Underground, watch this space

UPDATED (25 September 2016): Overhauled this post.

It was in 2011 when a gig organizer told me in an interview about an organization called the UP Underground Music Community, whose gig series was initially meant to showcase bands from that group. It turns out that I had an encounter with some of their folk even before that, thanks largely to singer/songwriter nights when one or two of their members would play. But I did know a bit about Ang Bandang Shirley, one of their bigger acts.

During what I call the 2012 Research Intensive in Independent Music with music researcher Monika Schoop, I became aware of that generation of UP Underground members who would play a role in my life beyond music. There, I met some people whom I would consider inspirations and friends.

I cannot really claim to be an expert on who the UP Underground Music Community is, or what they are really about. I can only see the effects of the work they’ve fostered on me and on many others. However, I will speak about the three things they value as an organization, and how I have seen them lived out for myself.

The first is respect. It shows in how they acknowledge the diversity of each other’s music, interests, and personalities. It is clear in how they value time and make sure other people’s time is respected, especially in the way they organize their gigs.

As an excursus, I can surmise that the community, or at least some of them, are aware of the roles different people play in the music scene. As the literature notes, these roles are not only those of musicians and audiences. Their Shoot Lo-Fi competition incorporates the work of young filmmakers whose work has become vital in putting local music in newer contexts. And their extensive work as event and gig organizers puts them in another key place in any music scene.

Brotherhood, or to use a French word, fraternite, has to do with how they relate to each other within that community. The ties that form between different generations of members is noticeable. But I have also seen this as being a leaven for fostering camaraderie not only within their circles but also beyond, a force for making connections between people possible.

I placed music last because it is what stands out. Their relative diversity, given the resources to which they have access as musicians, is what has impressed me. From the indie pop sensibilities of Shirley, to the urban electronic work of Arigato, Hato, to the folk and new country-inspired sounds of Ourselves the Elves and The Sun Manager, and to many others I’ve seen or heard, they have been able to express some of their passions and stories, some of which resonate with my own.

As their anniversary approaches, I am grateful to them for being that place where I could see the nexus between art and friendship, as a force drawing people together. I was glad to visit UP Underground Music Community’s anniversary event last Saturday, 24 September 2016, and was once again reminded of how these values were lived out. It is my hope that they will continue to grow and thrive as their fifteenth full year begins.

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Track of the Week: Cynthia Alexander – “Wait”

On June 21, we will have Fete de la Musique 2014 here in Manila (as in many cities elsewhere). Two years ago was the first time the main stage was at the Kalayaan-Makati Avenue corridor. That was also one of the two performances Cynthia Alexander staged on her farewell tour that were for free (the other one being a radio appearance on Jam 88.3’s Rock Ed Radio show). Two percussion ensembles, Bakunawa (Jean-Paul Zialcita’s group) and Brigada opened that afternoon’s show.

One of the most magical moments was when this happened on the Fete main stage:

Modesty forbids me from mentioning exactly how this happened, but the only thing I can share is that it has to do with the fact that a basic bateria rhythm pattern is exactly the same as the rhythm pattern as “Wait,” which Alexander said is actually one from the Maguindanao area. The universality of rhythm, and indeed of music, is one of the themes of Fete de la Musique.

Anyway, later that night was the final night of the farewell tour at Conspiracy, and Brigada came along with her. Here’s the full version of Cynthia Alexander, her ensemble, and Brigada doing “Wait.”

Oh, and I have a bonus track to share, because a friend had a pretty infuriating tale to share with me yesterday. This is a classic by Cynthia Alexander’s equally notable brother, for whom she played the bass at one point.

Have a good weekend everyone!

Tracks of the Week – “In Darkness” and “Peaks and Tides” by The Sun Manager

One of the best sets in the Sofar Sounds Manila series thus far was by April Hernandez, also known as The Sun Manager. For this week, I’d like to feature two tracks by her.

The first is the one Sofar’s Manila team put up online. Here she is, with her band, doing “In Darkness.”

And this one is a track that I recall hearing from that same set, but was not on video.

While I enjoy her acoustic stuff, some of the stuff she does with a band works quite well.

In any case, looking forward to hearing more from her and the UP Underground people. I have gotten to know them over the last few years and they remind me of the halcyon days of…okay, I will stop here.

Have a great week everyone!

Anything else

Next post will be up around Easter Day–there’s something I am planning to write, but for now, I must say that the last few weeks were times for figuring out where things stand and that, as of yesterday, I may as well say that it was definitely fun while it lasted but it may be time to move on.

Anything else that will be, I am looking forward to it.

For now, though, enjoy my most recent piece for the music site pindiemusic.com, with photos by Kris Sebastian, who graduated just a day after my mother did.

UPDATE: Well, I am going to apologize for not posting anything on Easter Day. I do have something to post sometime this Easter Week.

Three things (2013/4) – Art Fairs and memorials edition

1. I was at Art Fair Philippines for two days in a row. It was truly a different art fair, in many ways. The tasteful way in which it was put together met my expectations, and I think it is head and shoulders better than a certain art fair about which I wrote in 2011. I did not even bother going last year; it would have been a waste of my time. In fact, most of the galleries represented at Art Fair Philippines did not even bother showing up, given the disastrous 2011 show with the stunt of switching off the lights at the opening night, an act one gallerist likened to “giving earplugs at a rock concert.”

Fortunately, some people felt that it could be done better. Without the support of the same government agency that funded that art fair, a grant which I still feel was an absolute waste of taxpayer’s money, the team behind the Art in the Park project were able to pull off what I think is a most credible event. They learned from the mistakes of the past; for instance, they decided to make this an invite-only affair, rather than impose exorbitant participation fees. They were able to get strong private sector support and not entirely rely on the State’s cultural arms. (The sole exception was a side event organized by the Cultural Center of the Philippines, whose visual arts head is close to the community of galleries represented therein. It was a most enlightening talk about the art market, but it lacked stuff which is best kept off the record.)

Since they chose a good number of the decent galleries I know, the art on offer was quite remarkable. Manila Contemporary’s selections included Betsy Westerndorp’s skyscapes and Geraldine Javier’s recent work (on which I will speak about in a bit shortly). Elsewhere there was some interesting stuff, including a piece by Nona Garcia which is in a collection by another gallerist not represented here, and Mark Justiniani’s latest installation which plays on optical illusions of depth. But for me, this work by Dina Gadia at the Silverlens booth stood out:

Work whose title I forgot, Dina Gadia, 2013. Taken 8 February 2013 at Art Fair Philippines by me.

Work whose title I forgot, Dina Gadia, 2012. Taken 8 February 2013 at Art Fair Philippines by me.

This drew me almost immediately to it, because it turns out, as I was just informed, this was the painting that became this:

"Tama Na Ang Drama" album cover, Dina Gadia, 2012, for Ang Bandang Shirley. Courtesy Wide Eyed Records.

“Tama Na Ang Drama” album cover, Dina Gadia, 2012, for Ang Bandang Shirley. Courtesy Wide Eyed Records.

It was sold the day after I saw it. Hope the buyer’s a Shirley fan.

2. Meanwhile, this post on Philippine cinema deserves a re-reading because tomorrow is the late author’s birthday. To mark that occasion, Rock Ed Philippines will screen a film that I believe is a prime candidate for this wish’s fulfillment:

“I wish someone, anyone, would make a good, thought-provoking film about the Philippine upper class.”

Tomorrow, at one of that film’s locations, Route 196, the film will be screened at around 8 PM.

3. Finally, the Unvirtuous Abbey recommends that instead of giving up something for Lent, one could take something on. One such thing is an appreciation for art, learning to see how human creativity works and how it participates in divine creativity, no matter how fallen it has become, because it too was redeemed. On Ash Wednesday, Geraldine Javier’s new show opens at the Vargas Museum at around 4 PM, with a talk before that at 2 PM. On the first Friday of Lent, Yason Banal’s show for End Frame opens at the CCP at 6 PM.

Have a good week, and for those who will observe it, have a happy and holy Lent.

Song of the Year 2012

It took me a couple of weeks to think about the songs that have gone through my music player this year, particularly the ones that made the criteria I set earlier in July for what would be a good “Song of the Year.” The July preliminaries gave me three songs to work with–but only one of them survived to my December short-list, the rest being honorable mentions. (These are “Di Na Babalik” by Ang Bandang Shirley and “Lost Year” by Outerhope, both still memorable songs.)

The reason? Two new album releases. I wrote about Up Dharma Down’s album launch in late November. A few weeks later, I gave a review of Ang Bandang Shirley’s own second album. The latter album’s release means that I can include, officially, one of my favorite tunes from the band.

This is one of the oldest videos of them playing the song, a stripped-down version that I found moving when I discovered it. However, the final recorded version is quite different, as owners of the album can attest. Among others, composer Ean Aguila (a very distant relative from that side of my family who migrated north after the Philippine Revolution) does the opening solo, rather than a duet with the two lead singers (which is their usual performance practice).

This was the song that made me appreciate what Ang Bandang Shirley is able to do–to tell stories about those experiences that touch us in love and loss, and to tell them with a kind of moving simplicity. The way this is manifest depends on the lyrical voice of the song, and in this case, it is a voice that tells of the feeling of being home in the loved one’s company.

My choice from Capacities was a little more obvious–if there was a good call on the part of Terno and the band, it was to give “Turn It Well” both the first position on the album and the album’s first official single. This is one of the stronger tracks on the album. I disagree with the Katipunan reviewer who said that this was nothing extraordinary. To the contrary, I find it a memorable pop tune, and it has been a song that has gotten a lot of play while I was on the road–no thanks to this inspirational (but admittedly at times puzzling) video:

By the way, someone I knew from university is in this video.

In many ways, this is a good pop tune, with a great opening hook and a melody that can echo through one’s head in the oddest moments. There is a different kind of poetry at work here, though. (See here for the lyrics to “Turn It Well” and go up to the “Capacities” menu to see the other songs.) “Turn It Well” captures the cadences of Millare’s lyrics very well, as well as its emotional energy. I wanted to see how they got to where they are, and it is for this reason that a look back at the second album Bipolar (which my friend Erin reminded me hinted a bit at the musical moves made in this album) might be in order.

The only survivor from the July list is still “There’s a Lonely Road to Sunday Night.” At the time, we did not get to see this video, directed by What Isn’t There co-writer Ramon de Veyra.

Ciudad – There’s A Lonely Road To Sunday Night from Marie Jamora on Vimeo.

(Yes, I used the official international name of one of my favorite films of 2012.)

Apart from being a good example of an alternative pop tune (which the other two are, of course), there is also the reason that I found it still compelling. Looking back, I now see that the song seems to speak of a parting of the ways that might be averted, but the “darkness sets in around.” The song came out not long after one of these partings–nothing to do with the kind alluded to here, of course.

However, throughout December (and especially after the Shirley release), I found myself going back and forth between the first two songs. I must confess that I found myself stumped for a bit.

Is there a tie-breaker? Well, there is. Part of the reason I would say that a song was a “song of the year” was that it resonated with me as I looked back at 2012. This was the year of meetings and partings, and indeed, as I sometimes say here, surprises.

“Turn It Well” might very well be a song that will play in heavy rotation on my music player next year, and that I will periodically have to think about what it says and does not say. If readers have come this far, it might be obvious what I decided upon. It was very close, and I think I will stop here.

Finally, I am grateful to all the musicians whose work I’ve heard this year, both live, in videos, and in audio recordings. Last year, I said that hope is what made it possible for me to say that it was a very good year. Even if that hope was shaken, I still say that this year was a very good one, despite all that has been. And next year will hopefully be better.

If you’d like to hear the two albums from Shirley and UDD, both are now available at Fully Booked, especially at the Bonifacio High Street main branch. Shirley’s album is also available from Wide Eyed Records Manila and Up Dharma Down’s album is also available on iTunes. Ciudad’s most recent album Follow The Leader where “There’s a Lonely Road…” can be found is available from their Bandcamp site.