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Food and Leisure

Catch the smooth-stylin’ Freestyle at Soundbites

The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Smooth. You can’t escape that word when describing Freestyle. The Filipino band specializes in light, jazzy pop, R&B that doesn’t jar, ballads that feel just right. Formed by Atenean batchmates Tat Suzara, Jinky and Carlo Tapia in 1996, the band is now fronted by singer Ava Santos, evolving from its acid jazz beginnings to take in whatever form of musical chill pill is required. Former Put3ska bassist Rommel de la Cruz, drummer Gerald Banzon, Mike Luis and Joshua Desiderio on keyboards round out the band, which performs at Soundbites Music Festival. Catch the Freestyle Concert Series at Robinsons Malls June 5, 6 pm at Robinsons Galleria, June 6, 6 pm at Robinsons Place Manila, June 13, 6 pm at Robinsons Magnolia.

Onstage, vocalist Santos brings a new level of soul to the band; she cites Aretha Franklin, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Amy Winehouse, Leslie Feist, Fiona Apple, Beyoncé, John Mayer and Joss Stone as influences; locally, “I love Bituin Escalante and Lani Misalucha.”

I can’t help asking, why do Filipinos have so much soul?

“I do believe Filipinos can’t live without music,” Tat says. “Music is a part of our life from childhood to the first crush. We have a theme song for most life-changing experiences; new love, breakups, heartaches ...meron tayong kanta for each moment!”

Giving cover songs — everything from Sarah McLachlan or Michael Jackson — the Freestyle spin is part of the process, but they do so with care.

“Respeto sa kanta,” Tat says. “If you do a cover, make sure you give it justice. Also, we need to embrace and own the song as if it were ours, even for the moment.”

Suzara says the band got its name on the fly, right before their first gig. He spotted magazines nearby and browsed through some until he zeroed in on the word “Freestyle.” It seemed appropriate, so they kept it.

Evolving since ’96, I ask the band what keeps them “Freestyle” up to now. “Love and respect for the job is the most important denominator.  We also share a common intention and desire to be good and professional.”  

The band has toured abroad, and they always enjoy running into Filipino fans there. “Visiting new places and meeting so many balikbayans is so rewarding. It’s such an awesome experience!”

Tat cites one unforgettable experience: while singing Bakit Ngayon Ka Lang to a Filipino audience, “all of the sudden an American guy gets up and starts singing along with us. His intonation was spot-on. Super heartwarming.”

Currently, Freestyle is working on a new album, the first to feature Santos on vocals. (She joined a year ago.) It’s called “Mga Kwentong Kinanta,” a true indie labor of love. “We did this one all by ourselves, from composing, arranging, producing and even the artwork and design of the cover.” All the songs are in Tagalog “because we wanted to promote Original Pilipino Music.”

For her part, Santos is excited about the current phase of Freestyle. “Freestyle has been in the business for almost 18 years now and I hope to stay with them for many, many, many more years,” she says. “I hope to influence and inspire the present generation with the kind of music we create, and make a substantial contribution to the OPM Industry.”

Performing at the Soundbites Festival, they promise a sound and a rewarding experience. “It’s very fulwfilling  when we succeed in catching the audience’s attention and getting them to sit still and enjoy the music we dish out.” 

Everyone in the band has a favorite food stop at Robinsons Malls (Tat likes Singaporean, Rommel digs Mangan, Gerald is into “any Japanese food,” Mike goes for steak, vocalist Ava zeroes in on “Mongkok or Sbarro,” and Joshua just goes for “all food courts”). For Soundbites concertgoers, Freestyle are ready to dish out their own version of soul food. And you know it will go down smooth.

AMY WINEHOUSE ARETHA FRANKLIN AVA SANTOS BAKIT NGAYON KA LANG BAND BILLIE HOLIDAY BITUIN ESCALANTE AND LANI MISALUCHA CATCH THE FREESTYLE CONCERT SERIES ELLA FITZGERALD FREESTYLE
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