this story originally appeared in the philippine daily inquirer on May 24, 2015.
“Sa lupang ito’y inialay mga tula at mga awitin/ upang gisingin ang mga damdaming nahihimbing.” —The Jerks
Commercial success is not their business, but rocking (in) this unjust and oppressive social system is. They are the progressive local rock bands: The Jerks, The Wuds and Datu’s Tribe.
I developed a keen interest in Pinoy rock when I was introduced to the now defunct NU107 FM station during my senior year in high school. Then I immersed myself in a wide variety of homegrown music: from the forefathers of Pinoy Rock to the new breed of talent that fills the local airwaves today. When I first heard “Reklamo nang Reklamo” on the radio, I was instantly blown away by its unconventional lyrics and sound. I thought I had never heard something like it before. So I went to Quiapo on a mission: to look for a pirated CD of this band called The Jerks.
Mission accomplished: I bought a copy of the band’s second and self-titled album. I found out later that The Jerks released a live album in 1994, which was recorded in Mayrics Bar and produced by the music genius Gary Granada. I listened to the album over and over again until I memorized its track list. All the songs were either written or cowritten by Chickoy Pura, vocalist and full-blooded national-democrat rock star.
Most of The Jerks’ songs are about the fundamental problems of our society. “Sayaw sa Bubog,” for example, tackles the busted promises of the 1986 Edsa People Power Revolution and its failure to redistribute land to the tillers. Part of the song was edited for it to sound more general, but Chickoy would always use the original lyrics, “Tuloy ang ligaya sa Hacienda Luisita,” during live performances. “VFA,” as the title suggests, is a protest song against the Visiting Forces Agreement that legitimizes US military intervention in the country; “Warning” condemns the rampant extrajudicial killings and human rights abuses in the Philippines. Other songs of the band include: the agitating “Rage,” “Mad Mathematical World,” “Haligi ng Maynila,” “Paalam, Uncle Sam,” “Isa Pang Kanta,” “Linta” and “Minsan Karaniwang Tao.”
With the departure of lead guitarist Nitoy Adriano in 2013, Chickoy Pura is now the only original member of The Jerks that was formed in 1979. Edwin Aguilar has been the band’s bass player since 1995. I’ve seen them perform live quite a number of times, and I’d have to agree that they are indeed one of the best live acts on the local music scene. Aside from their originals, The Jerks’ covers of classic songs—from Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” to the Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer”—never fail to do justice to the original versions. But what I really like about the band is its never-ending enthusiasm whenever it performs for workers and peasants during mass demonstrations.
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Like The Jerks, The Wuds never hesitates to perform in protest rallies. Hailed as among the pillars of Pinoy rock and among the pioneers of the punk movement in the Philippines, Bobby Balingit and Alfred Guevara started spreading Krishna’s word through their music as early as 1983.
The Wuds released two albums—“Oplan Kahon,” which featured the punk rock classic “Inosente lang ang Nagtataka,” and the groundbreaking “Nakalimutan ang Diyos”—with the help of Pinoy rock legend Heber Bartolome. The title track, “At Nakalimutan ang Diyos,” which brilliantly explores man’s quest for wealth and fame, has become the band’s more popular songs through the years.
The songs of The Wuds (the name is based on Jethro Tull’s “Songs from the Woods”) are mirrors of both human and social realities. From the “Gera” album, “Radio-Friendly” illustrates the materialistic nature of the local music business. Of course, there’s the antiwar song “Ang Umibig Sa ’Yo” and Bobby Balingit’s poignant adaptation of “Ti Ricordi Joe,” which remembers World War II in Manila.
I was there at The Wuds’ 30th anniversary concert in July 2013 at Rizal Park. I arrived at the venue when the show was just about to start, and the audience seemed very quiet in anticipation of the band’s first song. Out of excitement I shouted Bobby’s name, and the crowd responded emphatically. Then I saw him, one of Pinoy rock’s most revered figures. He smiled and then he began to intro. That night was unforgettable.
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If The Wuds was never in the mainstream, Datu’s Tribe, on the other hand, was among the successful “alternative” rock bands in the mid-1990s, along with Eraserheads, Rivermaya, The Youth, Teeth, etc. Its debut album, “Galit Kami sa Baboy,” reached gold status. Nevertheless, Datu’s Tribe never compromised the content of its songs nor did it change its unclassifiable, in-your-face style of music.
The band, however, went on early retirement before the turn of the century. But it officially resurrected like a phoenix rising from the ashes in 2007, when it released its second and independently produced album, “Whoa! Pilipinas!”
Founded in 1989, the band earned a reputation for its heartrending and acid-witted songs with sharp political commentary, such as: “Sarsa Platoon” and “Utang na Naman.” It is Pinoy rock’s master of sarcasm, so to speak, with the song “Feelings” as a great example. “Para Que Elsa?” ridicules the hypocrisies of the Christian faith.
Datu’s Tribe has also contributed to environmental awareness with the album “Rapu-Rapu Atbp.,” which includes the song “Para Saan? Para Kanino?”—a discourse on the harrowing effects of imperialist plunder on the Filipino people.
I guess “noble” is just too weak a word to describe the teaching profession if done Eric Cabrera’s way. Aside from being the band’s kick-ass frontman, Cabring promotes social awareness not only in the classroom but also in social media and in mass mobilizations.
It will be impossible to write a tribute to Pinoy rock’s most prominent activist bands without mentioning Jess Santiago, whose music and conviction define a true people’s artist. In a poverty-ridden country where conformity is always trending, Koyang Jess and these bands dare to speak out against the prevailing system. In a dog-eat-dog music industry where popularity is equated to success, they draw the line between commercialism and authenticity.
Long live The Jerks, The Wuds and Datu’s Tribe!
Long live a fighting people!