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Music review: Tenacity and talent at Fete de la Musique 2012

July 1, 2012 9:25am
The weather was clear and sunny as the main stage at Fete de la Musique began. At about past four o'clock, Paul Zialcita drummed an accompaniment to the National Anthem as one of the members of his Bakunawa ensemble sang. The performances got on to an exciting start with Brigada's Brazilian-style percussion, and Zialcita and his troupe performed on indigenous and recycled wind and percussion instruments, including Zialcita's signature recycled water bottle filled with a substance he identified to a friend of ours as “baby water.”

Cynthia Alexander, her ensemble, and Brigada perform on the main stage. Ren Aguila
The 15th Fete de la Musique in Manila last June 23 was a tribute to the Beatles. The golden anniversary of their first single, “Love Me Do,” is the reason for this tribute, as is the 45th anniversary of their role as the closing act of the Our World satellite broadcast, singing “All You Need Is Love.” All in all, the main stage was one of nine venues for the celebration, including the Catholic parish of Saints Peter and Paul, whose feast would be held less than a week from then.

Sponsored by the French Embassy, the Alliance Francaise de Manille, and the City of Makati, the annual event has seen the best of the local music community perform for free to a wide audience. All the venues, except for B-Side and Studio 1691, were within walking distance; the jazz stage was just across the street from the main stage. This year, a new experimental stage helmed by Dott Seki of the post-rock band Skies of Ember and hosted by New Zealand-born visual and performance artist Anthony Piggott opened at his studio near the South Cemetery.

Cynthia Alexander, Blue Rats, and Joey 'Pepe' Smith

Back at the main stage on Makati Avenue, the crowd was slowly growing. On the Monday before Fete, it was made public that the independent singer Cynthia Alexander was playing at sunset, before going off to her last gig for the moment at Conspiracy Garden Cafe. An air of anticipation built up at the holding area as her ensemble arrived, one at a time, beginning with tabla player CJ Wasu and her percussion and keyboard accompanist Mlou Matute, who also played with Brigada earlier that day.

Meanwhile and on stage, singer Julien Drolon, who was seen at a previous Fete, performed among others a medley of Filipino popular hits, including “Ipagpatawad Mo” translated into French. Shortly before the set, Brigada agreed to join Alexander on two of her songs. Knowing a bit about the kind of rhythms the ensemble performed, and knowing what song shared that rhythm, I made a guess that they will play Alexander's “Wait,” which she says was written on a milk can.

Sure enough, after an interminable loop of the festival spiel, Brigada launched into the familiar beat that led into “Wait,” and cameras of all sorts went up along with a cheer from the crowd. Alexander performed five songs that afternoon, including her brother Joey Ayala's setting of the late Maningning Miclat's Berso #2, “Dumaan Ako.” She was the first of the performers to be asked for an encore, and it was her signature song “Comfort in Your Strangeness.” In keeping with the theme of the festival, she covered “Across the Universe,” which was part of the Beatles' final album "Let It Be."

Other groups had their own Beatles covers. For instance, the Blue Rats covered the B-side of the “Let It Be” single, “Don't Let Me Down.” It was not really a requirement, but if there was anything that evoked the Beatles' spirit, it was the dozens of musicians whose tenacity and talent were on show, and in some cases, were able to gain lasting respect for what they did.

Joey “Pepe” Smith, the 70s rock performer, was one of them. His finale excited the hundreds who crowded the main stage at just past midnight, and he was also asked for an encore. This time, it was “Beep Beep,” an energetic song about the life of a jeepney driver which has become a rock standard in the Philippines.

Manila, Cebu, Davao

There are very few occasions for celebrations of local music, and this is one of the more prominent opportunities musicians have to share their work for free. I am glad that this year, the festival moved on to Cebu the week before the Manila event (with bands Pedicab, Tarsius, and Jensen flying in for the festivities), because it is a chance to celebrate the vibrant music scene in Cebu. Maybe Fete will move on further south to places in Mindanao, where I am told that there is an equally vibrant scene in Davao, and make it a truly national celebration of music.

As the night wore on, people were roaming from stage to stage, enjoying the free music and the food and drink booths that were lining Makati Avenue. Whether Fete was a success or not is not a call I am prepared to make. But its future success matters when we ask what music we would like to hear in the future, outside the live stage, on our music players. — KG, GMA News

Ren Aguila writes occasionally about music and health for GMA News Online. He visited the rock and jazz stages at Fete de la Musique apart from the main stage.
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