Saturday, 19 May 2018

Meet the Cast of Emma - the Musical

July 7, 2018, marks the world premiere of Emma the Musical, an original Filipino musical in English, at the Myer Horowitz Theatre. Set on the cusp of the Japanese occupation of 1942, it is a story of perseverance, faith and resilience of the Filipino spirit, in peace or in war, and regardless of any sacrifice.

Under my artistic direction, with choreography by Jojo Lucila, music by Erica Cawagas and script by Chie Floresca, the musical is headlined by a zealous cast: Cameron Gamez, Carlos Gamo, Cassandra Baltazar, Catherine Lelis, Danielle Yu, Gerald Penaco, Hannah Adamson, Hans Casana, James Velasco, Jeannine Naboye, Jimmy Buena, Jo-ann Aguilar, Joshua Zoleta, Julius Ylagan, Lauren Lizada, Maicah Macatangay, Mark Laraya, Marjorie Galido, Raphael Tolentino, Riana Torre, Simonette Brigola, and Veronica Knodel.

When I accepted the artistic directorship of the musical, the production had been in rehearsals for 3 months already. Admittedly, I was reluctant in working with a group that I did not personally select and cast. And so on my first rehearsal day, I drilled down the value of commitment, perseverance and respect for the art. In other words, they were given the hard line talk to prepare them for hard work and being pushed beyond their comfort zones. And boy, did they deliver and face challenges head on. Now on the homestretch of the production timeline, I can truly say that it is a privilege to know and work with each one of them.

The cast is a mixture of seasoned performers, emerging artists and newbies. Some intend to make a career in the performing arts, and some are just testing the waters. One of the young members of the cast was so serious that she handed me her resume on day 1. They have varying reasons why they joined the musical - from the hilarious anecdote of being hardballed by a relative, to the lofty objective of pushing Filipino stories. They live full lives apart from the musical but manage to come together as a family for rehearsals. Let's hear directly from some of the cast members about their production experience and thoughts:

Riana: Sharing some of the history of the Philippines through a musical was very appealing as I love music and history. Emma has helped me better connect to history as there is this dissociation at times when you just read about history in a textbook. The most difficult part in this production is knowing that while I may play this as a part, this was a real experience that countless people underwent. It makes my chest ache and we have cried many times during rehearsal as even a taste of the pain that people had to bear during this time, and the courage they had to exhibit in the face of death is something that absolutely floors me. I don't know how one could have survived through these conditions, but they did.

Danielle [who plays the title role]: Knowing that it was an original Filipino musical based on true events made me that much more interested to mold and shape the story and portray it to its truest potential. Many of Emma's family and friends will be sitting in the audience reminiscing about her experiences, and we need to give justice to their stories.

Maicah: I've created new friendships and amazing memories with the cast. I'm very thankful to experience all of it. In portraying my role, I did find some similarities with my character, like our optimism and fighting for what we believe in. After this production, I plan to start composing and writing songs again.

Jimmy: I joined Emma because I would like to share my talent that God bestowed upon me. The people involved in the musical are my second family. It has been my desire to be part of a musical may it be local or international, and I will continue my passion in singing may it be off or on stage.

And why should people watch Emma? In Riana's words, the show moves you on a rollercoaster ride and has all the elements of a great story with love, action, loss, and bravery all wrapped in one beautiful musical. And Julius states it succinctly: I would say that this story, could be any of us, obviously not exactly the same, but listening to our grandparents on their bed telling us how they survived a war, how they found love, how they went through pain, and how in the end all of that made them even stronger as human beings. When people watch Emma, they are going to learn so many different things about the Filipino culture that they may or may not already know, but if there's one thing I really want people to take away and learn from this musical, it's this: it's to fight for what you love.

When you watch Emma, you will not only see a snippet in time of Philippine history, but you will witness the performers' own stories on overcoming challenges, extending personal boundaries in the commitment to bring to life someone else's dreams, and in the process, fulfilling their own. Don't miss this opportunity of youthful enthusiasm and artistic energy!

Emma the Musical is presented by the Filipino Canadian Saranay Association. Tickets are available through Ticketfly or message the Emma the Musical FB page, or any of the production team.

This article was published in the May 2018 issue of the Alberta Filipino Journal.

Friday, 20 April 2018

Sherwin Calaluan - a Serendipitous Life through the Lens

Renowned photographer Annie Leibovitz once said "I wish that all of nature's magnificence, the emotion of the land, the living energy of place could be photographed." Considering Sherwin Calaluan's start and journey in photography, this quote might just as well be his.

Sherwin Calaluan is an accidental photographer whose images have been gracing publications and winning awards and competitions. He is originally from Isla Verde, a small island located between Batangas City and Mindoro. After obtaining his degree in Hotel and Restaurant Management in 2006, he went to Canada to work as a housekeeper at the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel. And when you live in Banff, how can you not be impressed
with the magnificence of nature? Sherwin remarks, "When I first came to Canada way back in 2007, I fell in love with the beautiful sceneries in Banff National Park. I met fellow kababayans who convinced me to buy an entry level camera Nikon D90 with kit lens and
joined them exploring the Rockies. After work we would go out to catch the sunset or during days off, we would go for sunrise trips. From the moment I started documenting the changing, rugged landscapes in the mountains and the wildlife that they host, I was hooked. It became my testing ground and eventually opened the door for more opportunities in photography."

Sherwin has no formal training in photography and would hone his craft by watching tutorial YouTube videos and studying the works of his favourite landscape photographers.
Soon after, this accidental photographer started garnering notice and acclaim for his images. Among these are: Canadian Wildlife Federation Landscape Category Winner 2016; Outpost Magazine 2016 Landscape Category Award; front cover of Canadian Geographic Quiz (2016-2017); front cover for the Canadian Geographic 2017 Calendar Edition; Moscow Foto Awards 2017, Silver Award in Panoramic Category; Epson International Panorama Awards 2017 Bronze Award; and for 2018, First Prize for Mountain Landscape Category at the Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival, where there were more than 500 participating landscape photographers and filmmakers. He has been featured by CBC and has had 2 Solo Art Exhibitions at the Banff Library and Banff Film Festival Gallery Hop.

Feeling blessed to be able to experience the beauty of nature and capture its magnificence, Sherwin further enjoys the opportunities to meet and interact with people equally
passionate about photography. He is the first one to stress though, that his journey in photography, even if unexpected, is fraught with strains. He may have been bestowed with accolades, but he has also been showered with challenges. Sherwin shares, "Photography is not an easy job. I would say, one of the biggest challenge is how to balance time between my full time job, my family (I have a 4 year old daughter) and my photography. Because of the nature of my chosen field, another big challenge is the weather. Most of the time, I am along shooting for sunrise/sunset, and the weather here in the Canadian Rockies is very unpredictable, it might be calm in a minute but in a blink of an eye, it can turn into a blizzard." Photography is a yardstick for patience. To quote art critic John Berger, "What makes photography a strange invention is that its primary raw materials are light and time."

Although Sherwin is most known as a landscape photographer, he also shoots portraits and anything else that captures his attention, shows character and tells a story. His
favourite things to capture though are sunrises, sunsets, the northern lights and winter scenes, particularly when the surroundings are blanketed in snow. He dreams of eventually having his own gallery and be a full-time landscape photographer traveller. In his bucket list is to shoot the Patagonia in Chile, Tombstone National Park, Yukon Alberta, Mayon Volcano and Banaue Rice Terraces in the Philippines.

Sherwin found his passion in an unexpected way and discovered a new, unpredicted life. With his own journey, he hopes to inspire people in pursuing their dream and their heart's desires. His advice to aspiring photographers, "Go outside and experience the beauty of nature. Keep pressing the shutter speed and follow the light while the sun reveals the colours of the clouds. Don't be afraid to be criticized by others but instead use it as a positive way to improve yourself. And have fun!" As French photographer Marc Riboud says, "Taking pictures is savouring life intensely, every hundredth of a second."

Sherwin Calaluan's images are available for purchase. Check out his Facebook page @sksherwin and his website at sherwincalaluanphotography.ca.


This article was published in the April 2018 issue of the Alberta Filipino Journal.

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Erica Cawagas - 2017 Cultural Diversity in the Arts Recipient

 Erica Cawagas was one of 17 recipients of the 2017 Cultural Diversity  in the Arts project grant, as announced by the Edmonton Arts Council (EAC) last February. This project grant was established by the  City of Edmonton through EAC “to recognize that artists from all parts of the world enrich Edmonton’s cultural scene. Grants will support the activities of individual, Edmonton artists for a specific time towards a specific project.” Erica’s grant is in support for “Emma - the Musical” of which she is the Musical Director and will premier on July 7, 2018 at the Myer Horowitz Theatre.

As the daughter of piano and rondalla teacher Roujea Cawagas Cates, it was inevitable for Erica to be caught in the music world. She started with the piano but it was only when she got hold of a guitar that she found this sense of rightness, of finding her soul instrument, the medium that would express her feelings and thoughts that she dared not express verbally. She also discovered that she could play by ear. Since then, Erica has played with the Filipino Canadian Saranay Rondalla group, and participated in Kiwanis Music Festivals. For post-secondary, she studied Music Composition at the Grant MacEwan University with the intent of performing in cruise ships, as a means to travel around the world. This shifted though when during the course of her studies, she discovered that she would much rather compose than perform, and was enthralled in the process of putting together different instruments. Erica describes her music as complex, melancholic and contemporary but influenced by the romantic period.


Right after finishing her Music Composition diploma, Erica went to Manila. There she did musical scoring for UNICEF children’s books, with Anne Curtis doing the live reading; and for the MathDali show under the Knowledge Channel Foundation. It was during this time that work on the Emma - the Musical commenced.

Emma - the Musical is based on Erica’s great grandmother’s stories on the Japanese occupation of the Philippines. Written by her aunt Chie Floresca with music by Erica, Emma was originally intended as a mini-presentation for their great grandmother’s 95th birthday. Unfortunately, she passed away before her birthday. As a way to honour their matriarch, they resolved to make her stories a full-length musical. And this is where Erica has been devoting most of her time these days till its premiere here in Edmonton in July.

For someone who right off the bat declared that she does not do well expressing herself verbally, a face  to face interview must have been uncomfortable, at the very least. In conversations, Erica tends to focus on facts and details, and appears hesitant to open up about emotions, fortifying her initial declaration. This is how you appreciate what her music is to her and how important a role it plays in her life. Music is her shield. “People can listen to my music and they can say what I want to say for me.” This hesitancy to verbally communicate, however, may be the only place she falters. For Erica is a person with dogged determination. With her music for Emma, in particular, she was able to galvanize a group of young singers/cast, long before the rest of the production aspects came into play. Working with her in my capacity as artistic director of the musical allows us artistic leeway, with musical arrangement requests being done right on the spot. Her sheer determination to mount this musical lead to her assuming a producer role on top of being a musical director. And her ambition enables her to acknowledge the necessity of overcoming her introvertness.


Erica is at the cusp of her music journey. Emma - the Musical is her biggest and most personal project so far. It is an ambitious project that not only benefits her artistic career but contributes to the Edmonton repertoire of Asian musicals. With Emma, she not only wants to share her great grandmother’s stories, but to bring to the forefront a period of Philippine history that is not often talked about. And for Erica, there will always be the aspiration to tour the musical to different cities and to stage it in a greater magnitude, with full orchestration. These, hopefully, may just become a reality soon.

Tickets for Emma - the Musical are on sale through Ticketfly. For more information, check the Emma - the Musical Facebook page. Emma - the Musical is under the Artistic Direction of Ida Beltran-Lucila, with Choreography and Musical Staging by Jojo Lucila, Script by Chie Floresca and Musical Direction by Erica Cawagas. The musical is presented by the Filipino-Canadian Saranay Association.

This article was published in the March 2018 issue of the Alberta Filipino Journal.

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Baisas Brothers: A Story of Fire and Ice

There is a team of Filipinos firing up the international ice carving circuit. These are the Baisas Brothers, specifically Ross and Antonio Baisas, representing both the Philippines and Canada. They are international ice carving champions, having won more than two dozen awards, most recent of which were the 1st place for both Ice on Whyte in Edmonton and at the Winterlude in Ottawa. 

Currently based in Montreal (Ross) and Ottawa (Antonio), the Baisas Brothers hail from the Philippines’ wood carving capital, Paete, Laguna. In this town, carving is something passed on from one generation to the next, a milestone of a childhood, and possibly a rite of passage, and where everyone whiles away the time whittling wood. The name Paete has as its root word “paet”, which means chisel. Surrounded with this way of life and the fact that carving is the town’s main source of income, it is not uncommon for people of Paete to find their way working in hotels and cruise ships as carvers with ice, fruit, vegetables and pastries. This was the ticket that lead Ross and Antonio to Quebec and work for casinos under Loto-Quebec.

Competing as ice sculptors is no walk in the park. First of all, the main ice carving competitions are prestigious, and competitors are screened and selected. The rules of a competition are stringent. There are thematic and technical conditions to follow. Designs are submitted way in advance. So to be in the roster of competitors is already a feat by itself, and winning takes it to a level of incredible recognition and accolade. An ice sculptor has to have the artistic eye, the skills, the technical know-how, the instinct to adjust to the dictates of uncontrollable variables like weather, temperature, sunlight, and imposed time constraints. As if these are not intimidating enough, one has to be physically fit and with endurance. One is expected to haul on average 10-15 blocks of ice, hauling and stacking about 135 kg, working in frigid temperature for 34 hours, and working with power tools, i.e. chainsaw, grinder, gas cylinder, chisels, among others. On top of these, there are competition requirements on safety and environment care that need to be met while working.


The Baisas Brothers have been doing the route of competitions for 15 years now, travelling around the world and garnering recognition in Canada, the United States, and Europe. They compete in 3-4 international competitions a year, on average. They are not only judges’ choices but are more often than not, media and public favorites. Ice is their favorite medium because of its translucency and crystalline quality, and the challenges it presents with its solidness and unpredictability.  Yet they have created stunning works with pasta, chocolate, sugar, grease, fruit and vegetables, snow and sand. No medium is spared, and they seem to get fired up with the challenges of working with each medium, in unraveling the secrets, and gaining mastery in its manipulation, and eventually, stretching the boundaries.

Artists find their way to ice sculpting through different ways. Some are formally schooled or mentored. The Baisas Brothers are self taught. But their training and learning is endless. Despite all their accolades, up close the brothers are unassuming, friendly and with a wicked sense of humour. In outlook, they are positive and adaptable. At work, they are exacting, perhaps their own worst critic, analyzing their own flaws but taking it as a lesson to further their art. As partners, one complements and supports the other. Ross is adept at shaping and Antonio’s forte is the finishing and detailing. They are able to sense each other’s moods, and anticipate needs without verbal communication. They claim that they will keep on going as long as there is something they can conjure which they have not tackled yet. The possibilities are endless, limited only by the imagination. 


Ice carving is art and engineering, also skills and heart. The Baisas Brothers execute this through their burning passion, combined with cold grit. Amidst the cold environment they’ve chosen as their arena, is the fire to achieve greater heights, stoke their passion and enjoy the ride. My impression is that ice sculpting competitions allow a sense of superhumanness, an adrenaline rush - brought about by using power tools in unbearable conditions. Ice sculptors, having challenged themselves with their designs, work with full concentration, grit and determination, with all senses heightened since a small error, or mindless slip, could be fatal. They are a rare breed and it is stirring that blazing through this international circuit is a team of Filipino artists. Amidst the snow and ice, the Baisas Brothers, Ross and Antonio, are on fire!

This article was published in the February 2018 issue of the Alberta Filipino Journal.
All photos c/o Ross Baisas.

Sunday, 28 January 2018

Behind the Masks of the Girls of the Crazy Sexy Cool (GCSC)

Victor Hugo said that Laughter is the sun that drives winter from the human face. Within the Filipino circle, there is a group gaining increasing popularity and following, very visible in most Filipino events and concerts, and headlining their own shows bringing laughter and fun to their audience. This group is The Girls of Crazy Sexy Cool (GCSC).

The GCSC is a trio of transgender performers: Isabella Araneta-Marquez, Jerome Salvador Weissbach in real life, a retail manager with Guess; Mimi Flowers, aka John Cabarrus who works in Hospitality at the Matrix Hotel; and V'gina Grande, aka Juven Paul Somcio, also a retail manager in another Guess location. Isabella and Mimi met about four years ago while doing individual guestings, and then formed the group The Girls of Crazy Sexy Cool as a comedy and singing act at the Panciteria de Manila, with the prodding of Bayani Alcantara. The trio then consisted of Isabella, Mimi and Megan Starr (by Jerome Martinez, who has since returned to Manila, and replaced by V'gina Grande).

"Dying is easy, comedy is hard" is a popular quote with actors. With this group, not only do they face the challenge of making people laugh but simultaneously hurdle issues of prejudice on their gender orientation and subsequently, their capabilities. The GCSC was initially formed as a way of having fun and as a form of personal expression. After a couple of years, this objective evolved into gaining more popularity and fame. But lately, it has transformed into an altruistic objective of bestowing joy, respite and a sense of affinity with their audience. And it is this latter purpose that propels them to forge ahead, taking into stride the negative perceptions and viewing every critical comment as a chance to improve, to focus on the positive aspects and to remain true and authentic to their passion and identified calling.

To the outsider, it may seem to be all fun and games for this trio. But cognizant of the difficulty they have hurdled individually and as a group, and in anticipation of impending challenges to attain bigger dreams, they work hard. Show or no show, they have committed to meeting at least twice a week to brainstorm, practice their songs and choreography, and work on their styling to fine tune their acts. Their lives rotate around the GCSC so much that the daily encounters are now a source for their acts where an observation, a simple event or a thoughtless remark is immediately jotted down and worked as a spin-off or punchline for future acts. They are serious with their craft, and they aim to be taken seriously as performers. Their journey of four years has taken them beyond their expectations - from individual guestings as a hobby, to becoming fillers then regular front acts for shows, and finally, headlining their own shows and touring these shows. They are surprised by their popularity, of being recognized in public places, and are deeply touched by their audience's heartfelt regard of them, relayed face to face or via social media.

However remarkable these achievements are to them though, they are unanimously grateful for the intangible benefits they derive from the group. For the GCSC is not just an entertainment act for them, but a sisterhood as well. They bond both as performers and as their regular selves. Their work process is one of collaboration and reinforcement. Each brings in their own expertise and personality - Isabella, the non-singer, is the host and business strategist who loves being the shock factor of the group; V'gina, who is the youngest, is the dancer and rap artist who loves urban pop fashion; and Mimi, is the belter, the experienced singer and eternal optimist, who loves nature tripping. They are co-workers but more importantly, they are friends. The group is close knit and has become a supportive avenue in their personal journey, for self-exploration, self-validation and self-empowerment.

And now, fortified and sustained, they dare to dream on. They aspire to be regarded as professional artists by learning more of the technical aspects of their craft; to be instrumental in the understanding of gender roles and stereotyping by using their own stories in their acts; and to be a positive example of self-discovery, of persistence and overcoming challenges.

Like the two masks of theatre, I have discovered through my onstage and offstage encounters with them, that The Girls of Crazy Sexy Cool is a study of contrasts. They are timid but at the same time bold. Insecure yet courageous. Humble in their approach and proud in their accomplishments. All these translate into being strong enough to make themselves vulnerable, and to overcome hurdles to come out stronger - traits that are respectable and admirable. With their costumes and make-up, they command a powerful presence. But behind the mask, in person, they capture you with their personal stories of resilience. Yes, these are The Girls of Crazy Sexy Cool. They are daring enough to be crazy, confident enough to feel sexy and smart enough to be cool.


This was published in the January 2018 issue of the Alberta Filipino Journal.

Friday, 15 December 2017

Francis Marte: Creating a World in Watercolour

Imagine seeing a picture frame and remarking to yourself, "What a beautiful photo." Then you take a step closer and realize that you're actually looking at a painting and not a photo, which makes it all the more remarkable! This is the kind of reaction that Francis Marte's artworks elicit.

Francis Marte is a professional watercolourist and charcoal artist, specializing in realistic landscape, cityscape, still life, figurative, and portrait paintings. Francis, during his preschool years, already showed promise as a visual artist and was strongly supported by his family. He took some formal art lessons at age 12 but was generally self-taught. He dabbled in figurative and landscape drawing in pencil and ink, and painting using poster colours and pastels. For post secondary, he studied interior design and did designs for commercial and residential sites in Boracay, Greenbelt, among others, which were featured in Philippine design magazines. His time at the Philippine School of Interior Design enabled him to explore art history, architecture, mechanical and freehand drawing, and colour rendering for perspectives work for architects and proved to be really good at it. It was in this work that he discovered his natural talent in watercolour.


Hailing from Marikina, Francis moved to Jasper, AB in 2007, working in the hotel industry, then to Edmonton where his extended family resides, in 2010. In the midst of his studies for a career move in Edmonton, he enrolled in classes at the City Arts Centre under Edmonton artist Frank Haddock to reacquaint himself with his art. Discovering that he still had the skills, finding some fulfillment in the process and enjoying the feedback from other artists, Francis involved himself into the local arts community and network. This participation provided opportunities to exhibit his works at the Lotus Gallery, Harcourt House, and the Art Gallery of Alberta, and a teaching stint at the Artelier Studios by The Paint Spot. He also provides private lessons.

Although Francis works with charcoal, he specializes in watercolour. Initially the decision to go with watercolour was dictated by economic reasons, i.e. the materials were cheaper, setup did not require as big a space. But he eventually thrived in the challenges that watercolour presents. Watercolour dries quicker, so one has to work faster. He is also fascinated with the transparency of watercolours and the challenge of achieving the cloudy but soft effect, vs oil and acrylic, which are more opaque.

Francis works mostly from photographs and tends to gravitate towards portraits, architecture, landscapes, and high contrast scenes. He spends an average of 16 hours per artwork and finds fulfillment that in every artwork he is able to stretch the boundaries of his skills and provide joy to other people with his works. These same clients have provided good references to other people who became clients as well.

Albeit still young in the arts scene (he has been doing this professionally for only two years now), Francis dreams of being able to devote full time to painting. He currently balances his commitments to teaching, fulfilling painting commissions, and his day job with Alberta Education, where incidentally, his works have not gone unnoticed and are actually utilized in ministry resources. He is cognizant about the financial risks of going full time into his painting as he is still supporting his parents back in Manila.


Francis' art journey is one that starts with what is obviously a God-given talent, and one that continually makes its presence felt in the various endeavours of his life. It is a story where his circumstances always lead him to his art, which in turn provides him a deeper appreciation of the world, through what he terms as his process of immersion involving contemplation, exhilaration, frustration, deliberation and spontaneity. The greatest lesson he has derived from his journey is to not live in fear, and to go pursue your passion.

Experience life through Francis' perspectives. Check out his Facebook page and Instagram - whether to enrol in his classes, contact him for a commission, or just view his various works. For his works evoke something in a person, may it be vitality, serenity or wistfulness. But why take me word for it? Go check it out, and I'm pretty sure you won't regret it. Francis Marte can be reached through his Facebook page, Instagram and email fjdmartedesign@hotmail.com. 



This article was published in the December 2017 issue of the Alberta Filipino Journal.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

The Sooner the Better - the Sooner Band Story

I had the privilege of seeing for the first time, the Sooner Band perform during the Ely Buendia
concert last October. There was a little bit of hype around this band, when I was asked to have them included in the Filipino Fiesta. But they had previous engagements and plans just fell through. Seeing them perform cemented the fact that there is something distinct with the band, and I set out to learn more about it.

Formed in 2015, the Sooner Band is composed of: Bob Sales - bass, who works as Shipper/Receiver;Clint Nitoral - drummer, works with heavy equipment; Dexter Jumantoc - saxophone, works at Superstore; Donnell Roxas - vocalist, manager at Tim Hortons; Jay Mamaradlo, guitarist, works in a sanitation  company; and Jimmy  Basilan - keyboard, working as a Quality Controller.

Why Sooner Band? They humorously revealed that in the early days of their organization, when members would inquire about timelines on plans, engagements and goals, the optimistic answer would always be “soon”. Since the christening of the band name, they’ve had regular stints at Panciteria de Manila, and engagements for front acts and private functions. Their musical inclination ranges from RnB, pop and OPM (original pilipino music), but are quick to state that they are willing to try any genre to challenge themselves. They do covers but put in their own twist. Not one performance is alike since they improvise on the fly.

The performance of Sooner Band that I saw gave me the impression of a well-oiled machine, a sense of maturity amongst the members in their approach to music, and a confidence derived from a strong technical adeptness. Their music is clean, well-blended and allows each member their moment to shine. And so I was quite surprised to learn that they were all practically self-taught, going about their music instinctively and playing their individual instruments by ear. In fact, the evening I spent with the band in their practice location was full of revelations. For instance, Donnell came from a family of musicians but was such an introvert that he kept his singing a secret even from his family. Clint’s morning ritual includes a round of drum playing to set his day. And by the way, for someone who started with improvised drums and would join bands to be able to handle real drumsticks, his personal drum set is the most kick ass set I’ve ever seen! Dexter was a physical education and music teacher in the Philippines, played tribal instruments and the flute before he was introduced to the saxophone, has skills for magic, and dabbles in photography. Jimmy as a child took piano lessons to avoid household chores. Bob started as a vocalist prior to discovering the bass guitar, which he used to avoid military training in university. He has also done several original compositions. Jay has gained proficiency in the guitar through peer exposure and bonding, and continues to use his music as a way to develop and cement relationships, and as a stress reliever.


Up close, the members of the band are respectively timid, unassuming and self-deprecating.
They evidently change persona when they’re playing. But what is unmistakable is that they are collectively passionate, humble and cognizant of the hand of Divine providence in their lives.
In the nature of the gypsy life of band members, they’ve hopped on and off different bands and now have gravitated together in their respective search for a band that they would connect with. They feel that their current composition is solid, share the same vision, has the right rapport, teamwork and trust that is essential in their collaborative process. Right now their music serves as an outlet, a way of bonding, and a means to make other people happy. But they dream for more regular stints, of dabbling in music out of their comfort zone, and performing and recording their own original songs.

Mulling over my initial impression of the Sooner Band and the perspective I’ve formed upon knowing more about them, my conclusion is that they are really a bunch of nice guys who found some respite and zest in music, who despite a screaming audience when they perform, are modest enough to acknowledge that there is more to learn and achieve with their music. I view a lot of potential for this band, not only based on their individual talents and skills which are still, I believe, unharnessed at this point, but perhaps because of their authenticity to themselves and a love for what they do. This is perhaps what distinguishes them, that it comes from the heart, with no delusions of grandeur.

I mentioned earlier the hype I encountered with this band, and now I know there is some credence to it. The Sooner Band provides good music by good people. Time with one of their performances is well spent and I look forward to more, the sooner the better!

This article was published in the November 2017 issue of the Alberta Filipino Journal.