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Arts and Culture

Songs of brotherhood

KRIPOTKIN - Alfred A. Yuson -
Some night I should ask Rafael "Boy" Vinzon, proprietor of My Bro’s Mustache on Scout Delgado corner Scout Madriñan off Timog Avenue in QC, why they settled for that (more or less) standard spelling. Some nights when my eyes get woozy (not me!) and they stare too long at the bar’s logo right above the corner stage, my left brain does its usual bifurcation novelties. And I read the sign as "My brothers must ache."

Now, why should they? Me, I’ve always preferred the supposedly variant spelling – "moustache" – with the small "o" right in there. What’s the lush life, after all, but a litany of small o’s – only occasionally highlighted, when one finds a Ms. Right on some table, with a Big One? Yeah, there are Ms. Bigs, too; sexy is the city.

In any case, last Tuesday a lot of brothers, and some sisters, ached with sweet nostalgia, their collective wisdom tooth pushing out again for a night of raucous camaraderie harking back to Dekada Sitenta. ‘Twas the night of a 1970s hoedown, with folk bar mainliners merrily mixing it up for the launch of "Restrung: Lumang Gitara, Bagong Kanta," featuring the artists of My Bro’s Mustache.

And what a roster of Pinoy folk and rock musicians the CD launch and throwback night assembled, with each delivering a couple of songs onstage – a favorite and his/her contribution to the album.

The CD project was the brainchild of Boy Vinzon, musician Mon Espia, and journalist Jojo Robles, who’s the editor in chief of Manila Standard/Today. As Boy V. recounts it, the intention was to give the musical artists a second shot (albeit it was the first for some) at possibly reviving their careers. Not that they had been forgotten, Boy V. said, but there have been just so many artists that have crowded the field since the ’70s.

And as Jojo argued in beerstorming sessions that went on for close to three years, why settle for new artists singing remakes of the old songs when you can have the veteran singers singing new/original songs? Thus, "Restrung...," with a remarkable roster made up of My Bro’s Mustache’s mainstays through the years.

In the order their songs appear in the CD, these are: Noel Cabangon, Heber Bartolome, Mon Espia, Hans & Reagan, Joniver, Bobby Mondejar, Corky & Kiko, Lester Demetillo, Susan Fernandez, Wally Gonzalez, Chickoy Pura, Lolita Carbon, Rannie Raymundo, Jesse Bartolome, Florante, Rey, Albert De Pano, Ernel Mendoza, and Paul Galang.

All of them made it to the launch except for Florante who’s in the States and Paul Galang who had taken sick. A pity, that last, as his song marks the final album cut titled Salamat, Pepe which essentially sums up the Spirit of the Seventies, with Joey "Pepe" Smith’s Himig Natin anthem imbedded in the song-tribute.

Pepe showed up, too; only a month back he had packed the folk bar in a two-man gig with Juan de la Cruz partner Wally Gonzalez. For the album launch night, Jojo Robles emceed, introduced the artists and read the credits. Providing backup for all the artists were Mon Espia on lead/rhythm guitar, Rannie Raymundo on drums, and Kim Lesaca on bass.

No superstar that evening. The performers were called at random, and they were all evidently happy just playing together in one show, in a grand reunion that relived the ’70s. First to perform was Noel Cabangon, while the last solo act was by Lolita Carbon. The finale featured everyone crowding onstage and jamming on the Stones’ Honky Tonk Women and CSNY’s Our House.

Sure enough, My Bro’s had been, and continues to be, home and haven for these brothers and sisters in song.

For one, Florante has played there since it opened, and it remains his home whenever he revisits Manila. His song Araw, Gabi, which shows him in top songwriting and singing form, was recorded here a few years ago. He was already in the US when the CD project finally started, so that he had to send his contribution by e-mail. Mon Espia decided that the acoustic version where Florante plays the guitar sounded better than what had initially been a full band set-up.

Mon himself had started his career with Labuyo (of Tuloy fame). He has a number of compositions to his credit, but is more of a sought-after arranger and producer. He plays guitar for Gary V. and travels with him all the time. In "Restrung...," his Caleb’s Song is all about his five-year-old son. My Bro’s has also been home to him.

Hans & Reagan started playing at the folk bar four years ago. One night they just came to audition and started singing ’70s songs, which surprised the crowd because of their apparent youth. Turned out to be their fathers’ carryover influence. Hired on the spot, they’ve never left.

Joniver Robles auditioned with a couple of Clapton songs in the former Malate branch, and Boy V. recalls being blown away, especially with his guitar playing, which was "clean instead of loud or noisy." Rey Almenario played classical guitar, but switched to folk, and has since come up with remarkable compositions. Albert De Pano has always been a folk singer since TGIF days, but also plays jazz. Besides Lester Demetillo, on the album he’s the only one who plays on nylon strings. He’s an audience favorite for his Kenny Rankin covers, which are said to be "better than the orig."

"Imported" from Hobbit House, Ernel Mendoza was My Bro’s very first folk singer. He also does Jim Croce, and plays guitar and harmonica on the album. Also a former Father’s Moustache mainstay, he can play almost any song from the ’70s. Another ’70s folk singer is Paul Galang, who’s set up a foundation for street children in Caloocan and Malabon, to which he devotes all proceeds from his special shows at My Bro’s. For Paul, Pinoy Rock’s influence has also been strong, which explains his tribute in the wonderful track, Salamat, Pepe.

Many other songs in the album should mesmerize and turn memorable. One is Bakit? by Corky and Kiko, with haunting melody and lyrics. Corky and Kiko were part of a quartet until their respective spouses passed away. They became a couple, which makes for a nice, folksy love story. Their son joins in the last part of the song. ("Ang mga batang naglaboy sa daan, Mundong kinagisnan, buhay sa lansangan, Nanlilimos ng awa, kalinga’t pagmamamahal, Daing ba nila’y di pansin ng lipunan, Bakit, bakit, ano ang dahilan... Bakit, bakit, kay rami pang di maintindihan...") It’s quiet social commentary, not strident protest. Hooray!

Noel Cabangon’s Tinitiis Kita is characteristically witty and rousing, with horns blaring in full-band sound. Heber’s distinctive nasal twang is in fine mettle with a jaunty cautionary tale on the social and financial rise and fall of Abe – with a clever musical take on Ave Maria. Florante’s Araw, Gabi is similarly cautionary, very smart and catchy with its lyrics and melody. ("Sinasayang lang ang pera, dun sa bisyong walang kakwenta-kwenta... sa kasasama sa barkadang durugista...")

These artists take us wonderfully back in time to the golden Seventies, when we used to load up on beers and rum while catching Lester Demetillo (here with Mundo ng Bata) at the dingy Appaloosa on Kamias Road. Susan Fernandez’s typically clear-eyed, clear-voiced Dalagita sa Dilim ("... kapit sa patalim...") is another potential classic. Lolita Carbon we’ve missed a lot, and here her bluesy "Hawak Kamay" reminds us of how her gravelly voice can be as smoky and briny as Lagavulin single malt. ("... Mapaparam na ang lumbay, sa bawat sulok ng buhay, Kahit landas ay magsanga, hindi ka na maliligaw, At kung hangad ay kalinga, ang bisig ay nakalaaan, Sa pagdaloy nitong mundo, hawak kamay...")

Free Spirit
by Wally Gonzalez is vintage instrumental with soaring riffs, while Chickoy Pura’s The Storm is quintessential ’70s-to-’80s Pinoy Rock. The full and lush orchestral score and myriad voices in Galang’s Salamat, Pepe round up the album most fittingly indeed.

For now the CD is only available at My Bro’s Mustache at P299, but it’s hoped that some major record labels/distributors hear it soon, so that "we could get a really good distribution deal, hopefully not confiscatory," quips Boy V.  

What My Bro’s has done is significant, as it’s also honored our memory of all the watering holes that have offered an inimitable buffet of brilliant Pinoy music, if not musicianship, down the decades.

All the members of the Dead Cafes Society come back to life, from the ’50s/’60s’ Cock and Bull on Taft Ave. to Black Angel Disco on Shaw Blvd. to Grey November and Los Indios Bravos on A. Mabini in Malate. Embers in Cubao, Butterfly off what’s now Philcoa, Cinco Litros in Ermita, My Father’s Moustache on M.H. del Pilar, and now, Remembrances, Hobbit House, Oarhouse and The Other Office in Malate – they’re all of a thread, from piano bar to discotheque to folkhouse and karaoke joint.

Maybe Conspiracy Bar on Visayas Avenue can take a cue from My Bro’s Mustache, at least in terms of soundproofing, so that it’s never served a closure order again for alleged noise pollution. Mag:net on Katipunan Avenue and Saguijo’s in Makati are lucky not to have neighbors who get disgruntled over supposedly loud music.

The sounds at My Bro’s Mustache are seldom loud, maybe because it plies a lot of ’70s stuff, which are mostly mellow, whether in Tagalog or English. Even much of the Pinoy rock of that era didn’t try to reach the decibel levels of copycat acid and heavy metal. Must have been the mellowness of brotherhood, and yeah, yeah, sisterhood. Bilingually, they’re our songs of memory.

ALBERT DE PANO

BOY V

BRO

FLORANTE

LOLITA CARBON

MON ESPIA

MY BRO

NOEL CABANGON

PEPE

WALLY GONZALEZ

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