Arts and Culture

Brothers in arms

Igan D’Bayan - The Philippine Star
Brothers in arms
Chickoy Pura

MANILA, Philippines — It is one thing to be locked-down and loaded (rich folks plastering on social media their OOTDs, un-beggarly banquets, old travel pix to Europe, workout sessions, important books they are about to read — we get it, you read books — and generally feeling like “prisoners” inside their palatial homes), and it is another thing to be a Filipino musician not named Regine, Ely, Bamboo, Ben or the other Ben. Yes, all the industries are down (save for hospitals and mortuaries) because of COVID-19. All we hear is blah, blah, blah from the powers that be while power-tripping policemen and superpower-tripping barangay tanods are getting ultra-violent on violators. Who watches the watchmen? No clear-cut plan for those affected, except for handing out relief goods with the ugly mugs of politicians attached to these packages. The majority of Filipinos are struggling. The whole world is grappling with this deadly virus. But think about this bunch of guys who have filled your stereos and smartphones with blissful music, who have entertained you and your friends while you were drowning in laughter and beer (remember the halcyon days before the liquor ban?), and who you turn to when you’re down and out.

There is always a broken chord or a verse sadly strung together to describe exactly what you are going through, all those beautiful redemptive songs by the tambourine men. Thank the Lord for musicians. But these musicians need nothing short of a miracle right now.

My bandmates and I know how it is to be working musicians. We have been through that “pay-to-play” racket in those bars of long ago like Dredd and Yosh. (You squeeze your band into a gig featuring 15 other bands and sell tickets so that you can afford to buy strings, cables or a bucket of SMB, go onstage around 2:30 a.m. and play for the leftover vampires.) We know how it is to perform in nearly empty venues with only our friends Bushido and Piso — and others who believed in us since our days in UST — in attendance. (And they are enthusiastic as hell, their voices echoing in the abyss-like emptiness of the bar, save for the chatting waiters.) We have bounced around from venue to venue (from the hallowed halls of Hard Rock Café and the musician’s paradise of 19 East — with the Black Cows singer-guitarist thinking Arnold “Igan” Clavio’s band was opening for him — to the tricycle-driver habitué called Mang Rudy’s Papaitan with the best papaitan in all the Seven Kingdoms).

It is like Christmas when we get paid at all. That is the reality of being not-so-famous musicians in this country. The struggle is palpable. But we believe in our music (prog with a smattering of punk) — even if nobody else does.

But then we met someone who understands what the hell we are doing. This guy owns the folk bar where legends like Wally Gonzales, The Jerks and Noli Aurillo play. The owner, Boy Vinzon, invited us to play regularly at My Bro’s Mustache in QC — even if our music is loud, polarizing, alienating, and cannot be used in any way in TikTok.

And, for the first time, we felt treated like the musicians we dreamed of becoming: we get paid for doing the very thing we love; the staff have become our friends (Andrei, Jay, Elmo and sound-tech Endeng); we get to hang out with Monet Pura, Poch Concepcion and Allen Mercado with his toy jukeboxes and amazing psychedelic shirts; and we get to share the same stage as Chickoy Pura, Joey Ayala and Lolita Carbon.                

But with the coronavirus crisis, everything has come to a standstill. The bar has been closed since, I think, March 14. Think of the musicians who make their living solely by playing at My Bro’s Mustache. Thus, Boy Vinzon and his wife Gigi and son Ramon have organized an online gig for the benefit of the sidelined musicians.  

“The folksingers have been deprived of their livelihood with the closing of bars and restaurants,” explains Boy. “With the funds raised by this online concert, the artists are somehow made whole and the emotional stress is set aside. For a few hours, peace and gladness are in people’s hearts.”

Featured performers are Chickoy Pura, Noel Cabangon, Mon Espia, Lester Demetillo, Bobby Mondejar and Friends, The Black Vomits, and (tentatively) the great Lolita Carbon.  

My bandmates and I had to adjust to playing together from four different rooms, doing a socially distant jam, so to speak. It felt strange, yes. Imagine playing bass alone in Marikina while the drummer is in Antipolo, the guitarist is in Cavite and the singer is in Batangas. One song, two songs tripping through the wires of the internet. We played a Pink Floyd cover before Miley Cyrus wrapped her fangs around it on SNL. We also played our own song. A song none of you have ever heard. It is strange not being in the same room as the other guys — four lost souls swimming in a fish bowl of life in quarantine, wishing your brothers were around. But, in a certain way, it felt familiar, all-too familiar: we are playing music that is fighting for its life.


* * *

“The Artists of My Bro’s Mustache on Q” is a special online concert for the benefit of the My Bro’s artists. The show is on May 6, Wednesday. The show will go live at 8:30 p.m., with the first performance slated at 9 p.m.  Catch the livestream at fb.com/mybrothersmustache/live. For information, call or SMS 0918-9912899 or 0917-5567892.






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