Paul Ricoeur)
  4. Ang Bandang Shirley’s “Di Na Babalik” (also an Ang Nawawala song)
  5. Up Dharma Down’s “Turn It Well” and the next three tracks of Capacities (that song reminded me most of the visual arts scene)
  6. Maya’s Anklet’s “Kung Alam Ko Lang” (a beautiful song about relationships in crisis)
  7. Farewell Fair Weather’s “Rough Skies” and “Sakali” (the latter being their most potent song)
  8. Outerhope’s “Lost Year” (a reflection on nostalgia which impressed me at that time)
  9. The Purplechickens’ “Dayami” (a song whose opening chords continue to give me the goosebumps)
  10. Cheats’ “Accidents” (a power pop tune that got me hooked since I first heard it)
  11. Kai Honasan’s “Ngayong Gabi” (one of the best things about her 2014 EP)

Honestly, I would have to come up with a top 50 of my own at this rate!


Prelude to #FeteDeLaMusique 2: Itinerary notes

I’m arriving early at the Pasong Tamo Extension area because, after finding out that both the independent and acoustic stages were starting at exactly the same time, I think it would be best to have coffee, lunch, and some bit of a breather before diving in.

Yesterday I likened some stages to the kind of top-flight football team you’d find in, say, the English Premier League. The two Green Sun stages, from recent experience, have squarely fallen into that category even before the day itself. They are the Anfield and Old Trafford of this event. Both draw large audiences and have lineups that are of great interest for those who are tracking the key buzz acts in Manila’s music landscape. There is much more to say, for instance, about some of the incongruities: we have yet to resolve, for instance, whether mode of production or aesthetic defines what independent music is. Then again, much time has been spent, most notably at past Cinemalaya congresses, on precisely that topic with respect to film. In 2012, I recall telling a film curator that it was a pointless discussion. He agreed, saying that if we used the mode of production criterion, most mid-sized US films were effectively “independent,” the role of the majors being primarily distribution. 

That sounds no different, I suspect, from what seems to be going on with some of the acts at the Axon space, but I need to do a bit more research on that front.

My next two stops will be the acoustic and eclectic/art stages. The acoustic stage used to have solo pole position when it came to starting Fete. However, with Reese Lansangan’s 2:30 pm start at Green Sun, Clara Benin will be sharing the distinction of being the first act to play, this time at the coworking space’s fifth floor gallery. The acoustic stage this year should prove to be fun for those who are into that singer-songwriter thing. For me, though, this is essentially a return to my roots as a live music viewer. The unspoken legacy of Folk U continues to echo in the music I have grown to love over the years.

Meanwhile, Aly Cabral encouraged me to catch her solo act at Lokal Hostel’s roof deck. Upon examining the lineup at that stage, and indeed some of the others, I was not surprised that here we were seeing something different. If I could use another analogy, that of major film festivals, Green Sun is to Toronto or Sundance as Lokal Hostel is to, say, Locarno or Karlovy Vary or even Slamdance. The experimental stage at Pineapple Lab may very well be like Rotterdam. Figure that out.

The bedroom beats stage may well be one of the final stops, but given that it is at the Belle and Dragon, it may be noisier than most that the vibe may be lost in the hubbub. I’m wondering, given the huge miscalculation the organizers made in giving a pretty small space to what is one of the  emerging performing art forms here, whether it is still worth a detour to the Salcedo area for spoken word. I have already spoken to an Alliance rep about one of the possible options that should have been canvassed when the independent stage moved to Green Sun. Given Words Anonymous’s familiarity with that place and their ties to the stage happening across from their usual spot there, it would have been a no-brainer.  Then again, I do hope they can pull it off, and hindsight is usually 100% accurate.

Well, that is it for now. I may post notes throughout the day as internet access allows. 

Prelude to Fete: part one: a soccer analogy

Tomorrow is probably going to be one of the busiest days in the year. It will require visiting a couple of bars, a hostel, a coworking space, and two hotel ballrooms. It will mean hearing music from quite a few performers, some of which I feel that one’s mileage may vary on them.

Yes, I am talking about Fete de la Musique 2016. Here where I am, it often is exciting. This year, I vowed to roam about. I am writing from tomorrow’s first stop, the acoustic stage, which since 2014 has been the place where Manila’s first Fete set happens. A_Space usually gets packed for this, and their lineup this year sounds promising. I understand that this is partly due to having a well-connected musician for a curator. 

One analogy I have thought about just as I was walking from Landmark to Greenbelt is that Fete’s pocket stages (a misnomer if ever there was one) seemed to be organized like European professional football. Some stages are like the top-flight first-division teams, drawing the more prominent or arguably better  acts and large audiences. Others are like smaller Sunday afternoon league clubs, not quite as popular but do draw audiences either devoted or curious. There are those in between, of course.

Later or tomorrow I will continue with my preview, where I will tell you if I’m heading to the Old Traffords of Manila’s Fete.

Edited: A_Space’s founder, a transplanted Brit based here in Manila, compared his stage to the English football team Crystal Palace. English football followers, please make of that what you will.