Why Ebe Dancel Almost Quit Playing Music: "I Couldn’t Even Touch My Guitar"

The former frontman of Sugarfree is set to play his 20th anniversary show next year.
IMAGE Cyrian Agujo

There was a period last year when Ebe Dancel nearly hung up his guitar and quit the industry altogether. The erstwhile frontman of OPM favorite Sugarfree took a months-long hiatus from playing live to sort out his feelings. 

“I was really tired and it felt like there were shows na napipilitan na lang ako kumanta (that I was forced to just sing the songs),” he says during the presscon for his first-ever solo show scheduled in February 2020. “I lost my sense of purpose as a musician.”

Dancel said there were times when he was on “autopilot,” playing songs the audience wanted to hear, and then “come back to reality” when he was done. He’d say thank you and do it all over again.

“I think it’s a disservice to the stage, to my friends, my bandmates, my manager and to everyone who loves me,” he said. “So I told my manager I’m going to take a break. She said, ‘How long?’ And I said we’ll see. But what I really meant was that I never want to play again.”

It was a dark period for Dancel, who, through the years, has become a household name both for his songs with Sugarfree and as a solo artist.

“I couldn’t even touch my guitar when I was at home. Every time someone would sing my song (on the street), I would move away.”

Photo by Cyrian Agujo.

Photo by Cyrian Agujo.

Life purpose

What got Dancel through was realizing his life’s purpose. That, like any other profession like being a doctor or lawyer, he was put on this earth for a reason.

“I really feel that my purpose on this planet, what God gave me, is to be onstage, to play music. To make people happy. 

“Or sad,” he adds, grinning. “Kasi nalulungkot sila sa mga kanta ko. (Some people get sad with my songs).”

It was after doing a benefit show and taking in all of the love and support from the crowd that Dancel rediscovered the motivation and strength to keep going. After that, he asked his manager to start booking shows for him again.

Photo by Cyrian Agujo.
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The original lineup of Sugarfree—Dancel, Jal Taguibao and Mitch Singson—started playing small bar gigs in the late 90s and early 2000s. In January 2003, they released their first album called Sa Wakas, a collection of songs about heartbreak, nostalgia and the highs and lows of being young. The album introduced the band to a wider audience and herald them as the next bright thing in OPM. 

The band would go on to record three more studio records plus a live album before disbanding amicably in 2011. Dancel has since pursued a solo career, writing and recording songs for TV shows and films, and collaborating with many other local artists, including with pals Johnoy Danao and Bullet Dumas as one-third of 3D.

Photo by Cyrian Agujo.

Photo by Cyrian Agujo.

On his first big solo show, where he will be backed by the Manila String Machine, Dancel says people shouldn’t discount the possibility of special guests turning up and helping him celebrate 20 years as a singer and songwriter.

“My problem is I never think that far ahead,” he said half-jokingly about what audiences can expect at the show. “That’s for my manager (to worry about). My philosophy is, when I was playing nonstop, I was just looking ahead, di ko napapansin yung mga nasa tabi ko (I didn’t notice the people beside me). When I came back, I decided I’ll just be here in the moment. And let my manager deal with all of the stress.

“I don’t really care if people remember my name or my face,” he added. “Yung kaisa-isang maipapamana ko sa pamilya ko, sa mga pamangkin ko, is yung mga kanta ko. (The only thing I can pass on to my family is my music). That’s all I have in this world. Anything material, kaya nilang bilhin (they can buy on their own). But the songs, as long as it stays in the hearts and minds of people of different generations. I think that’s what makes what I do special. Not the person, it’s the songs. That’s all I care about."

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Paul John Caña
Associate Editor, Esquire Philippines
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