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Heartless. Mindless. Senseless.

You are about to view some exceedingly disturbing pictures.
They should move you... making you mad. Very mad.

Last week, intruders managed to sneak into a bank in Cabuyao, Laguna.

Ten harmless individuals were shot pointblank... killed in cold blood... for a few million pesos.

All the telltale signs point to one direction: men without a conscience were behind the dastardly deed.

Undeniably, stoked by the devil no less.

Let us offer a million prayers for the innocent souls of the victims.

But let us all stay mad.

And noisily rave and rant.

Until the soulless demons are caught... and meted the punishment they deserve.

Hello, Second Class Citizens!

Sounds pathetic but that's exactly what Pinoy recording artists are - 2nd class citizens in their own country.

You'll say I must be nuts.

I'll say you must be blind.

Or deaf. Or both.

Just consider this: when you turn on your radio to listen to some fresh contemporary music, chances are you'll hear a song from America's top 40.

Or if your taste leans more towards easy listening, your ears will be transported to 'quiet storm' heaven with a surfeit of tunes from Patti Austin, Air Supply, Grover Washington or good old Smokey Robinson.

Seems normal. Until you realize that you hardly hear anything homegrown.

And that's the crux of this second-class-citizen gripe.

Local radio is acting like it's allergic to Original Pinoy Music.

Sure, there's legislation that mandates every spot on the radio dial to play four Pinoy tunes every hour... but this is largely ignored. And lamely enforced.

And the stations' excuses are so flimsy and shallow.

"There's not enough local materials."

"It goes counterflow with our format."

"Listeners don't request for them."

"They play it naman on your maid's station."

Ho hum.

Hello, serr. This is the Philippines.

It's the imported tunes that should be given an airplay quota of four tunes every hour.

Not the other way around.

It's the homegrown songs that should dominate the airwaves.

(The way it's happening in Indonesia and Thailand and Malaysia. And in just about every country in the world.)

Last time I checked, Pinoy singers, musicians and songwriters are not less talented than their foreign counterparts so why restrict (actually, bar) their exposure on Pinoy radio?

This disturbing colonial mentality (or would 'business acumen' be a more apt phrase?) must be a source of delight for the dominant record companies which are, coincidentally, mostly controlled by foreign conglomerates - save for what I call P2BP (Proud 2 Be Pinoy) labels like Viva and Star Records. Plus some exciting new players like Terno.

So you still expect international recognition for our brilliant musicians and songwriters?

Don't hold your breath.

Our poor artists are slightly unfocused, slightly distracted - busy fighting for scraps, ehem, airplay in their own home court.

Getting an upgrade to first class in this business is not a cinch. Nor is it something you get for a song.

Your Own Music Video... For Less Than P500?

It's probably the best kept secret hereabouts.

That's Nexstar. A self-contained video production kiosk that allows you to capture your singing performance onto a vcd.

Not only that, you've got all the Hollywood style gadgets at your disposal. So, with a little imagination, your music video can be up to par with those churned out by Mariah, Beyonce or Madonna. Minus the million dollar price tag.

The core tools are miniaturized video equipment and a greenscreen (a'la George Lucas' Industrial Light & Magic). This empowers you to choose the background that you want. You can sing with the Eiffel Tower hovering over you... or perhaps glitzy Vegas... or you can impress by crooning in a lunar landscape.

And that's only the background. You can choose to enliven your performance with special effects in the foreground. Glittering stars, fluttering animated hearts... sky's the limit.

NexStar is the brainchild of my high school buddy, Butch Dino, who also "invented" photo processing for the masses with the ubiquitous Kodak Express. It'll soon be the Jollibee of music videos with outlets in SM stores and franchises all throughout the country. With a songlist that covers just about every genre.

An unbeatable idea when you feel like a little ego boost.

Or if you're wooing a special someone. Beats sending roses. And costs a quarter less.

Less than P500.

Now, that's something to sing about.

To Birit... or Not To Birit

There's a disturbing phenomenon in the local music scene. And it's irritating as hell. Welcome the new standard in judging talent: the 'birit'.

I'd describe it as the 'skill' to thunderously belt out songs - unmindful of the strain it inflicts on one's throat and the greater pain it brings to hapless listeners.

This trend obviously accounts for the popularity of singers like Sarah Geronimo, Charice Pempengco, and London-based Madonna Decena. And not to forget, the Queen -- Regine, of course.

How did we arrive at equating vocal bombardment and calisthenics to singing prowess?

Whatever happened to soft passages... and 'feeling' the lyrics... and quiet moments?

Aside from Celine Dion and Whitney Houston, I reckon that the culprit behind the 'birit' is the now defunct Metropop. During its heyday, this televised competition conditioned the Pinoy audience to favor the song entry that dramatically ends with a Dulce-like flourish.

In fairness though, one tune loaded with 'birit' - out of twelve - is not that unpleasant.

What's a torture is sitting through a concert where the featured singer makes 'birit' every other song.

Whew! Might as well stay home and listen to an Aegis CD. The effect (and subsequent trauma) is the same.

Unless there's a shift in Pinoy musical tastes and standards, our current crop of singers might as well pursue the gloomy alternative: a 'no-career' career in the Metro's many call centers.

Sadly, it also means that truly outstanding singers like Julianne, Armi and Bituin will never get the chance to really soar and shine.

Unless they succumb to 'birit' syndrome.

And that, my friends, would be a real tragedy.

My Belated Fling with Painting

I've been so immersed in other more 'popular' artistic endeavors that I've overlooked that challenging discipline that truly tests one's innate artistry: painting.

Until I watched a riveting documentary about this young artist. A 4-year old ingenue.

To date, many in the art world are still skeptical about her talent and hastily conclude that her dad, a hobbyist painter, may be 'coaching' her as she brings to life each canvas that now fetches a whopping price of $200,000. Minimum.

The money part was motivating. But the sudden interest in oils and acrylics - and long hours of solitude - was brought on by a burning desire to see if my hyper imagination can compensate for my non-Van Gogh motor skills.

Thankfully, my self doubts slowly evaporated as my super talented kids egged me on.

So it was off to National for art supplies. Amazing... for around P700 (significantly less than a food orgy at Spirals), you can now attempt to follow the footsteps of the masters.

First, in my 'body of work', is a piece I call "Lumang Tugtugin". Let me get a digital camera and Anj (my in-house photographer) so I can show off my work to you.

Just hold on...

Here you are:

Not exactly a Warhol... but it's a start.

Like discovering God or falling in love or going for circumcision - better late than never.

Two Movies That Will Change Your Life

I've been a movie buff since the time God wore shorts.

And when I chance upon a movie that truly touches me, I'd keep the experience to
myself for fear that someone might snatch it away.

Which - yup - probably makes me one selfish s.o.b.

But recently... two exceptionally-crafted, compelling movies have triggered a
change of heart.

These movies have moved me like no other flick has.

They have humbled my self-centered soul... effortlessly convincing me that there is
still some good in this God-forsaken world.

So moved that I now desperately want to share with you the two films that
you ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY have to experience in your lifetime.

(Be forewarned that it'll be a great loss if you fail to watch them.)

So, no lame excuses now - go out of your way to view these gems.

Beg, steal or borrow the DVDs.

Start off with The Kite Runner.

A story of unconditional friendship in a land torn by political and
racial strife.

Non-actors build and sustain the touching humanity of this narrative.

Follow-up with The Diving Bell and The Butterfly.

A mindboggling tale about helplessness and counting our blessings.

Every viewer will see a bit of himself/herself in the unfolding saga.

When you're done watching, you'll thank me endlessly for my suggestions.

You're most welcome.

The 'canister-in-the-butt' news has put the Philippines under
the world's radar again.
Again, for all the wrong reasons.

To those callous doctors and nurses (who are supposed to adhere to a VOW
of caring and giving their utmost best to patients), I dedicate this truly special
song (hopefully to be performed - just for you - by the Moonstrucks at Yeba
Combo Festival, May 2, NBC Tent)...

The 'canister-in-the-butt' news has put the Philippines under the world's radar again.
Again, for all the wrong reasons.

The doctors and nurses who inflicted the crass and monstrous act on this Cebuano -
vulnerable and helpless under sedation - should not be allowed to get away with it.

Their actions were sick and no amount of explaining ("it was an exceptional medical case",
"it's normal to explode with glee after a successful procedure", etc.) can absolve them from
their heinous deeds.

To those callous doctors and nurses (who are supposed to adhere to a VOW
of caring and giving their utmost best to patients), I've prepared a truly special song
in my next entry...

Rewind to the good times: What is a combo?
PEOPLE By Joanne Rae M. Ramirez
Thursday, April 24, 2008

Today, a combo is usually short for a food combination in a fast food: Coke, fries and burger; two viands and rice; soup, salad and dessert. Or it could easily mean that snack that tastes like a pretzel on the outside and has cheddar cheese on the inside.

In the '60s and '70s, bands in the Philippines were called "combos." Just like clubs in the '70s and '80s were called "discos."

If you were already around in the '60s and the '70s, you must be consumed sometimes by a wistful desire to revisit the era. (I personally think the '80s, the Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet era, and '90s were better, more disciplined, but those who were starting to party during the '60s and '70s think they had wild fun during those Woodstock years.)

A tankful of gas at P20. No traffic jams. Lunch for P3. A movie for a peso. No VAT. Soft drinks at 10 centavos per bottle. A jeepney ride for the same amount.

I remember the declaration of martial law, curfew, several typhoons that left classes suspended for weeks. I remember my Uncle Edward getting crazy over the soundtrack of Jesus Christ Superstar. And I remember some Assumptionistas going crazy over Ted Neely (who played Jesus in the movie). I remember getting kilig with the song Pers Lab, by the Hotdogs (Tuwing kita'y nakikita, ako'y natutunaw. Parang ice cream na bilad, sa ilalim ng araw.)

For one enchanting night, you will be transported back to that era. Hotdog Productions, in cooperation with Harvest Aid Organization Foundation, presents YEBA Combo Festival, "a grand reunion of the superstar combos that dominated the local music scene during those magical years."

To be staged on May 2 at the NBC Tent in Fort Bonifacio, YEBA will feature the Electromaniacs, Moonstrucks, Dynasouls, Deltas, Cobras and Sundowners. The combos (as bands were called during that period) will perform the music of icons like The Ventures, The Beatles, Herman's Hermits, The Temptations, Peter & Gordon, and The Dave Clark 5, among others.

To add sparkle to this unforgettable event, special guests Ramon "RJ" Jacinto and Hotdog will dish out their original compositions guaranteed to rekindle an avalanche of memories. Of course, no trip down memory lane will be complete without the presence of Steve O'Neal, the show's host and designated "historian."

You don't need a time machine to be part of this unforgettable event. Reserve your seat now to YEBA Combo Festival by calling 817-0828 or 815-1924. It's the feel-good concert of the year!

The following is former Hotdog band member Dennis Garcia's account of how he came up with the combustible combo reunion:

Mid-year last year, I experienced the most boring phase in my life. I was confined, "imprisoned" actually would be a more apt description, in a hospital room for nearly three months. I survived whatever was ailing me and the "imprisonment." (Thanks to the fact that I had a little savings, caring kids and siblings, a supportive extended family, doctors and nurses who loved Hotdog music, and a rich wife.)

While glued to a narrow bed 24/7, I got to thinking about my musician peers who continue to perform and accept gigs (reduced, mostly, to singing at wedding receptions and forgettable corporate events). What would happen if they got sick and needed funds to get well — or merely to continue pumping oxygen to their brains and blood to their hearts? Idea bulbs flashed all around.

I brainstormed with my brother and Hotdog collaborator Rene. Instead of Hotdog going on tour with the Cascades in the States, he said a combo festival would be a more meaningful gig to mount. The ever congenial producer of the tour and ex-musician Frank Rivera agreed.

Made sense. A combo festival would raise awareness for the unheralded bands of the '60s and the '70s. These guys paved the way for Original Pinoy Music but never cashed in on the concept since, a) their managers had limited media savvy or, b) corporate sponsors were non-existent during those times. "Suwerte kayo Bamboo, Rivermaya, Parokya, atbp." A combo festival can give them a second wind, a chance to be introduced to a new generation of music fans. (Think Santana and his "Supernatural" comeback album.)

Rene and I got together and came up with a wish list, the combos (by the way, that's what bands were called in the '60s) that we most admired when we were grade school kids and who had influenced our own music careers.

First on the list was "Electromaniacs," of course, with Ernie Delgado and Lito Toribio. And passionate new bassist Bert Tuason.

And there's the Moonstrucks with bubbly Toto Ealdama, who pioneered the hilarious antics that the Society of Seven are now well known for.

A combo festival wouldn't be complete without the Dynasouls, "the Beatles of the Philippines," frontlined by brothers Vick and Tony Generoso.

Not to forget, the talented Deltas Snafu Rigor, Tony Jalandoni, Tonet Fabie and company, whose musicality was overshadowed by the notoriety of combo manager Jaime Jose.

There was also the band Cobras that produced ace bassist Sonny Nabong and Direk Bert de Leon, now much better known as the manager of Arnel Pineda of Journey.

The Celtics was also on the list but we found out that its frontman, Rey Sanchez, had passed away a few months earlier. Not to worry, we pinned down a combo that was equally popular during that period, The Sundowners.

Of course, the festival will never be complete unless we had these iconic initials attached to it — RJ. (Ramon Jacinto, the icon, readily agreed to be a special guest of the event.)

We wanted three more combos badly: Hi Jacks (but learned that frontman Nonoy Jereza had also passed away), Tilt Down Men (Tito Sotto's group) and the Ramrods (Orly Ilacad's band). Knowing no padrino to get through to them, we decided to forego these combos' participation but resolved to keep them in mind if we decide to mount yet another similar gig.

To complete the cast, we convinced our good friend and Hotdog discoverer, Steve O'Neal, to be the festival's host and "historian."

Thus, YEBA Combo Festival was born. It's happening on May 2, 7:30 p.m. at the NBC Tent, a benefit concert for the Harvest Association. (Because it's for a good cause, you should give 817-0828 a call to reserve some tickets.)

Like a mantra that I keep repeating, the concert will spotlight "the legendary bands of the '60s and the '70s, together on the same stage for one night only. And, maybe, never again."

That one night is coming soon. See you there. Yeba!

(You may e-mail me at joanneraeramirez@yahoo.com)

Philstar's BABY GIL Writes About Yeba

Bringing back the glorious days of rock band pioneers
Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Dennis Garcia, the man who created Hotdog and revolutionized Filipino pop music, has a question. "Lately, there's been an avalanche of foreign talents coming to town. Sponsors have welcomed them warmly — and at great expense. Unfortunately, it's not the same when local talents are involved. Even if these talents are gifted Pinoys who have been elevated to near icon status."

The gifted Pinoys that Dennis is referring to are the musicians who spearheaded the rise of groups during the '60s like the Electromaniacs, RJ and the Riots, the Ramrods and many others. Back then the word combo did not mean a combination of goodies from a fast food outlet sold together at a reduced price, but a music band. Some were made up of professionals. Others were kids who got their parents to buy the instruments and then learned to play in the garage. But whatever they were, there was no question that they could make good music.

So why are sponsors today excited about the arrival of Peter and Gordon or of the Cascades and want nothing to do with a Moonstruck reunion? They come from the same era, have both matured or to be blunt about it, aged, over the years, and are still capable of making good music. I guess the reason is that although there is no question about the degree of talent, the locals were victimized by the cultural shortcomings of Filipinos in the past. The term now seems so passé but it is a fact that colonial mentality was what kept our '60s bands from becoming pop icons. They were merely copies and no originals.

It was Dennis himself, who killed colonial mentality in pop music with Hotdog's phenomenal Pers Lab in 1974. Suddenly it was cool to talk Taglish and listen to a Pinoy band. But a decade before that, the current Filipino songs were God Knows by Pablo Vergara and Sapagka't Kami ay Tao Lamang by Tony Maiquez that teen-aged buyers would never be caught dead with. They bought Neil Sedaka and Paul Anka and danced only to the Ventures and the Beatles.

At what must have been a great sacrifice of their creativity, the combos willingly obliged and played only what the kids wanted to hear. Some groups tried doing originals with some success but these were so few to have an impact on the market. The Electromaniacs had Lover's Guitar and I Miss You So. RJ did Weightless. But for the most part it was only a contest as to who among the neighborhood combos could do the best imitation and in a lot of cases, better versions, of the latest hits from the UK or the US.

Today's generation of music lovers will get the chance to find out for themselves how good those combos were with the YEBA Combo Festival. I do not know what YEBA means. I only know that it was associated with the then Manila Mayor Antonio Villegas, but the word plus the term combo instantly recalls the glorious flowering of local bands during the '60s, which became the heroes of the groups that came later.

Produced by Hotdog Productions, YEBA brings together the legendary combos of the '60s and the '70s. These are the Electromaniacs, Moonstrucks, Dynasouls, Deltas, Sundowners and Cobras. Set to perform are their brilliant members like Ernie Delgado, Lito Toribio, Toto Ealdama, Boyet Manahan, brothers Vick and Tony Generoso, Raymond Estela, Snafu Rigor, Tony Jalandoni, Lenny de Jesus, Tony Fabie and many others. Of course they will do the music of the Beatles, the Ventures, the Hollies, Lovin' Spoonfuls, Beach Boys, Dave Clark 5, the Searchers, etc. etc. To add sparkle to the one-night-only event, special guests will be Ramon Jacinto, the famous RJ of the Riots and Dennis' Hotdog plus DJ Steve O'Neal.

So don't forget. Watch the YEBA Combo Festival on May 2 at the NBC Tent. You will get lots of good music and it is also for a good cause. The concert aims to raise funds for the Harvest Aid Organization Foundation which is dedicated to helping the poor elderly. YEBA Combo Festival is presented with the cooperation of the The Philippine STAR, PDI, RJ 100, Crossover 105.1, Club Zed, San Miguel Beer, Standard Charter Bank and Gerry's Grill.

Here's a YEBA Update...