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The return of the comeback

Rivermaya: A rock n’roll soap opera. Photo by DENISE J. MALLABO for UNO Magazine

The one thing you can definitely say about the story of Rivermaya (RM) is that it continues to be the most interesting, crazy, and intriguing saga in Philippine music. Their ex-manager Lizza Nakpil has dubbed it “a rock n’ roll soap opera” where anything goes and it usually does. What’s more, it’s still going. Following the breakup of Bamboo, which had ex-RM members Bamboo Mañalac and Nathan Azarcon, two new bands may be emerging from the split. And it’s looking like it will involve even more former bandmates.

Azarcon is currently recording an album with both Ira Cruz and Vic Mercado of Bamboo. He’s also enlisted guitarist Junji Lerma to join the lineup, who also currently plays for the Radioactive Sago project. Lerma played in Azarcon’s Pre-rm band, the thrash-punk outfit bazurak, alongside rm drummer Mark Escueta. As of writing, the group is going to be called hijo and Azarcon will be taking on vocal duties. Among the songs already recorded, these include tracks Tamalee, Dahil sa Iyo (which isn’t a cover version but rather a “modern kundiman” as the band likes to describe it) and even a version of My Way featuring Eraserhead Marcus Adoro on guitars. Safe to say, they’ve got enough for an album and then some.

There’s been a lot of speculation regarding Mañalac. According to industry sources and the local scene, he’s forming a new group but with familiar faces as well. Among those touted to join him are Escueta, Bamboo session keyboard player Ria Osorio and another ex-RM member, guitarist Kakoi Legaspi. (The latter joined the band after Azarcon left and recorded one album with them, Tuloy ang Ligaya.) Among those reportedly considered to take on bass duties is Louie Talan of Razorback. It’s all said to be in the beginning stages so nothing’s set and the personnel may change.

Of course, one wonders what Rico Blanco, who’s now made a successful solo career, will make of all this. He’s on good terms with Azarcon, who’s joined him onstage on occasion the past couple of years. His relationship with both Mañalac and Escueta isn’t clear, though there has been acrimony in the past. Also interesting to know would be the current status of Rivermaya itself. The band re-launched itself, after the departure of Blanco in 2007, and did a reality TV show to look for a new vocalist. As far as can be ascertained, the current lineup is made up of guitar player Mike Elgar and bassist Japs Sergio (who both joined in 2001), Escueta, and the show’s winner, Jayson Fernandez. Both Blanco and Rivermaya are signed to Warner Music but their respective contracts are reportedly up.

With the emergence of these two new bands and the fact that Blanco’s still doing his thing, it can only be good for the music scene—in fact, it may just be what it needs to shake off the prevailing torpor. After all, if the most exciting thing these days is Tanya Markova or the next Callalily video then we’re in dire need of real personalities and figures if not great songs more than ever. And the music that these guys make — all of them —still matters, not to mention that they’ve all continued to mystify, intrigue and excite just by being on the scene. Besides, all great bands are more than the sum of its members. The classic Rivermaya lineup — Mañalac, Azarcon, Escueta and Blanco—is proof of that. It would just be great to see them together on one stage again.

Of course, if there’s anything we’d really like to see it’s that they somehow get it together, whatever differences they may have, and play one for the fans if not for themselves. They began this together in 1993 and it’ll be unfortunate if it isn’t concluded properly. After all, stories can recover from a bad start but not a bad ending. (To give an example from literature, check out the opening of War and Peace.) It should close with a bang, not a whimper. Their legacy demands that they do. Let’s hope they see it that way too.

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