SuperAstig (SA): Tell us the story behind the genesis of this project.
Joel (JQ): Well it pretty much started a few years ago. I collect records, Filipino records mainly. So I put together some of the “danciest” Filipino records that I had, which were from the 70s and early 80s—the Manila Sound era—and I did a mix called “DiscoManila.” About a year and a half ago, Leigh Annek Hahn from Grand Performances posted the mix on Facebook. She was Facebook friends with Rani (de Leon) and he said, “Hey, I know the guy who did that (mix). That’s my friend.” So they were kind of talking back and forth about it. Then she came up with the idea of doing a show for this year’s summer schedule.
She approached us about a year ago, or less, and said, “Let’s do a show.” And I said, “Great! What do you mean? (laughs) Like a concert? Like bring all these people?” And she said, “Just get a band together.” I’m thinking “Oh, this is like a Filipino version of ‘The COMMITMENTS’. Get a band together to do a genre.”
My thing was: it would be nice to kind of have some of the legends, or at least some of the performers who lived there and performed it or who were in show bands during that time. They could add a kind of authenticity while also really shedding light on Filipino musical artists who maybe younger generation Filipinos in the U.S. had probably never heard of. Or whose names they might have heard but whose music they had never actually listened to—Hot Dog, V.S.T. & Co., and others, for example. So, that was our intent.
Then I discovered this company called Creative Concepts International, led by Jet Montelibano and his wife Edith Montelibano. Jet is one of the original members of Music & Magic, Kuh Ledesma’s original band. They started back in the late 70s and were one of the top and most popular show bands in the Philippines.
I asked them, “Do you guys have some connections to some talent, Filipino talent….in L.A.?” I was just going to try to focus on L.A., see who was based here, because of our budget. And they said, “We know everybody!” because they had booked everyone from VST and Boyfriends and Rico J. (Puno) and Hotdog. So I just worked with them in trying to find people, working within our budget. They know folks and are a part of the very rich Filipino and Filipino American music scene here in Southern California. And some of these local musicians have played in the show bands and disco bands of the late 70s, early 80s….like Music & Magic, New Minstrels, Something Special, Click.
We were going to try and get a few of the more well-known musical acts. But then, schedule and money didn’t work out. Last minute, when we were about to wrap up our roster, Jet and Edith got a hold of Spanky and Roger Rigor from VST. They’re both local. They live in Seattle and San Francisco. And it was like, “Great! Stop everything. Let’s add them to the roster.” It was like the best thing because VST is like a central band in the Manila Sound era.
SA: So you started this all as a record collector. What was it about that era’s music that you felt drawn to? Or why did you decide to focus on collecting that era?
JQ: Well, I left the Philippines in 1978. So I still remember the music. It’s still in the back of my head. You know, Florante and Freddie Aguilar and VST….along with the Jackson Five. I remember hearing that all, as a kid, growing up.
When I started collecting records….you know, as a record collector, you can do the rare grooves thing, look for the rare funk and it’s like, “Okay, everyone does that, looks for that.” Me, I usually go, “Okay, what do people not like…or are not looking for…that I can support?” I love helping the underdog.
So I went, “Wow, look at all this Filipino music that is in that era and is really funky.” And when you really start listening to these albums, they are really well-produced and really well-done and it’s really such a small time frame in the larger scheme of popular music (history). So like, everything is “rare,” right?
Fifteen years ago, I used to go on Ebay and find A LOT. Like you could get 10 records for (the price of) 20. You know, they’d be really cheap and I’d be able to find stuff. You know it would be someone from the Philippines selling them. Or someone in the Bay with their Tito’s or their dad’s records. They weren’t sought after…yet. But, in the last few years, people are actually looking for them. And a lot of it is just because of vinyl itself. Even in the Philippines, there’s like (regular) record swap meet nights, right?
SA: Yes! Even a record store in the SM Aura mall (at the Fort) was selling vinyl. It was VST, Boyfriends, and music of that era. So it’s both this resurgence of vinyl as well as their recognition of local music history.
JQ: Yeah, I think these millenials or record collectors or hipsters, whatever you want to call them, are the ones buying records. And if they are buying records in the Philippines, they are looking at their parents’ records. If you really want to look at records that were on vinyl and from the Philippines…I mean, you could pull out the Nora Aunor, the Pilita (Corrales) records (aside: Pilita did do a disco record….disco-ish). But, it also makes sense that they gravitate towards VST and those bands.
For me, I just loved dance music in general. I loved the history of disco in the United States and all over the world. So obviously, for me, disco in the Philippines is like, “Wow, that’s really interesting.” I didn’t live it. But just to know that that existed…and to do more research on its culture. That really was intriguing to me.
Then it became about finding the funkiest music out of the Philippines. And it’s hard. I could find an album and say, “Oh, look at this Rico J. Puno. It looks pretty funky. Look, he’s like got the hair and stuff.” But then you listen to it and it’s all ballads! (chuckles) So you gotta keep looking. And there are a few where it’s like, wow, that’s pretty cool and that’s pretty groovy. It’s got that backbeat. So when you dig and look for that stuff, you end up finding it in 1970s disco Filipino music.
SA: Earlier you mentioned the important role that Creative Concepts played in pulling the show together. Could you also walk us through the line-up for Saturday’s DiscoManila?
JQ: Initially, we were just going to get a house band. Like a really good solid house band. And I knew there was definitely a lot of (Filipino) musicians. But I didn’t know if there were ones that played that particular music, you know? But actually some do.
And so Creative Concepts knew some people and instead of…well, so we have one main house band that is going to play all the way through. But we also have vocal groups who are going to perform — The Union (Jet Montelibano, Jessica Casas, Nino de Jesus, JoAnn Visitacion, Fulton Montoya), 4700 Band (Maricar Cabrera, Ninette Tenza, Alvin Reyes, Val Villar), Eva Caparas & more. Many were former members of bands like New Minstrels and they have their own vocal bands around town. And they have played and continue to play at venues like Josephine’s in Cerritos. It’s a Filipino restaurant where you can go to hear live music.
So we have the band, we have the vocalists, we have Spanky and Roger from VST who are the headliners. We basically broke up the show by artists, so it’s going to play like a mixtape of almost all dance music. There will be maybe one or two ballads. Almost all Filipino originals with a few non-Filipino songs thrown in for reference. Like, “Here’s Hagibis. But here’s a little bit of ‘In the Navy’” because Hagibis was like the Filipino version of the Village People. Mar Manuel was our music supervisor. Jet Montelibano was the stage and technical director for the show.
We also have Mark Redito (FKA Spazzkid) because we wanted to have someone who could bridge these eras of dance music. Really, disco is dance music and dance music has evolved into all these forms of electronic dance music, all kinds and types. So I wanted to show that it’s evolved. Also, Mark has sampled VST in some of his music. On his first record, he has this song called “Forgiveness” and he sampled (pretty liberally) VST. But you can’t recognize it until the end of it when he totally unwinds it and you hear it.
So I thought, “Wow, it would be cool to have somebody who could say, this is where we were. This is what happened. And here’s the potential of what it’s morphed into.” At first, if you listen to Mark’s music, it sounds so different from disco. But he was actually informed by that music. I wanted someone that I know appreciated that music. He’s perfect to bridge that generation gap. We want people to come to the event, folks like Mark Redito who are younger and didn’t experience it (first hand). Or maybe others who didn’t listen to it as a kid. But Mark himself went back to Manila Sound because he’s just a music lover….who is also Filipino.
So he’s gonna do a short set to kick off the second half. I haven’t heard it yet. But we’ve been talking and he’s gonna remix some stuff…everything from VST to Donna Cruz. I don’t know what it’s gonna be but I know it’s gonna be good because he’s a really talented musician. The first time I hear it is probably going to be sound check or something. It’s exciting!
And I’m going to do a set of vinyl, just at the beginning, as a type of narrative of the show itself. It started with vinyl and it’s gone on from there. So it’s going to be a nice tribute to the records themselves.
SA: I wanted to back to something you mentioned earlier, the whole difficulty of finding musicians who actually played Manila Sound. Because to say, “Oh, they don’t play Manila Sound,” that’s actually an interesting concept. What does Manila Sound sound like? Or what makes certain musicians more adept at playing Manila Sound?
JQ: I think…well there’s this thing about Filipinos and “local” stuff, right? So like, local music, that is, music made by Filipinos, is always seen as like “second-grade.” It’s “b-grade,” not as good as some “original.” So Filipinos tend to make fun of it, like, “Oh, it’s so baduy,” etcetera. I remember when I was in Manila, back in 2006, I was buying all these Pinoy rock CDs because they were so cheap. Like, “Why are these so cheap?” (grins) “$5 to buy a Juan de la Cruz CD.” And folks were asking me, “Why are you buying that stuff? It’s corny.” And I was like, “It’s not corny.” By the way, Juan de la Cruz records go for $500 now on EBay, just so you know. So we always look down on those things, for some reason.
But, for me, it’s like, “Why? This is so good!” And, for me, that Manila Sound era (sometimes) might sound like it was copying or mimicking Western music. But like we’re so good at like copying…So those musicians who came out of there were just like, really good musicians and were also good at copying certain styles. But I think that, living in the Philippines, there are just certain melodic sensibilities, a certain Filipino sound…
SA: Now that I’m thinking about it…you talked earlier about the band formation. And a lot of the time, like you said, we forget to think of disco music as black music. So, perhaps having a kind of funkiness is a musical quality that not all musicians might have. I’m just intrigued by it as a musician, as well. If you’re in a show band or a cover band then you should be able to play everything. But, it’s true, if there is a certain funk to music of that era, then you need to have that funkiness, something of that sensibility.
JQ: That’s really what made good show bands, some of the best show bands. They could do that funkiness and that’s what separated out the really good ones.
Talking with Jet, he played with Music & Magic but he also DJed at certain disco clubs and that’s totally his generation. So he was in his early 20s. Have you ever heard of this place called Coco Banana? It’s the Studio 54 of the Philippines. If you look it up, there are some photos…but yeah, it’s where all the socialites, all the celebrities…it’s where they would all go. Wow, that’s gotta be a movie or something…I mean, that scene (and its history) was so rich.
But I mean, the history of show bands, I mean, people might make fun of it now. But there were really good musicians because they had to play everything. They could play bossanova. They could play disco. They could play rock. And I think that, just being flexible…I mean, you have to survive (over there). So if you’re a drummer in Manila, you better know how to play some James Brown or play some Eagles or whatever…to get a job.
I feel like some of the Philippines’ biggest “exports” back then were musicians. Now it’s like domestic workers. But then, it was like…my uncle, all my aunts were working in Singapore, they were working overseas doing jazz and big band. My uncle did all that stuff. He was a dancer, up into his 50s. But they all worked as performers overseas. It’s become it’s own tradition now.
But you know, it’s so funny. When people think “Filipino music,” they think we haven’t created our own “sound.”
SA: But, no! We have SO many types of music…
JQ: Right?! And with Manila Sound, when you think about it, there’s a certain melody, there’s a certain “breeziness” to it. That’s kind of hard to describe. But when you think about it (or hear it) you know, that’s Manila Sound.
You don’t really get it until you start listening to all types of Filipino music…from like, the folk to the R&B to the disco and then you’re like, “I kinda get it. I hear it now.” And then you totally lose it in OPM. It’s like, when you listen to OPM it’s like, “Where’s all the groove? Where’s all the funk?” (chuckles)
SA: All that sappiness, all that feeling…that’s Filipino too! (laughs) One last question: what do you envision or hope for August 13th?
JQ: Well, I imagine it like this: you’re walking from wherever you parked or took public transportation in downtown LA on a summer night…
You’re walking up Grand. Or you’re walking up the steps from Olive Street. And maybe you’re running late. But you can hear someone singing a VST song. In Tagalog. Emanating from a big outdoor theatre in downtown L.A. And for me, that will be it. I just want people to hear it. You could be a Filipino kid who’s never really put it into (historical) context. You could be a 20-year old who’s never even heard of this stuff. And then you could be like, “Oh yeah, my aunts, my uncles, my parents were grooving back then to this stuff.”
I just remember when I was DJing and I was playing my Filipino records at a certain gallery event. I played a certain Celeste Legaspi song (“Paibig Na Lubus-Lubos“). It was a cover of Roberta Flack’s “Feel Like Making Love.” But it’s all in Tagalog. And it’s really beautiful. These three young girls, college kids, asked, “What is that you just played? I’ve never heard a Filipino song like that before.” And that was so sad. Because it’s there. But you’ve probably heard of Brazilian music or know about Fela Kuti or whatever. But it’s sad that we don’t even look to the Philippines or the history of its music.
So I just want those different people to, at least once, hear Filipino music from that era and then know it. And I think they will get it.
And then, of course, I just want people to have fun. Dance! Move your butt. Then you can get all nostalgic later.
For me, I just want to hear that music blasting out into the city. That’ll be it.