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WORDS BY KENDRICK GO
The ukulele may be small but there is little doubt that it has a huge following in the Philippines.
This was seen by the attendants of this year’s Philippine Ukulele Festival (PUF.) Held at Eton Centris last March, the event drew in around 300 artists who sought to perform at the two-day affair. It also drew in crowds from all over the country looking to see the established and rising stars performing with the miniature four-stringed guitar. As one of the organizers of the event, Project 4 Productions saw this turnout and considered it as a solid proof of the instrument’s popularity in the Philippines.
“The ukulele community is growing stronger and stronger every year,” said Kimi Buendia, founder of the production firm. And this is a belief shared by Happy Music, a retailer of the instrument in the country. “It has been growing since 2010,” the company said. To further support this growth, both have been teaming up to produce events for ukulele artists to explore their craft. Last March, this resulted in PUF. And this June, on Saturday, they’ll have another: the first ever Ukulele Stage at Fete de la Musique.
To be held at Concepto Poblacion, Makati, the Ukulele Stage will feature at least 16 acts. Among the names in the lineup include BennyBunnyBand, a popular trio currently signed under Viva, Pao Gumba, dubbed by Happy Music as one of the best ukulele players in the country and Eduardo Enaje, labeled as the country’s “kundiman ukulele master.”
The stage, however, is not just set for performers. Because its organizers wanted to hit the ground running, they also decided to prepare activities meant for the audience as well. From 2 PM to 4 PM, for instance, the venue will host a free ukulele workshop similar to the ones Happy Music has been doing to keep the scene vibrant. And, come 10:30 PM onwards, there will be an open mic session that will allow guests to perform on a Fete stage.
“What makes the first-ever Ukulele Stage different is that it is not only centered on the performers but also the stage-goers as well,” said Buendia. She added that the workshop and the open mic session were organized to give “everyone— from artists to guests— the equal opportunity to create and celebrate music on World Music Day.” Which is really what Fete is about.
But those who are content in just watching performances are welcome to do so. After all, its organizers believed that this year’s lineup can bring in the kind of entertainment responsible for the ukulele’s popularity in the country.
This band’s name started as a joke. According to its Facebook page, its members tried to think of the oldest song that they can imagine and ended up envisioning what primitive people must’ve sounded like. “Ug” was what they thought of. Mixing it with the word “Alamat” (legend in Filipino,) they ended up with their current handle. Nevertheless, the group does have a serious goal: to share their passion for music–a goal they seek out through various genres explored through the ukulele.
According to its social media, BennyBunnyBand’s members are “coffee, sugar and hot water –a perfect blend for live wire madness that could sure perk your energy up. ” Happy Music, meanwhile, defines it as one of the most popular ukulele-driven bands in the local scene. And if any of these definitions are true, then they are a good addition to a line-up meant to promote the ukulele.
Domands is one of the top fingerstyle ukulele players in the country. Happy Music said that last year he is among the people who represented the Philippines in Asian music festivals. This year, he’ll be performing at his home turf.
Dubbed by Happy Music as one of the most promising ukulele-using bands in the country, this is a duo not to be missed as they perform at Fete this year.
Over sixty years of age, Mr. Enaje will perhaps be the oldest performer on the Fete stage this year but he is never the less capable of wooing a younger crowd with his mastery of the ukulele. Dubbed by Happy Music as the country’s kundiman ukulele master, he is set to win hearts on the 22nd.
Esremborak, at least according to its Facebook page, will bring you the “music of the slums.” And based on the video above, at least, this appears to mean something rich, unpretentious and captivating.
Jegs Benedict is one of the local acts currently on the rise. In 2017, they won the 20,000php cash prize of Yellow Cab’s Hunger Grant and they’ve used that money to fund initial recordings. Last year, meanwhile, they release their debut single “Desperately.” Since their debut, they have been performing on popular music venues across Metro Manila. Come Saturday, they’ll take yet another step to elevate their brand as they head for Concepto to serve up the folk-pop sound that has been drawing the attention of people.
Kalabopis is another one of the bands Happy Music would like to promote–and with good reason, it seems. The group does have the capacity for catchy songs that may have feet tapping on Saturday.
Leomar Requejo is also another source of Filipino pride according to Happy Music since he is but one of the many acts who have represented the country in music festivals abroad. You can catch the fancy fingerwork seen above as he performs at Fete this year.
On their Facebook page, Navy Blue Pants said that they “play bright and happy music that fills your ears with delight and glee” and they’ll be given a chance to prove that this Saturday as they share their own brand of charming folk rock to a Fete stage.
Pao Gumba is an in-house artist and endorser of Happy Music. And, according to the company, he deserves to have that spot. The man, after all, is considered by many as one of the best ukulele players in the Philippines, a virtuoso frequently asked to perform and even judge at competitions locally and abroad. All things considered, he is a fitting addition to the Fete line up this year.
Like a lot of the solo artists mentioned above, Randy Gimenez is a gifted fingerstyle player capable of impressing the audience. There isn’t much info about him online but his music may very well convince people to check out his set at Fete this year.
Talata ni Tala combines the sounds of a cello, a guitar and a ukulele to make a notable statement. Catch them this Saturday to see why Happy Music defines them as a ukulele-driven band to take note of.
According to Happy Music, the Chunkies is a barkada band formed thanks to a meeting they had in a ukulele event in the past. They are a testament to the instrument’s capacity to form a community and come Saturday, they will be showcasing more of what the Hawaiian guitar can do.
Tim Cada’s soothing work on the ukulele (alongside Jean Paul Zialcita’s use of unconventional instruments) visibly tantalized the crowd at PUF this year. Can he showcase that kind of magic again as he takes on a Fete stage? You’ll have to come to find out.
The Ukulele Philippines Ensemble is a group of ukulele enthusiasts who “decided that they can be rockstars if they put their minds into it.” Well, they did and ever since they were founded in 2013, the group has been a fixture at ukulele-centric events in the Philippines. In other words, it wouldn’t have made sense to not include them in the line-up this year.