13 Filipina Vocalists From ‘90s OPM Bands Sing the Eraserheads’ ‘With a Smile’ For a Cause
Luzon has been under enhanced community quarantine for three weeks. Hence, no big parties, shopping sprees at the mall, bar crawls, or live gigs at your favorite music venues. There are bigger, more important things to worry about, after all: friends and family, the long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on society and the economy, and our own health and safety.
Despite the growing uncertainty we’re confronted with every day, there are still seemingly undaunted people who continue to help those in need and uplift people’s spirits through relief efforts, PPE donations, and through fundraising with online pocket concerts.
Adding to the mix of artists who have offered their musical talent for a good cause are 13 female vocalists of OPM acts that saw prominence from the ‘90s to the early 2000s: Melody del Mundo Lucas of Sugar Hiccup; Cooky Chua of Color It Red; QT Paduano of Agaw Agimat; Lei Bautista of Prettier Than Pink; Kris Gorra-Dancel of Fatal Posporos; Hannah Olives of Session Road; former Moonstar 88 vocalist Acel Bisa-van Ommen; Skarlet Brown, former vocalist of of Put3ska and Brownbeat All-Stars; Aia de Leon; Kitchie Nadal; Barbie Almalbis; Bayang Barrios; and Cynthia Alexander.
These 13 women with varying vocal styles and music backgrounds all chipped in to do a cover of the Eraserheads’ “With a Smile” on video. The project was spearheaded by Melody, who is currently based in Los Angeles.
“When I first thought of this, I was just really thinking of uniting us all to sing an inspiring song that would send warmth and love while everyone is in quarantine. This is something impossible to do physically but I know it can be done easily even with social distancing because of social media. I was really excited when I was running the names in my head and what an achievement it would be as this type of collaboration would be the first of its kind. ” she said in an online interview with Esquire.
Like most of us, these music icons are feeling the strain of having an economic crisis. Through an email interview, Cooky, in particular, expressed her concern for the masses.
“I feel very sad para sa karamihan ng mga Pilipino, lalo yung mga casual workers at mga mahihirap na hindi makaka-afford mag imbak ng food and supplies. I wish the government will address these concerns immediately,” she said.
Kris, on the other hand, spoke from a more personal perspective, saying, “We are doing our best to cope, and we're praying for the world and the human race, especially for the frontliners.”
Beacon of hope, love and healing
These women were more than happy to be part of the project, and quite vocal about why they agreed to participate in the first place.
Aia was thrilled to be invited by Melody and QT, whom she considers as pillars of the '90s OPM band scene. But more importantly, she wanted to take part in “the simple act of being able to lift someone's spirits,” —whether it be for frontliners or quarantined folk who need encouragement.
“This is a great chance to share love to everyone,” she said.
While she wasn’t qualified to “answer the call to be a healthcare worker or provider,” Kris felt that she just had to do her part. “Singing was something I could do to help uplift the spirit of my fellow humans.”
“Lifting spirits with music is always a welcome endeavour! Add to that the opportunity to work with female friends who are icons of 90s OPM—how could anyone refuse,” Bayang said.
“I respect and admire all the women artists in this project so it's an honor to be a part of this undertaking,” Cooky said, echoing Bayan’s thoughts.
Skarlet was also enticed by the idea of working with Filipino music icons like herself, but more importantly, simply wanted to do her share.
“I want to be part of something that would contribute to share light and healing, and most importantly, hope—in these dark times,” she said.
No-frills execution that transcends boundaries
Except for Bayang whose husband, singer-songwriter Mike Villegas (of Rizal Underground) was able to create a simple home recording setup, the ladies could only rely on their personal handheld gadgets or laptops to record their vocal chops and film their videos individually—without the assistance of an experienced producer, sound engineer, or other technical crew. They recorded and shot the videos at home, and the domestic surroundings added a cozy charm and feeling of authenticity to the footage.
As Lei put it, “No stage, no lights, no make up. It is also very raw and real—you make do with what you have at home. No pretensions.”
Most of the singers recorded their parts in their houses in Metro Manila, except for Cynthia, who’s based in Washington; Kitchie, who’s in Madrid; QT, who lives in Texas, and Melody. The final video, which combined the separate footage from the 13 women, was edited by Marcel Ramos.
For Aia, the bayanihan spirit set the experience apart from any other previous performance. She was reduced her to tears several times.
“The united purpose of wanting other people to fight another day, challenge disbelief, cling on to sweet hope. I had so many takes because I kept on crying. I was shocked to find my empathy for our frontliners through a song. I truly felt their lives were on the line. And that they risked losing their families for strangers. What kind of love is that? It's staggering.”
Kris, on the other hand, pointed out the power of music as a universal language that transcends geographic limitations.
“It shows that even the physical confinement of musicians cannot stop music from crossing oceans and reaching the whole world. Music can reach you even in places where viruses can't. We hope that the ‘smile’ we are spreading through music will be more infectious than any airborne disease and will strengthen all of us somehow, in the knowledge that we're not alone even when we're required to be distant,” she said.
For musicians, by musicians
Through the video, these 13 talented women hope to encourage willing and able fans to donate to KayaKap, a fundraising campaign for working musicians who are primarily in their senior years, have disabilities, and in dire need of financial support. Musicians belong to the informal economy and are among those financially crippled by the ongoing crisis.
Acel knows the feeling of disadvantaged performers all too well. “I am also a musician, and I know that we just rely on the bookings and shows we have. It will be difficult specially if you are a breadwinner. No work means no pay,” she said. “It is frustrating that you can't do other other things you want to do, and your shows have been cancelled.”
Cooky rode a similar emotional rollercoaster. She recalls, “After the advisory that the government needs to impose nationwide lockdown, na-cancel lahat ng shows ko. Di ko puwede makita ang ibang family members ko and my friends.”
“Para akong na-depress ng two weeks. May days halos maghapon lang umiiiyak o biglang iiyak. May days na sobrang strong ng resolve to be positive at to be productive.”
Nonetheless, these women know that they are serving a noble purpose by being part of the project.
“This performance will help my kapwa-musikero,” said Acel. “It breaks my heart to know someone is struggling. I empathize with people who I know are hardworking, yet struggling for their basic needs. How much more if they have a family to feed? I can't imagine the anxiety and despair they might be feeling.”
“Being a part of this project makes me feel that in my own small way, I can do something to support and help them,” Acel added.
“This is truly dedicated to everyone out there who’s going through the hardships and challenges of this pandemic we are in,” said Melody, who secured permission to cover the song from Ely Buendia himself. “That’s why the song I picked is ‘With A Smile.’ I couldn’t think of a better song that translates the positive message that we can deliver to the world as musicians.”
Each of these 13 women wish to send words of hope and positivity, which are summarised in Aia’s words.
“Remember this time, because we have a task to tell this story to the young ones. You can start by saying, ‘We had an invisible enemy. But we fought with love. We survived, we thrived, we won.’”