By Tom Banguis, Jr
The title of this email just about summarizes the past week’s journey for a band of 4 very young brothers, rendered homeless and penniless by the storm surge in Tacloban, to the adoring response of an admiring, appreciative audience who were witness to their very first gig in Manila!
Their renditions of 50s, 60s and even 70s music of the Beatles, Beachboys, Dave Clark 5, Bee Gees and other prominent bands of the era were effortlessly perfect, from the intricate instrumentation, to the demanding vocal harmonies! Those fortunate audience who saw their very first performance chipped in a surprisingly generous P37,000 led by Rannie Raymundo, himself a musician, as well as the other co-owners of Primos, a new music lounge at The Hub, Greenfield District (former EDSA Central), who gave the band the very first opportunity to showcase their talent! I never imagined I would see this band showered with such appreciation and importantly, generosity from an adoring audience! Just barely a week ago, I was contacted by a friend in the marketing profession, Rey Fuentes, retired former client at Johnson & Johnson and a Taclobanon, to help some friends of his, a young band, who have been devastated by the typhoon and were fortunately able to make it to Manila on their own, and were now staying in the small apartment of a relative, 8 of them cramped in a room, all sleeping in the floor. He asked if I could audition the band, during my own band’s rehearsals, and check out if they stood a chance of making a living here in Manila.
On Tuesday, Nov 26, at the InfinitiF, a professional band rehearsal studio in Makati, I asked them to play 3 selections. Those who were in the studio including my own band ended up clapping because we heard fantastic talents who could compare with any other popular band in Manila! They performed with polish and finesse normally associated only with mature, much older professional bands! I called up Bobby Caparas, GM of the Primos music lounge, where my own band have gigs and implored him to give this Tacloban boys a break, even just for a meal and “some transport money.” He asked for my “guarantee” that he will not be embarrassed with his patrons, because Primos features only outstanding bands. I gave the assurance without any reservations. He then booked a slot the very next evening, Thursday, Nov. 28.
When I walked in to Primos early evening of the gig date, Bobby was all smiles and quite unexpectedly, Rannie Raymundo embraced and thanked me profusely for bringing the band to their place. Apparently, both of them have heard the band while doing the routinary sound check before gigs, and they were astounded even with the initial pieces that they heard. Importantly, Rannie had been looking for a way to help Tacloban survivors in a meaningful way, and he said, that as a musician himself, he finally found a group which he would be excited and happy to help!
I introduced the band to the Primos audience that night and quite frankly, told them of the band’s plight. They were in Manila for the very first time. Took them 2 days to make it to Manila with a Philtranco bus, fortunately driven by an in-law, and subsisted on candies and biscuits during the trip. Penniless, they begged to be given a ride, with the assurance that the bus company would be paid by a relative when they get to Manila. Their sister, who is wife of the Philtranco bus driver, partly settled their transport expense with the bus company when they reached Manila. They had no money, virtually the only clothes they had were what they were wearing during the trip, but with God’s blessing, they were able to save their all-important guitars! My first impression, in fact when I saw them at the band rehearsal studio was they really looked like “provincianos,” physically unimpressive as they were plain looking, and to top it all, quite shy! But they were different on stage. As they belted out one Beatle song after another, and then moved on effortlessly to cover songs of the Beachboys, Bee Gees, America and surprisingly even Lettermen ballads, they sang confidently and moved like real professionals. The audience was so impressed; they started clapping wildly after every number and chipped in to the “donation box” which the Primos management had provided!
Nilo Raymundo, Rannie’s father who was in the audience was so impressed with the band, he started a fund drive among his friends in the audience! He also promised to have suits tailor made for the band. Rannie, was so touched by the band’s story, but really so much more impacted by their virtuoso performance, pulled out a high-value “Vic Firth” leather bag specially for drum sticks, which he has treasured for the past 18 years, and gave it to the band’s drummer. The audience didn’t want them to stop playing that night, and the boys gladly obliged, perhaps overwhelmed too with the crowd’s wild appreciation! That night at least 2 groups promised them gigs in company events this Holiday season. A friend from the advertising industry offered to recommend and even sponsor their travel expenses, if and when they are selected among a special group of “successful” Tacloban survivors who CNN wants to feature soon in a documentary. I too hired them for a company event on December 6. The Primos management then announced that the band would be back the following evening, Friday, Nov 29. The Friday evening crowd was just as enthusiastic and appreciative of the band who played almost 3 hours of continuous music, displaying the same energy and vivacity from the first piece to the last! More than just a repeat “one-shot” performance, Primos have now engaged the band to regular gigs on Tuesday evenings, which will go a long way in providing them needed presence and stability in Manila, where they have decided to stay while Tacloban is slowly rebuilding. These boys are Ralph, (bass guitar) 17 years old; Reymart (rhythm guitar), 19; RJ (Lead guitar), 21 years old and Reno (drummer) 24. Sons of Rey Otic, who really didn’t want to leave Tacloban but had to give in to the family’s insistent desire to relocate. Even in Tacloban where they had already gained a reputation for musical talent, they are poor and really living on the income from the band’s gigs in hotels and private parties. From the fees from gigs, they could afford to send only one of the boys to school and therefore, the boys take turns with the schooling.
The father of the boys confided that with the money they received Friday night (Note: P10,000 from the donation box and P27,000 from Lino and Rannie Raymundo; their partners and co-owners at Primos, as well as their friends) they were able to pay the cash advance of the boys’ sister for the Philtranco trip to Manila, some new clothes, and sleeping mats. It feels really good to have helped these young talented musicians break into the Manila music scene. Rannie and I, together with Rey Fuentes, have vowed to help guide them as they move on not only to a different, much more competitive Manila music world, but also to give them a chance to improve their station in life, without any kind or form of compensation, as we feel we have already received a bountiful share of God’s blessings! You can watch the “REO Brothers Band” Tuesdays starting Dec 3 at Primos Cuisine and Music Lounge, The Hub, Greenfield District (former EDSA Central). I guarantee that it is going to be a great musical experience for you and your friends! If you or your friends, or your company, need a great band for enjoyable classic rock music, let me know too! I am sure they will only be too happy to oblige.