Chasing the minokaua

Chasing the minokaua

ZOETROPE - Juaniyo Arcellana (The Philippine Star) - October 28, 2019 - 12:00am

First heard of the term in the late ’80s, in Davao during the time of the total solar eclipse and a group of poets had come to the city to document the event, the sun being swallowed for a few minutes by the great big dragon in the sky, the minokaua. It was March and summer was just beginning to set in.

The musician Joey Ayala, steeped in tales of his old folks, had said the lumad believed the minokaua was responsible for the eclipse, effectively heralding ominous tidings. He told this to us either in the backyard of his place where a fledgling T-shirt design business set up shop, or at the resto bar by the waterfront, Luz Kinilaw, where small talk was exchanged on the origins and superstitions of the forthcoming celestial phenomenon.

Aside from the mythic native dragon with an appetite for suns and moons, Ayala and his band including the late percussionist Noe Tio also keyed us in on the term rabadak, which was musicians’ slang for when something’s cooking and players are on the same page. It’s rare that after months or years of practice, musicians on their instruments finally get it right.

Years later a bar called Minokaua would surface along Adriatico, which would have regular bands playing toward the weekend, before the large picture window looking out to the street. The gigs used to be on the first floor, particularly when the place was called thebar@1951, after its address number but also possibly after the year the proprietor was born. There were also art exhibits, performance, book signings, anything that furthered Manila’s bohemia and portraits of Frida Kahlo, Einstein, Charlie Chaplin held fort at the bar.

For before it was 1951 it was Penguin Cafe & Gallery, nursing Manila’s literati and a customary gathering place for an idea or inspiration for the slightest hint of mischief, first at Remedios Circle with a pink Volkswagen parked nearby, then briefly along Kamagong in Makati still with the bands and such, thence back to Malate and the more cosmopolitan environs of the old borough, stomping grounds of Santi Bose, Pepito Bosch, his niece Anabel of elektrikcoolaid, a good number of them gone but not forgotten.

At the Remedios hangout, the waiters were rude with their angels on horseback, cocktail hotdogs wrapped wickedly in bacon, but it was where we heard Johnny Alegre, Colby dela Calzada, Mar Dizon do a rendition of Pat Metheny’s Bright Size Life, one might say they nailed it, rabadak!

In the patio underneath the outstretched branches of a nameless tree off Remedios Circle, little did we know that some form of cultural history was being made, apart from the occasional hot air that comes with the territory, the dilettantes and poseurs rubbing shoulders with the real artists and writers, indeed sometimes it was hard to tell them apart, especially when a buzz was already on after a session or two at the restrooms with photos of Woody Allen (men’s) and the Mona Lisa (women’s), immortalized in the last section of Krip Yuson’s Great Philippine Jungle Energy Café.

Where to now but return to Adriatico and the present-day Minokaua, and when stars are aligned you might catch the bands Bopek and Ian Lofamia on the second floor before the picture window looking out to the street, trying to summon the suki duende to be on the same page and rabadak the night away.

Bopek’s sound isn’t like what it sounds, boses pekp*k, in fact the opposite, with a jazz feel and phrasing enough to remind you of October in Manila, light as a feather and a walk in the borough, La Naval all over again and the transcendent bass guitar guiding the ships home.

Ian Lofamia

Or Lofamia with the heavy blues growl and harmonica laced arrangements, whom we first heard over Cousin Hoagy’s radio program a long time passing, but here they are on the sidewalk drinking their beers between sets, you could swear they were black and from the Mississippi delta if you closed your eyes for a nanosecond.

Once there was a painting but as an exiled poet Cesar Ruiz said, paraphrasing Gertrude Stein, arroz is arroz is arroz. What to do but order beer and puto. For the Malate that once was can never again be, except for a restless periwinkle saying, if not for the stupid and stupendous, we would all be book reviewers and the police blotter reads: pot session and unauthorized chasing of the minokaua, swallower of dreams.

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