There is something unsatisfying about the term “music scene” whenever I think about what is happening in Albay. Think about it. “Music scene” just gives a sense of detachment to music as an experience. Being a “scene,” one relates to music in this way as a spectator of some sort. “Music scene” just sounds like a bubble with a life of its own, determined by select key players, and ordinary people placed in the scheme of things as outsiders looking in.
If there is one thing I know about Albay, though, it is that people never want to just be outsiders looking in. They want to be – and are always – involved. You have people watching gigs especially because they are friends with the band playing; you see college students volunteering to organize gigs; you find musicians helping other musicians form a band or fill in for a band’s missing member; you find organizers marrying musical events with other forms of art; you find people excited at posting pictures of themselves during gigs or wearing promotional merchandise; and you even hear of parents taking their children’s band to the local recording studio. Everybody wants to be – and are always – part of the “music scene,” one way or another. Can you call still that just a “scene?”
I prefer the term “music community,” now that I have come to learn more about Albay. At the risk of sounding romantic, I think this captures the experience more accurately. It invites images of people owning the music scene and of breaking down any division between who is and is not part of it: what Albay has is a do-it-yourself music scene, thus, a community.
There are three points at being a community that I would like to elaborate on: first is a shared sense of identity, second is common sense camaraderie, and third is inclusive openness.
The first point is most apparent with how musicians appeal to the broader public through their songs and with how organizers conceptualize projects and events. How many local songs have we heard singing about being an Albayano or Bicolano? You’ve probably heard Buckyard Boyz claim, “I’m from, we’re from, you’re from Albay! We represent the city of smile,” or Mind of Clay challenge listeners in one of their songs, “Uragon ka baga!” Some of the more prominent groups and production outfits also have our cultural identity at the heart of their conception: “Albay Rappers Club,” “Bicol Boys and Bicol Girls,” and of course, “Bicol X.” Countless gigs have also revolved around some sense of shared identity: the compilation album “Tanog Tabaco,” is one example; the recent “Bicol Electric Fest” is another.
The second point is this common sense camaraderie, which I term so for how it does not require dramatic relationships, but a basic sense of sensitivity about what could benefit not only oneself but others. Over the years, the need for local musicians to be heard is constant, but the responses have fortunately built up on each other. The continuous effort at recording songs is one prime site for this. Once, we only had bands recording their own songs individually in their homes or home studios. I remember Pepsi Paloma Experiment and Mudflow to be among the first ones to produce their EPs. Then, with acknowledgment that other bands have songs worthy of recording but don’t have the equipment or skills to record them, Club Molotov set itself up to the challenge of coming up with a compilation album of Albayano bands – by bringing these bands to Naga City, the nearest place you could find a recording studio that time. Today, learning of how costly it can be to bring bands to another province for recording, and with a long-term vision of sustaining the potential of producing original local songs, Bicol X sets up a recording studio in Legazpi City. Believe me when I say that these are no coincidences; for the people behind these distinguishable points in time are more or less the same people, they who are conscious about what the community needs – because they themselves are part of it.
Thirdly, there is an increasing force of inclusive openness. Music here is diverse at best: you have punk, reggae, metal, hip-hop, blues, alternative, pop, and so on. The fact that there is diversity does not only indicate the array of talents here; it also indicates the space bands feel there is for different sounds to flourish. The same goes with bands’ hometowns. It is harder to generalize now where bands come from; more are just coming up from all over Albay and its nearby provinces. Organizers themselves consciously support this diversity, as they often underscore the different genres of the bands they feature for gigs as well as the different towns and even provinces they came from. And I shall not neglect to mention that more women than before are involved at different levels in the music community: you see them organizing events, you notice them on the dance floor or the moshpit, you hear them hosting gigs, you learn of them doing artwork for projects and events, and you witness them headlining music fests.
Of course, like all communities, ours is far from perfect. There are always rough patches here and there. You have misunderstandings between groups, conflicts between bands and organizers, struggles with radio stations, difficulty with venue owners, and so on. The challenge for musicians to write more and better songs remains too, as well as improving their skills. But perhaps, it is these challenges that propel the music community through time. They remind us to appreciate what we still need to work at, prompting us to look back at what we might have done right and what we might do better. And so we do them, together.
We are a music community, after all
About The Author
Weng writes songs and plays the guitar for The Doldrums. She is also among the founders and organizers of Club Molotov. She considers herself a feminist, an atheist, and an academic. She likes well-spiced and fresh seafood, which makes her feel fortunate having Legazpi City as her hometown.