Whenever I travel to new places, once settled, I begin to search for certain things. Among which is the music distinctly inherent to the region that warms yet exalts the collective soul of the natives, so to speak.
In old San Juan, during the late afternoons, you start to hear salsa being performed with such electrifying fervor by the locals that it makes you want to dance right there on the street. They do not do it to solicit some loose change from passersby. They do it as a way to recharge their mind and spirit after a hard day’s work; perhaps, with the help of some Bacardi. Such merry-making, especially on weekends, can extend to the late nights. I can only assume the same thing happens in Havana, Kingston, Port-au-Prince, and other Caribbean cities and townships.
You can imagine my disappointment, therefore, when after some months, the local music of Bohol remains elusive. What I hear often are out of tune ballads belted out by some drunken karaoke barflies; imported love songs beautifully rendered by acoustic bands along Alona Beach; and bossa nova as ambient music at various establishments.
Speaking of which, bossa nova gets played so much around here – even at the buy-one-take-one burger joint along the highway. Its popularity would certainly make Jobim proud, but its dominance of the airwaves makes me wonder if there’s any underground Brazilian society around here, which controls the minds of the populace. If there were any, I’d like to check it out because I used to hang out with a bunch of dazed and confused, though fun-loving Brazilian expats in Manhattan. In addition, I took percussion lessons from Nana Vasconcelos one summer in New York City.
Yes, I took serious music lessons for more than four years. I term it serious not because I attended Julliard, but I paid serious money for private music lessons just to demystify the mechanics of music for self-edification. In the process, with the advent of wondrous technology – synthesizers, drum machines, personal computers and sequencers – I learned all about playing the keyboard, as well as the craft of music composition, arrangement, and orchestration.
I subsequently profited from such endeavor when some New York friends – artists and musicians – hooked me up with gigs creating background music for TV commercials and industrial videos. This enabled me to become a member of BMI and the American Guild of Authors and Composers since I started earning royalties from my works.
I also had a great record collection amassed during my earlier 3-year stint as an assistant to the VP of merchandising of a record distribution company in Long Island City. I practically received a promotional copy of every record released by the major and independent labels – of various genres from classical to punk rock. Again, through the auspices of friends and by making use of my record collection, I accepted additional lucrative projects, such as programming music for a couple of trendy, upscale Manhattan restaurants and helping some Seventh Avenue couture houses select appropriate music for their showrooms and runway shows. And I still managed to keep my day job.
The highlight of it all was when I was sought out and recruited as a paralegal by the prestigious intellectual property law firm, Fish & Neave. I was to become a member of its defense team for one of its clients, Warner-Elektra-Atlantic (WEA), a major force in the American music industry. It was sued along with all American and European record companies by a French conglomerate, S.A. Thompson, for copyright infringement that involved the compact disc technology. Except for WEA and a medium-sized compact disc manufacturer in Chicago, all parties acquiesced and began settlement dialogues with the plaintiff. On the other hand, we worked even harder and ultimately won the case, much to the delight of all defendants!
Going back to the matter at hand – my search for the local Bohol music – the gods must have finally taken pity on me, because last Sunday, during mass at the Cathedral of St. Joseph, I was suddenly enthralled by the hymns being sung by the priest, choir and parishioners. The lyrics were in Visayan, while the melodies were incredibly transporting. Like Puccini’s arias, I need not comprehend the lyrics. I simply had to close my eyes and immerse myself in such sublime experience at that very moment. Indeed, I was feeling exhilarated by the time I exited the church.
When I mentioned this to some local friends later on, they immediately recommended that I check out the live performances at the Loboc Children’s Choir Theater. They also suggested that I attend mass at the St. Augustin Parish Church in Panglao Island for its music. And without missing a beat, I replied, “I most definitely will!”
* * *
I very much appreciate my articles and photos appearing on fellow bloggers' sites, popular broadsheets, and local broadcast news segments, but I would appreciate even more a request for permission first.