Thursday, March 15, 2018

At the Stick Figgas album launch March 15, 2018

With the kind of work sked that I have, I am fortunate that the album launch of rap group Stick Figgas was at nearby Eastwood. I was able to catch the tail-end of the show -- the last four songs.

I asked the band to sign the CD and of course, my new friend, Kat Agarrado.

It's a damn good album and I totally recommend it. Will write an album review.

Fortunate to get the set list! I collect set lists particularly the meaningful ones. This being an album launch, yes, it is important.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Moving forward from Mike’s Apartment to the Conscious and the Goodness

Moving forward from Mike’s Apartment to the Conscious and the Goodness
by rick olivares

There are second acts as well in Filipino lives.

A decade ago, Mike Constantino formed neo-soul band Mike’s Apartment that released Lovers/Quarrel that quietly helped jump start a Pinoy soul movement and created a stir with the album packaging.

Mike’s Apartment was one of the few bands aside from Sinosikat that performed soul music. Lovers/Quarrel (yes, it is bridged by a slash mark) was released as a compact disc but was packaged in a jacket more accustomed to 7-inch vinyl. The fetching cover featured a strikingly pretty lady looking calm under the noontime sun and surrounded by blades of grass. It is a perfect metaphor for a band that during that sounded so different amongst the local releases such as Rico Blanco’s solo debut Your Universe; Itchyworms’ second offering called Self-titled; Pedicab’s sophomore outing Shinji Ilabas Mo Na Ang Helicopter; and the Camerawalls’ powerful debut Pocket Guide to the Otherworld to name but a few.

Lovers/Quarrel clocked in at close to an hour and 30 minutes. “Ambitious,” was how Constantino succinctly described the album.

As for the packaging, we had to really look for someone to create the vinyl size as it wasn’t being done anymore. Even the plastic that came with the album we had to source.”

When Constantino revisits the album nowadays, he wishes he could re-record his vocals. “We didn’t know what we were doing back then,” he explains but with the benefit of hindsight. “So it is a surprise to see and hear when people walk up to you and tell you that they listened to and liked the album. When I ask how old were they when they listened to Lovers/Quarrel and they say they were around 11 years old at the time, I go, ‘whoa!’”

If it inspired people, great, but I cannot reconcile it. Constantino does vividly remember that album gaining only one album review that was scathing in its criticism. “The album review on Pulp said, ‘I love this band but what they do live was not captured in this recording. Best to watch them live na lang.’ Aww, man. I felt so bad. And it stuck with me.”

Ten years can do a lot to people.

Mike’s Apartment has since been abandoned. Over time, the band saw some members leave and it eventually morphed into the new band, Conscious and the Goodness that is quietly gaining a following. “You can say that we’re a jazz hop soul band,” says Constantino over a beer before his new crew was to take the stage at jazz bar, Dulo, in Makati. He is joined by another Mike’s Apartment alumna, bassist Yuna Reguerra. Also in the band is Sponge Cola drummer Ted Cruz and keyboardist Jesser Sison. “We really work on our songs. Lessons learned,” Constantino says with a bit of humor and sarcasm at the memory of a terrible album review.

Apparently, Conscious and the Goodness is doing well. They are a word of mouth band. And tonight, Constantino, who worked with Studio 23 a long time ago during its infancy, couldn’t help but marvel how Dulo was packed on a Monday night which is usually slow.

The crowd which includes Apartel and Brat Pack’s talented keyboardist RJ Pineda as well as a few foreigners, weren’t there to drink on a Monday night. They were there to see Conscious and the Goodness. Incredibly, many in the audience know the words to the songs. Constantino is pleased and he engages a couple that is seated directly across the band. They giggle and laugh and single along to the band’s frontman.

It has been 10 years since Mike’s Apartment released its one and only album. “Because you messaged me about Lovers/Quarrel,” Constantino tells this writer who was his colleague in Studio 23 a long time ago, “I listened to it over the weekend. And I said to the band (Conscious and the Goodness), ‘let’s play ‘Mabuhay’ and they were like, ‘really?’ I want to also play ‘See You’ for my father in law passed away two weeks ago. I wrote that more than 10 years ago for my best friend who passed away when we were 27.”

His bandmates? There’s that smile in their eyes. Nothing like a burst of sentiment and inspiration to fire up a band.

Make no mistake, as much as Constantino dreams of re-recording the record the way it should be to his mind, he is moving forward. His new band is working on an album of their own. “We are talking about releasing the new album – what, my first in 10 years and a first for this band – by September? We’re on a timetable and we want to get it done.”

If you saw at the Dulo crowd that Monday night, I’ll bet they can’t wait either.

 With Yuna and Mike!

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Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Saying goodbye to the Arthur Manuntag, the Tony Bennett of the Philippines.

Saying goodbye to the Arthur Manuntag, the Tony Bennett of the Philippines.
by rick olivares

When you mention the name of the late Arthur Manuntag, the tall, pony-tailed crooner is described as “the Tony Bennett of the Philippines.”

Yet Manuntag, who passed away last February 12 after slipping into a coma three months ago following a heart attack, had this connection from that Man from Hoboken, Frank Sinatra.

“Arthur loved the classic performers – Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Sammy Davis, Mel Torme, Ray Charles…” related his wife, Kathryn, at the Legazpi Street Market last Sunday, March 11. “But perhaps of all his shows and performances, he considers the Sinatrology Grand Gala Night Concert in Prague, Czech Republic, in December of 2015 as probably the highlight of his career.”

Manuntag represented the Philippines and Asia in the show that celebrated the 100th birthday of the late Sinatra. And during that fateful performance in Baguio City last November where he suffered a heart attack, he had just finished performing Ole Blue Eyes’ “I’ve Got You Under My Skin”.

“My father died doing something that he really loved and that was singing,” added his daughter, Mikee.

Ironically, Arthur stumbled into singing by sheer accident.

Arthur as a 70s rocker.
He started out playing drums in a rock band while in school. During one performance, the singer didn’t show up due to stage fright. With the crowd getting antsy, Manuntag told his bandmates that the show must go on. “Okay. Ako na kakanta.”

Related Kathryn, “Nakita niya na nagwawala yung mga girls and he said, ‘Huwag na pabalikin yung singer. Ako na!’”

The infatuation with the 70s rock music of Led Zeppelin, Eric Clapton, and Fleetwood Mac eventually ended and gave way to the standards. “He listened to a lot of music but he really loved the music of Tony Bennett, Sinatra and the Rat Pack.”

Aside from releasing four albums, Manuntag became a favorite performer for weddings, parties, nightclubs. More to his maltzy baritone that charmed audiences, he had a gift for gab and loved the interchange and banter with audiences. “When we were in Prague, he was told to stop with the talking to the crowd and simply perform,” shared Kathryn. “’But this is who I am,’ he protested. He continued. By the show’s end, all the other performers that night were doing the same thing.”

Arthur had such a powerful voice that it sometimes caused disbelief among the audiences. “One time, these (Filipina) ladies were watching and they couldn’t believe Arthur’s voice,” continued the wife. “One of them said, “Grabe naman ang galeng! Tape yan. Siguro tape yan.”

Manuntag also wowed foreign performers. He has performed with the Glenn Miller Orchestra and opened for one of the all-time greats in Dionne Warwick.

“My father opened for Dionne Warwick’s first ever show in Manila,” told Mikee. “During his set, Ms. Dionne watched my dad from backstage and her hair was still in rollers. By the time he was done, Ms. Warwick said, ‘Arthur, you should be performing all over the world!’ It took her a bit to get on stage because her hair wasn’t done.”

The world-famous singer formed a bond with Manuntag that she missed him during her recent Valentine’s Day Show at Solaire. After her show, Warwick, who was battling a bad cold and unable to attend, sent flowers to Manuntag’s wake.

The Manuntag household was filled with music. “He made us appreciate music and the gift of song,” said Mikee. “And for me, one of the best ever gifts he could leave me was to write a song that he recorded for a Christmas album!”

Manuntag’s passing is still fresh. After the interview at the Legazpi Street market, the family made their way to the Manila Memorial Cemetery to visit him. “It hasn’t been easy,” said Kathryn who held back the tears. “But I just play his music to hear his voice and it makes me feel all right.”

Looking forward to this on RSD Pilipinas 2018

Monday, March 12, 2018

Meeting up with Mike Constantino of Mike's Apartment

I met up with my old Studio 23 officemate Mike Constantino who I didn't even know fronted neo soul outfit Mike's Apartment. It was cool reconnecting and getting a new copy of Lovers/Quarrel that I had lost to a fire. Also took the opportunity to watch his new crew, Conscious and the Goodness at Dulo in Barangay Poblacion.

The nine music lives of Kat Agarrado

The nine music lives of Kat Agarrado
by rick olivares

In the pre-summer heat, Kat Agarrado is radiant in sunglass, a black tank top, and drawstring pants with an ethnic design print while browsing the stalls of the Legazpi Street Market.

It’s hard to tell if this is the same singer who exudes sensuousness when performing with Sinosikat, Bras Pas Pas Pas Pas, Stick Figgas, or her own blues band who is walking rather unobtrusively around this upscale weekend market. Yet to paraphrase a classic song, “there’s something in the way she moves…”

She brushes her hair back and laughs while revealing those pearly whites. “People do say that… that I am different off the stage and on the stage. Like it’s not me.” She laughs some more and exclaims, “Hindi pa ako sumasayaw niyan…”

Lest you think that Agarrado is merely a pretty face, you have another thing coming…

This film major has made music her life. Except for a year or so where she was convalescing from burnout and motherhood, Agarrado has been involved in music in more ways than one.

Aside from writing songs – and this is incredible because she cannot read notes – Kat also designs her band’s albums and liner notes. She manages and gets involved in the making of videos. She performs, tours, and well, lives and breathes music. “The music I make is like my baby,” she coos. “You do everything you have to do to raise it… properly. Or the way you envision it.”

Unfortunately, putting on too many hats can sometimes be draining.

“When I formed Sinosikat, I did a lot; maybe too much,” Kat relates. She pauses to measure her words. The memory of that time makes her wince. “For years, we toured and performed almost non-stop. And after a while of doing that, everyone began to have their own concerns. When the band started drifting apart and after years of working in those roles, I got burned out and slowed down. I just stopped texting back and shut myself down. Now, music has been my bread and butter. I have never had a day job and I wondered what to do.”

Leave it to music to reel you back in. “Ang pumasok na gigs ay as ‘Kat Agarrado’ and I said to myself, ‘Puwede pala ako mag-solo.’ Then Mandarin Hotel was in need of a blues band and I put up one with Wally Gonzalez and Louie Talan to name a few. Every Wednesday was packed. And one time, the Philippine Blues Society organized this challenge where a band would be selected to represent the Philippines in a festival in Memphis, Tennessee. We won! And we got to perform there. It was a great and an eye opener. I met a lot of people who were saying, ‘we didn’t know you had a scene there. You guys should perform even more.’ That led to the Java Jazz Festival, Malasimbo, and others.”

“I started performing with Bras Pas Pas Pas Pas which is a really great band. Then I also started recording my solo stuff but collaborating with different musicians like Noli Aurillo. And I joined (hip hop rock crew) Stick Figgas and in fact, we’re launching our album this Thursday, March 15, at Eastwood.”

As for her solo album, she is looking at a late year release pending a couple of more songs she needs to record.


Isn’t there too much on her plate that could lead to another period of burnout?

“Knock on wood,” and she does just that pausing from sampling some vegetarian paella at the Legazpi Street Market. “You simply have to learn from what happened before. You also have to give yourself time to relax. I also must have time to raise my son, Isa Kyrie, and give him the love and attention he needs. But going to Memphis and Java, you see how you can spread your horizons and that inspires you. You want to spread Filipino music abroad as well.”

The different bands? Performing with four different bands or even solo allows her to live a different facet of her passion.

Nine lives for this Kat?

She laughs and flashes a dazzling smile.

“You can just say, ‘my ever changing moods’ or I just have too much passion. I don’t know – goals? Inspiration?” she postulates. “It is safe to say though that music…. music is my life.”