The Round-Up: Pinoy musicians and bands. January 2013 edition.

It’s been a while since I last made a list of noteworthy local musicians. (Not that it matters if I make that list or not, because, heck, I’m really just a part of the crowd. It’s not like another blog will matter in a galaxy of blogs about OPM. And it’s not as if I’d be a good critic of anything. I end up gushing embarrassingly in Extreme Fan Mode.)

What was I talking about?

Right. Making a list of noteworthy local musicians for my pleasure. (Disclaimers end here.) Last weekend, I made it a point to really sit down and really really listen to the albums and tracks that have been gathering mold and dust in my desktop.

People can say whatever they want about OPM, but here’s what I know for sure: I’m never going to not be surprised by local Filipino music. So much goodness here. If I sound excited every now and then, well, how can I not? This is homegrown stuff. Don’t give me any of that Billboard 100 songs to review. I already got some good stuff right here.

You ready? This is a long list. But don’t be intimidated. There’s just too much awesome local stuff.

Robin Nievera

“Hassle. Ang galing.” Those were my first thoughts while I listened to Robin Nievera’s album “Nightmares.” I suggest listening to it with a pair of decent earphones: you need to hear it inside your brain. My New Yorker friend swears that it has a winter in Central Park feel. I swear that it is the perfect music that describes Metro Manila right now, in this century, in this year, in this month.

The thing about Robin, though, is that every one knows him as Martin Nievera’s son. There’s nothing wrong about this as Martin is such a lovable guy, but it does put Robin in such a tiny little box and all that talent should not be put in a tiny little box. Yes, I’m calling “Martin Niever’s son” as a small box for the musicality of Robin. First time I ever heard him play was with Wagyu, and back then  “WOW.” Mind officially blown.

I didn’t have any expectations about this album, though. Which is probably why I’m so bowled over. There are no nightmares here, despite being called Nightmares. Just beautiful guitar-driven melodies and Robin’s handsome voice.

Favorite song from this album? Hands-down, “Alison.” Try this: listen to Alison, then close your eyes, then think of warm, sunny tropical days, a hammock, the faint burr of a car driving past, maybe the sound of the ocean crashing somewhere to the left, city lights.

As Gandalf said to the Fellowship in the mines of Moria: RUN, YOU FOOLS… and download his album. (If Gandalf didn’t say that, he should have.)

Up Dharma Down’s Capacities

This be the much-awaited third album of indie darling Up Dharma Down. The launch was at Esplanade in the Mall of Asia premises, and admit it: you thought they wouldn’t be able to fill it up. Admit it, as well: we were all surprised at the number of people who showed up and weren’t able to get in… on top of the number of people who actually bought tickets in advance. Kudos to the band for a great show. Danced the entire time during the launch. Sang when I could. Well worth it.

This is probably the happiest that Up Dharma Down has ever sounded. I’m excited to hear the new riffs, I love where they’re going with that music (just take a listen to Night Moves), and that single, “Turn It Well,” is a killer. Stuck in my head for days. Now when I’m going on road trips, I can’t NOT listen to Turn It Well. And every time I go down Guadalupe at night, I hear Turn It Well.

Let’s not even get started on Indak.

Rizza Cabrera

Lately, just one of the most unique voices around. I met her at a Soulchild production and was sharing a table with her until Julianne called her up on stage. Nothing could have prepared me for the jam that happened. This girl got soul. Her very voice got soul. You could close your eyes and you could feel soul just sitting on Rizza’s shoulders singing loudly at the top of its lungs. Just that much soul. So it is with much joy and pride that I point you to a three-song EP of hers.

That voice, right? That insanely beautiful voice. Can’t wait for the full album. But more than that: can’t wait to catch her live again, and then, hopefully, with a full band.

Sheila and The Insects

What a pleasure to watch these guys play. You see, there’s not a lot of good rock acts that I can sit through more than four songs of. It’s not their fault, my ears just can’t take much of the grit and loudness that comes with a rock show. (Age showing here, I know.)

But last Friday I was in Cebu for work, and when I found out that SATI was playing Handuraw, how could I not go, right?

I’m glad I went. Not only is Handuraw’s food still comfortably good, SATI was still excellent. Tight, clean guitars, flawless transitions, and that voice! I can’t count the number of times that I interviewed Sonic Boom bands and they would point me to Sheila and The Insects as their influence. My dad, 13 years ago, was the first one who told me about SATI, and I thought he was nuts until he forced me to listen to the album. It’s been thirteen years, but Sheila and The Insects is still, by far, one of the tightest rock acts in the country.

Anyway, SATI is touring in Singapore right now. I get to download a song because I went to the send-off show at Handuraw. Such a sucker for freebies.

Sky Dive Academy

One of the more memorable conversations I had with their front man, Jethro Sandico, was right before a Sky Dive Academy gig in Baguio’s Kalye Luna.

Ailene: Haha! Alam mo yung mga nagpapaka-cool na rapper na gumagamit ng zip code or area code?! Hahaha! Pa’no kaya kung taga-QC ka? 632!
Jethro Sandico: *silent*
Ailene: Or yung mga East-Coast-West-Coast na yan… Hahaha!
Jethro: May kanta kaming may Baguio zip code.
Ailene: Oh.

I try and make sure never to miss this band when I’m in Baguio or when they’re in Manila. They’re good enough that I don’t mind scheduling trips to Baguio around their gigs.

I mean, they’ve got a horn/brass section. That alone is a great reason to watch them. But then their main man is a classically-trained bassist (with not little skills) who raps. RAPS with a horn section! I know for a fact that their lead guitar used to play some heavy metal stuff back in the days. “They sound like a Tagalog Diggable Planets laced with Miles, ” my friend said. There’s a hint of the Roots, a hint of old school hip hop, plenty of jazz, and definitely their own thing going there. Here’s how tangible their impact is: I sent over their demo to this up and coming new magazine in Cebu for a listen, and within the afternoon, the band was booked for a Rhymefest in Cebu this May.

They’re that good. You shouldn’t believe me just because I say so, though. Here’s a video, and here’s the link to their EP. You’re welcome.

Skydive Academy – Dwelling from Skydive Academy on Vimeo.


I cannot believe that it took me this long to see these guys play live. I know half of Soju from Salamin, of course, and I’d have to be deaf not to hear people praise them to the ceilings before, but it took their drummer’s cute “stay for our set” to make me stay up late on a Tuesday night just to catch them live. (Thank you, Eo, for insisting.)

It won’t be so far-fetched to say that this band is now one of my favorites. Purely instrumental rock, very technical stuff, and very sincere. What’s not to like? They totally need an album so that I can abuse it all day long. I remember thinking during their set that if Soju and Time Lapse Consortium would do a show together, it would be one of the more awesome shows in the world.

Carlos Choi Band

Before I knew Carlos Choi, I knew Still. They visited Full Cup way back in the days when there was still a Full Cup in Intramuros, and I remember that night as one of the best nights. We were all touched by Carlos’ testimony, were blessed by the music, and I never really forgot about Carlos. In 2011, when I was told that we were going to Dumaguete for an extreme sports/rock concert/Christian thing and asked me for Cebu-based Christian acts, I all but shouted “Carlos Choi!”

You see, it’s hard to find local contemporary worship music that’s on par with Hillsong or Chris Tomlin. Not that it’s necessary in worship. After all, not all churches have “praise and worship,” and not all churches that have praise and worship like Hillsong/Chris Tomlin/Planet Shakers for Sunday mornings. But I’ve never been quite okay with the idea that even our worship music is imported. One of my heart’s burdens has always been that we start singing our own songs, written by Filipinos, that reflect the heart of our own churches. There is no lack of talented musicians here in the Philippines… but that’s such a long subject and merits its own blog entry.

If you’re a Christian and you’re looking for contemporary worship music that’s a blessing both spiritually and musically, I highly recommend getting The Carlos Choi Band’s worship album. It’s just wonderful. And if you’re in Cebu next Saturday, do me a favor and join them for worship when Carlos launches their album?

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