A few weeks ago, my officemate announced via YM that Rivermaya disbanded. This friend of mine isn’t given to gossip, but the fact that he mentioned it I knew it was huge.
Of course it turned out that its lead singer and chief lyricist Rico Blanco had left the band on the eve of signing the biggest contract of any Filipino band ever by an international label.
I didn’t know about that then except that one of my favorite bands had gone the way of most of its 90’s peers – a long footnote in perhaps the greatest band explosion in Philippine music. I had more pressing concerns so while I made mental note of the sad news, I had more to worry about because I was leaving my job of two years under acrimonious circumstances – that is another story.
It was just a few days ago that I got to fully comprehend the circumstances surrounding Rico Blanco’s departure from Rivermaya. I read what I could about ‘Maya’s history and what happened in Rogue issue #2, the internet and in forums. And there was the podcast interview with the three remaining members on Philmusic.com. I didn’t sleep well after listening to the – what – 80-minute long interview.
Like most if not all, I want the band to continue. Several years ago, basketball player Olsen Racela, who was a batchmate of Blanco’s during our time in Ateneo together, introduced me as a fan who wanted to do a story on the band. I had seen the band play like eight times already (including two with former frontman Bamboo Manalac) and it was a thrill to be a guest of the band backstage. We had a long chat outside Dish as Rico patiently answered and elaborated on his thoughts about the band, their music, their roots, and direction. And it was great that I got him to sign all my ‘Maya CDs. When I relocated to the United States years ago, I only brought with me a three OPM CDs and two of them were Rivermaya albums (the other was Sugar Hiccup’s Womb). I would not bump into him again until an ABL game about a year later.
So as Japs Sergio eloquently and heartfully penned, “Sayang.” But life goes on. I mulled over the departure of Rico and asked myself, has any band at their peak survived the loss of its frontman or key member (sans their death)?
The Beatles didn’t survive the loss of Paul McCartney; even were it John Lennon then it would have had the same effect. Sting’s solo musings ended the Police. The Eraserheads tried to continue with Kris Gorra as lead singer but they were truly better off as another band not as the ‘Heads though (they did as Cambio). Rage Against the Machine continued as Audioslave when Zach De La Rocha left, but as okay as the band was, they weren’t a kick ass outfit they way they were as RATM.
Van Halen might be an exception as Sammy Hagar still made some relevant music with Van Halen after David Lee Roth left.
That 80’s supergroup Asia may is one band that survived numerous line-up changes, but after John Wetton was ousted as lead singer, that ended their best line-up and whatever success they had from thereon. John Payne did well as they recorded a number of albums afterwards, but as much as I hate to say this coming from a fan, they hardly made a dent in the world of music. Should commercial success be a barometer of the band’s relevance and impact? Asia made more albums under the partnership between John Payne and original member Geoff Downes, but some times I wonder if it was dinosaurs like me who only knew of the band.
Another exception might be that longtime supergroup, Fleetwood Mac. They have the luxury of being a band made where the other members can pick up the slack despite missing a member here or there. When they lost Bob Welch, Christine McVie, Stevie Nicks, and Lindsey Buckingham stepped in front of the mike. In their last album, keyboardist and vocalist McVie was out of the line-up, but they still had Buckingham and Nicks to carry the load and they were okay.
Prog rock outfit Yes had some success after losing Jon Anderson (they picked up the Buggles’ Trevor Horn) and Tears For Fears that was minus Curt Smith for two albums before reunion brought the partnership with Roland Orzabal back together. But the momentum from their last great album, The Seeds of Love, was long gone.
And that leads me back to Rivermaya. After Bamboo left, I wondered how they’d continue but Rico Blanco more than made up for it and they made their best music afterwards. After listening to Bagong Liwanag, the three-piece outfit of Mike Elgar-Mark Escueta-Japs Sergio take the sound to a bit back to the sing-song style they had with “Ulan” and “Elesi.” There's a more Pinoy feel back to it. Missing is the Brit-rock influence in the music’s texture and groove.
I liked three of the new songs in “Banda Ng Bayan,” “Sumigaw,” and “Olats” and I know that after this EP, they’ll find their new sound altogether for their next album. I know they lost a lot when Rico left, but I guess that’s part of the challenge. Mabuhay ang Rivermaya!
Check out the tracks: "Banda ng Bayan," "Sumigaw," and "Olats"