Exclusive interview with Bamboo – “We Stand Alone Together: Bamboo’s homage”

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Bamboo during Malaybalay show (BukidnonOnline.com)This exclusive interview with Bamboo was conducted in Bamboo’s hotel room and prior to his band’s concert in Malaybalay City, Bukidnon last February 2007. Bamboo also had a concert in Valencia City, Bukidnon the night before.

Bamboo and Ira were at the interview as well as manager extraordinaire Pancho. The author, Maria Irene, wishes to extend her heartfelt thanks to Bamboo, Ira, Nathan and Vic, members of the entourage and most especially to Pancho for his patience, generosity and friendship. Thanks boys!

(All photos owned by the author. All rights reserved. This interview with Bamboo, Ira and Pancho has also been published in a local newspaper in Bukidnon, a regional newspaper based in Cagayan de Oro and in various blogs and websites. Please contact the author if you wish to arrange for interviews and/or feature stories)

~oOo~

Rule number one in the how-to’s of “If you’re lucky enough to get the chance to spend more than a minute with Bamboo — THE Bamboo Mañalac and his band — and to converse with them” is to first undergo catharsis.

Free your mind of all previous beliefs, doubts and perceptions about the man with the powerful voice and indubitable stage presence, about his award winning band’s history and music and be ready to embrace change — new and happy thoughts, goodness and unsullied ideas. Plus don’t be afraid to face the band with all candidness. Because, really, they’re approachable, unpretentious and matter-of-fact.

I learned these a few days ago when I had the privilege to talk to Bamboo, Ira, their band manager Pancho and other members of the entourage before they proceeded to the venue of their concert. I had the amazing chance to mingle and interview them in one of their hotel rooms. It was not my first time to meet the boys so I sort of knew they’d be nice and all but they still exceeded my expectations that day. I used to think that it took tremendous effort and sheer luck to talk to the guys but I was just pleasantly awed at how regular and affable they all were, despite the fame and pomp surrounding them. I knew from the moment I walked into the room that I was in for a real treat.

Before the interview proper, we even talked about a variety of things — senatorial candidate Chiz Escudero, the Oscars, their upcoming Australia and U.S. tours, their sound equipment, Chinese performers, pineapples, their basketball sessions with EMI Music label mate Hale and even the fact that Bamboo was considered an adopted son of a royal family based in Mindanao. However, as much as I wanted to just spend the entire evening with them, we just had to cut the nearly hour-long chitchat, lest the multitude of people already patiently waiting at the concert venue go on a strike or something.

The popular band just launched their third and newest album, interestingly dubbed “We Stand Alone Together”. It’s a form of homage, Bamboo later explained, to a collection of songs they’ve always wanted to cover. “Tatsulok”, the carrier single, is currently enjoying heavy airplay in radio stations all over the country and loyal fans and supporters just can’t wait to grab copies of the band’s latest outing. The song cum social commentary, dedicated to Filipino activists in the 80’s, was originally sung by the group Buklod and was penned 17 years ago by Romeo Dongeto, a Buklod pioneer member and the same guy who wrote “Kanlungan”, which was also recently popularized by Noel Cabangon and that fast food chain commercial.

Bamboo in Malaybalay (BukidnonOnline.com)Which brings me to my first question, why choose Tatsulok?

Well, first, because it’s a song that we’ve always liked. Sort of a wish list namin dati to cover it. It’s always been there. Matagal na naming narinig yan. More than 10 years ago. It was like perfect timing. Yung mga bata ngayon…you know, they like these positive songs like Hallelujah. Noypi. You know, the ones about change, about hope. It’s a song about — you can be sort of straight and see it word for word. You can see it in like, Marcos time. 80’s, di ba? But ako, I see it as division. About poverty. You can also see it in between the lines, eh. So sa akin naman, parang our idea was…yeah, 17 years passed…but we’re basically still seeing the same things. We’re still singing the same songs. Poverty’s still there. But they say economy’s getting better. Oh, given that. Pero it’s always gotten better but then it really hasn’t done much for the majority of the people.

Is it like your battle cry of sorts, especially now it’s the election season?

Sort of. But not really. Did I make sense? (smiles) Actually, December pa dapat nailabas ang album eh. We were late in the release. Nagkataon lang na lumabas sa election time. Supposedly, first week of December. Pero we were so busy with everything else. With international trips. Ganito, ganito. So nangyari, wala. No time talaga to figure everything out.

(Pancho, who was sitting across the room, affirmed this)

So yeah,…You know, we thought na pagpasok namin nun sa recording, medyo confident na confident kami kasi we thought, covers lang ‘to. Madali lang ‘to. Pero it ended up na mas mahirap pa pala kaysa doing an all original album. Because like Ira always says, para bang maganda at malaking bahay. May mansion ka nang maganda. Ang gagawin mo, gigibain mo and magsisimula ka uli para makagawa ka ng bagong bahay. So ito parang ganito. Di ba, I? Tama ba yun?

(Ira who was then sitting on the bathroom sink and smoking says, “Aye! Tama!”)

Correct! So I’ve noticed that your songs are more inclined towards…

(Bamboo eagerly pops in) So…so…you know…Tatsulok is more of, say, homage? (stresses the last word) A form of homage. These types of songs kasi, it’s in a time, di ba? Kung titingnan mo yung album, the choice of songs ranges from the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s…it’s sort of marked times for us. Like for the 90’s, there was a time, naaalala ko, Atrium. We’re playing weekends live. Manila. Kakaumpisa pa lang namin. There are so many things, you know? May ano siya eh…it charts out eh. And most of the songs are favorites of ours.

So the songs in the new album are your favorites?

Yes, all of our favorites. Oo. Well, some. In fact, there are some songs in there that aren’t exactly my favorites but someone’s favorite. Someone from the band. You do it for them eh, you know what I mean? (grins) You know, I ask them. They ask me. Bigayan. Give in lang yan eh. So hindi lahat paborito ko rin but it’s someone from the band’s favorite. That song means something to that guy. I think that’s what you’re supposed to do as a band. Reciprocate. We had 30 songs. We actually wanted more there pero mahirap eh. Mahirap pala yun.

How would you describe the album?

We’ve been together as a band for four years now so the album will be like a mark before we hit the fifth year. This is like a footnote of our first and second album.

How was it making the album?

(raises his arms) Ah, very difficult! We came in there, thought it’ll be easy. We called up the company and we said, hey, we have 3o songs ready.

Thirty songs?

Yeah, yeah. Lakas nga ng loob eh (laughs) Start out 3o songs. We had Smashing Pumpkins, we had some songs that we really wanted like Joni Mitchell’s “Help”, U2…

Is this like the pinnacle of everything?

No, no…not at all. I actually think this is just the beginning. As I said, it marks a time. Then you leave behind all these. Lahat ng ideas in the past five years, buhos na namin, andito na. Pagsawaan na, alam mo yun? End of a trilogy, you know? Para when we move on to the next album, fresh na. Something new na. New songs, new ideas, new productions. May bagong tunog. When we did this album, I didn’t go to the studio with the same things in mind. Iba yung frame of mind ko. When we tackle our own stuff kasi, it’s different eh. It’s more intense, in a way. This one’s harder because we have to create something new from something that’s there na. Yung original kasi, it’s your baby.

Bamboo Bukidnon show (BukidnonOnline.com)I haven’t heard Tatsulok in its original form…

I heard it’s a great song. Really good. Well, first, it’s acoustic. The real thing is on acoustic. Which reminds me (he turns to Pancho)…on the web site itself, Panch, parinig natin yung original form. Para people would have an idea where these came from. Like Probinsiyana…Probinsiyana from Anak Bayan. Iba talaga eh. We even added a verse pa. I mean, the third verse is our verse. So we sort of…parang Probinsiyana 2007 ‘to eh. Parang it’s already updating na to fit the time now.

All right. Can I ask some non-album related questions? Like what happened to senatorial candidate Chiz Escudero’s invitation for you to endorse him daw? Or maybe not na lang. Pancho already explained to me kanina…

(Pancho says, “yeah, it’s management’s decision na huwag na lang mag-endorse because may mga conditions sa contracts namin with sponsors”)

Hmm…no, no, I’ll answer that. I want to answer that. You know, it’s the band’s decision also eh. That we, as a band, we choose din not to endorse anyone. We can perform, yes. If they invite us to perform, that’s fine. Kasi naniniwala kami na people should choose and vote wisely and be responsible for their own votes. If they want to vote for someone, do their research, di ba? Alamin anong kakayahan nung kandidato niya, anong gusto at kaya niyang ibigay talaga, anong background niya, ganun talaga, not because sinabi ko. Yun ang ayokong mangyari eh. Na sinabi ko, sinabi namin. No, don’t take my word for it, di ba? It’s your own responsibility. We choose our leaders. Kumbaga, don’t pass the buck. Don’t pass that responsibility to me, to us.

(Ira, who was now sitting on the bed, says, “it’s a big responsibility eh”)

Yeah, and I don’t think we’re serious enough about that eh. Parang itong elections, it’s our time to stand up, you know what I mean? You have to have a voice. It’s your time to have a voice. Like Ira always says, if you don’t vote, you can’t complain.

(Ira says, “yep, that’s true”)

With your song Noypi in mind, do you think “buo na ang loob” ng mga Filipinos ngayon? Do you think they’ll make the intelligent decisions come election time?

Well I hope. Ako, I always hope. Para sa akin, I see it more sa children. Sa kids. Yung effect ng mga kanta. I think it’s with them. It’s gonna bear weight talaga eh. Sana our songs will really inspire them. Sana they can really get the full meaning talaga. In our time now, yung sa atin, (gestures between me and himself) I don’t know, I don’t know (shakes his head) We become jaded. We become cynics. Iba-iba na eh. Pero sa mga bata, di pa naman namamatay ang idealism eh, di ba? They still have that spark. And also, part of the proceeds of the album will go to UNICEF, which of course helps with children’s rights. So we like that. Na socially we know what’s happening. We do something about it. You know, be more aware. Be…how do you say it?

To not be apathetic?

(Ira – “Yun! Mismo!”)

Yeah, that’s right. That’s what we’re fighting for. Ever since we started as a band. Ever since day one. That’s always been a part of our mission, vision. We’ve always wanted to give back.

Pero I thought, you know, when you came back and everyone knew that you’re gonna have this new band, parang shoo in na yung fame eh, parang understood na…

No, no…I remember yung time na yun, there were bets pa nga there na…ah, wala yan, nothing good will come out of that. There were talks pa na, nah, that won’t last. There were votes on websites. Yeah, really. But we actually felt good about that. Less pressure, I guess. The underdogs.

(Ira says, “okay lang basta guwapong underdogs”. Bamboo laughs)

Is it your first time here? How do you find it so far?

Is it our first time here, Panch? No, di ba? First time to play but we always pass by. From GenSan. From CDO. Never had the chance to stop though.

Sayang…

Ah (looks sad) That’s pretty much our story, though. All we see…eto ha, radio stations, stage, hotel, airport. Not only in the Philippines. Like in Bahrain. Akala namin, uy, we’re abroad. We have time. Ikot tayo. Pero ayun, wala rin. Except sa U.S., dun talaga, we really asked for some free time kahit one day lang.

Last question before we go to the concert venue. How would you want people to describe your band? How would you want people to remember you?

Ako ha, sabihin ko sayo. Mahirap yan. All I hope is that we’ve made our mark. That’s it. Through our songs, we can share our opinions lang. Whether you agree with us or not, at least may discussion, may usapan. Yun lang gusto namin.

(Ira – “Hanep!”)

Thanks guys!

You know, in ten years, a lot will change. Filipino bands will go global na. The internet’s there. Like now, we’re going to Indonesia na. The other bands are also doing it. The international album thing. Ours is coming out in Singapore and Thailand also. It’s a combination of the first and second albums.

International stardom here comes Bamboo!

(smiles) Napansin nga lang namin sa mga people there ha…kasi di ba we have Tagalog songs? We took them out sa international album. But the Singaporeans, when we went there to play in a music fest, mas jam sila sa Tagalog songs eh. Noypi. Hallelujah. They were familiar with those songs. Nararamdaman nila eh. They hear the conviction. They hear the power of the song. Music is music. Maiba man race mo. It’s absolutely universal. That’s what we learned lang na sa next time, we keep the Tagalog songs (grin)

(Ira – “Yeah, keep the album as it is”)

Yes, keep it as it is.

(Ira – Oo, tama yun)

Pero you always think na pag international, all English. You know…West. Pero it’s changed na eh. Southeast Asia kasi has bared its fangs na, I guess, in terms of music and stuff. It’s become a contender na. Filipinos naman, nakakalat na. You know what I mean? Sa Dubai, we sold out there. 250,000 people nga daw in Dubai eh. Imagine, andami nun. I don’t know how many Filipinos there are in the U.S. pero of course marami din dun. I think we’re like the 3rd largest sa population.

Really?

Yeah! Sa Singapore nga, konti lang mga Pinoys dun pero when you go there, tight sila. You know, we went nga to a bar there, it’s a small club, we met the Consul there. Andun yung Consul. You can just approach her. May pastor nga daw, pumupunta din dun. Kahit saan. We gotta represent, di ba?

Right. Gotta represent. Thank you guys.

I liked your questions. Thanks, thanks. The interview was great, right Ira?

(Ira smiles and gives a thumbs up sign)

Bamboo (photo by Irene, www.BukidnonOnline.com and www.Mindanaoan.com)

Truly, Bamboo, Ira, Vic and Nathan have come a long way since their founding which could be traced back to that fateful telephone call Bamboo placed to Nathan. The band has come a long way since their days of performing for free beer or just for the chance to perform. Now on their fourth year together, the band is stronger, more resolute in their choice of songs, more eager to pour ideas and then move on to something new and more certain in many ways that their fans and supporters will continue to be there to listen and cheer them on.

These days, Bamboo, Ira, Vic and Nathan, along with their management team, are not only in this for themselves, for their loved ones and for their fans but also because they’re heeding to the clarion call for change, hope, love, peace and passion, as evidenced in their tie-up with a global organization fighting for kids’ rights and welfare.

So yes, meeting and conversing with Bamboo is something as exciting as a new discovery. You learn to see another side of the band members that you thought you already knew. You learn to appreciate their history, objectives and opinions more. And, I daresay, exchanging thoughts with the band adored by hundreds of thousands of people across the globe is like reaching a certain pinnacle of your life. Take my word for it…really, they’re approachable, unpretentious and matter-of-fact.

Other songs included in their newest album are “Probinsiyana” written by Edmon Fortune and Alex Cruz (Ira’s dad) of the band Anak Bayan, “Umagang Kay Ganda”, the 1979 Metro Manila Pop Music Festival winner, their version of Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave A Lover”, Pearl Jam’s “Alive”, Carol King’s “So Far Away” and the inspirational song “Prayer for the Dying” by Seal. What also makes their newest album very unique is that it comes with a jam-along CD.

We Stand Alone Together is now available in music stores nationwide. Log on to www.bamboo.com.ph for more details. (MISA)

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