Somehow midway through the tenth grade, I found myself launched into a career in music as the bass player of a band called Second Wind. In a moment, I came from being a kid that played for a church band to a signed recording artist sharing the stage with some of the most amazing musicians the Philippines has ever known. I also quickly want to point out that the fact that making it into the band was an act of grace for I was never—and probably will never be—in the same league as these guys.
For the next nine years of my life, I would play for two other cover bands, sometimes seven nights a week. The pay was great, but more than that, it was a “game on” way to get schooled in performance and musicianship. Most artists learn by imitation in the early stages, with the hopes of eventually discovering that unique voice or style that ultimately defines their art.
In our world, there is certainly a place for the cover musician, and we love them. Familiar songs have a way of opening us up to feelings and memories. And when musicians and performers do a good a job, they allow us to not just hear music, but experience music at a more profound level.
Plus, lets face it; no matter how cool we think we are, when we head out to the clubs for a night of fun we’re rarely looking to ponder lyrics of new music. Instead, we reach for something familiar: we rock out to Smoke on the Water, (though very few know the actual lyrics, everyone can mouth the guitar riff while air guitar-ing it). Others prefer“Why do you build me up, buttercup…” (which, if I were you, I wouldn’t admit to).
Here’s the deal: We all love even the occasional cheesy or mindless cover tune, and that’s okay. However, when the industry centers wholly on rehashing things that have already been spoken, especially that which are “content challenged”, we potentially allow ourselves to be gypped of the opportunity to be challenged by thoughts, ideas and conversations that well deep within the context of our own specific culture.
These conversations when aired to light allow us a lens to view our story in the hopes that the awareness would eventually provoke progress. In other words,
the things we listen to reflect the things we think about,
and therefore a commentary on who we are
and where we are going as a people.
Let me frame it in simpler terms: If Boom Tarat Tarat is outselling Bamboo’s Tatsulok or Cynthia Alexander’s Ripping Yarns, we are in deep shiitake mushrooms—although, to its credit, Boom Tarat Tarat is at least an original.
Give me the makings of the songs of a nation
and I care not who writes its laws.
– 17th century Scottish political thinker,
Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun.
If our songs were laid out on a surgeon’s table, what would be said of us? What of our victories, our ramblings, our desires, hope and dreams? Our virtues and the struggle to live by them, our quest for love, destiny and reason? If someone picked them apart, what would be said of us and where we’re headed?
As I close the introduction to this series of In Study articles, I recall a specific night in 1992 when Second Wind played a gig at the legendary Music Hall in Annapolis Street, Greenhills.
We’ve played the venue a hundred times before; it was just a regular night—except the living legend in Filipino original music FLORANTE was sitting in the crowd.
Florante was the folk singer of the Philippines. His career flourished during the 70’s.
Rodel, our lead singer, spotted him in the crowd and asked impromptu if he would get up on stage and jam with the band. He eventually obliged after a bit of prodding.
He got up on stage and we hooked him up with a guitar. After he was set up, he looked at us and asked what song we could jam. Rodel asked if he would sing a few of his songs.
Despite a bewildered expression, he proceeded to sing his hit song Handog (Offering). We had never played the song before but the whole band managed to jump in and wing it by ear, second and third harmonies included.
Florante was floored! As a matter fact, he was so emotional that he spoke to the crowd with a bit of a quiver in his voice. He told the audience he had not expected to come up and play his original song, furthermore have the band back him up as if they were his own.
I’ll never forget that night; more than that, I’ll never forget the song.
Let me post the words of the chorus in Tagalog first, as it is in its most beautiful form in the native language:
Tatanda at lilipas din ako
Ngunit mayroon awiting
Iiwanan sa inyong ala-ala
Dahil minsan, tayo’y nagkasama
Check it out in English:
I’ll eventually grow old and fade away
But there’s a song I’m leaving behind in your memory
To commemorate the time we spent together.
Did you guys catch that? Things will eventually fade but here’s a song to testify to the fact the we were here, and we were together.
Our songs bear witness to who we are.
So the more profound question is,
Who Are We?
Hopefully we’re not Smoke on the Water, Buttercup, or any other song on the American Top 40.
Hopefully we are who are and that’s what we should sing about.
And if we don’t know who we really are, maybe its time to start asking.
Maybe its time to start singing the questions.