PINOYS AS GLOBAL MUSICIANS – A TRIBUTE
Leidseplein, Amsterdam, Netherlands
 
eastwind memoirs 08
excerpts from the book
WINGS AND WANDERLUST
The Art of Discovering Your Inner Self

 

By Bernie V. Lopez
eastwindreplyctr@gmail.com

 

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This story is dedicated to the millions of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs), especially the thousands of musicians scattered across Planet Earth.

 

About the author and the book –

 

The Filipino author hitchhiked 25,000 kilo­meters, drifting through 18 countries in Europe and North Africa for 3 years, something not many Filipinos do. He wrote his adventure book of true stories, entitled WINGS AND WANDERLUST, The Art of Discovering Your Inner Self.

 

It is more than just an adventure book. It offers ways of discovering one’s inner self. An Ateneo philosophy student said, “The book serves as an inspiration for people who have lost their way, and are trying to find meaning in their lives.” Another said, “I realized that I can renew and re-invent myself, that I am full of possibilities.”

 

*******************
listen, do not talk too much
so you can hear your soul
whisper to you
the wisdom of others
 
listen to silence
so that the softest sound
comes to you in a deafening roar
it will throw you off your seat
 
be a dry sponge
when the deluge comes
and take in as much of the storm
into your thirsty soul

 

         Amsterdam was a bike city. After a few months, I bought an old single speed bike and liked it. It was the fastest cheapest way to get around. Everybody was on a bike. There was a bike rush hour. I felt good from the exercise. But I had to carry a map in the beginning. After a while, I knew every side street in the central area. There were bike lanes so you were safe from the speeding cars. Even mothers biked with their babies on the rack. Most of the backpackers who had been in Amster­dam more than two months had bikes. I just had to be care­ful when I was drunk.
         On occasions, during summer, I went out of the city on a bike with a friend. We would just bike through the beautiful Dutch coun­tryside, the canals everywhere, sleep anywhere, then return home the next day. There were those who ice skated across the entire country during winter, moving from canal to canal. I wished I could do that. Biking is a nice lifestyle.

 

         I met a Filipino with a leather jacket at Leidsplein in Amsterdam while I was biking. He hailed me down.
         “Hey, you must be a sailor,” he screamed in Pilipino.
         “Here we go again. No. You must be a sailor,” I countered.
         “No. I’m in a music band. Listen, why don’t you come over to our gig tonight so you can meet the gang,” he pointed to a five-star strip joint across the street.
         So I went over to this expensive strip joint. They had a five-man all-Filipino band, Jerry the bass guitarist who had flagged me down, Teddy, the sax-flute-keyboard-bongo-percussion all around, his girl friend Rose, the singer dancer, her older sister Tina, also a singer dancer, and Jessie, the drummer with long hair.
         They were glad to see a fellow Filipino. Each one asked me if I was a sailor. When they found out I wasn’t, they were intrigued. When they found out I was a drifter, they were even more intrigued. Rose and Tina said I had to drop by their flat the next day for lunch.
         At the strip joint, the band had its own table where they sat during breaks. As soon as I sat down with them, a double shot of brandy appeared before me. The place was crowded, noisy and full of smoke. Occa­sionally, Jessie and Teddy would stand up and wave to some guests coming in. They had a sizable clientele, this bunch of musicians. Jess waved to a group of Japanese who just came in. In a while, a bottle of VSOP brandy appeared on our table, courtesy of the Japanese. Rose and Tina poured their brandy on mine, saying they didn’t drink that hard stuff. I had in my glass within ten minutes three doubles or six shots of brandy. The show began with the striptease dancer, a huge hulk of a Dutch woman. The crowd went into a rave. I was woozy.
         The Filipino band came next. The rave was even more intense. They played Dutch, German and English tunes, current pop songs in the top ten. They played for a whole hour non-stop. After every song, the crowd would hoot and whistle. It was total pandemonium. During their break, a subdued Dutch band took over. The crowd did not rave. They settled down to drink and talk. Rose and Tina, who were gyrating for a whole hour, did not feel tired.
         During the break, Jerry dragged me to a backroom for a smoke. It was hard mixing brandy with smoke, but what the hell.
         Jerry said, “I play better this way. But I take just a little booze, otherwise I conk out.”
         I said, “Jerry, many of the best musicians died of overdose. The music greats are permanent drug addicts – Janice Joplin, Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker, and more. They can’t play without it. How can you learn so many foreign tunes?”
         Teddy, the apparent leader, said, “Easy. Each one of us has a radio tape player. We listen to the favorite local radio station the whole day. If we like a tune or notice it is being played often and has a potential to be a hit, we record it. We pass the tape to each one in the band who makes dupli­cates. It can be English, Dutch, German, even French sometimes.”
         Rose added, “We listen to the tapes individually and learn our parts. The sax, the keyboard, the vocals. When we meet, after a five minute rehearsal, we have a new song.”
         “That fast, huh?”
         Jerry said, “We learn about three to five songs a week. It’s not that hard if you get the hang of it.”
         “You have to have a good ear,” I said.
         Tina said, “We are very proud to say that we have one member, Teddy, who is schooled. He is the only one who reads notes. The rest of us are just ears.”
         The whole band, except for one, had no music schooling and they could learn five songs a week just like that. Their ears were fantastic. They were oozing with talent, that was why they were a rave at the club.
         A pretty Dutch blonde came to join us. It was Jessie’s girl friend who worked as a Secretary at IBM.
         I whispered to Jessie, “Hey, nice girl, huh?”
         “A dime a dozen in all major cities,” he whispered back.
         “Could you hook me up to one of her friends,” I was kidding.
         I learned that the band was such a rave, the Dutch women idolized them. They bowed at their feet as if they were Elvis resurrected. These guys were having a time of their life. Except of course Teddy, the boy friend of Rose. He couldn’t make a move, other­wise he would be skinned by Rose alive.
         “He made a wrong move,” Jessie pointed to Teddy. “He could get the best women of all because he plays the keyboard and sax and flute. But he’s stuck with Rose, who is super jealous. But he says no regrets. He loves Rose.”
         “You and Jerry are the lucky ones, in my book,” I said jokingly. “What about Tina?”
         “She’s married. She has two kids back home.”
         Over lunch the next day, Tina took my tattered ski jacket and started repairing it. Rose gave me a nice sweater. They took me in as if I were a long lost friend. In just one day, they ‘adopted’ me, asking a lot of questions about my adven­tures. I talked without stopping about my days in the desert, the hospital in Cadiz, the Mondego kids. They were amazed at the kind of daring adventures I had on the road. Jessie said it was like a dream, what I was doing. They all envied me.
         I found out that they had been on the road for six long years. They used to play in the Holland-America Line, a cruise ship in the Caribbean, which catered to moneyed tourists who picked up each other in a ‘love boat’. I also found out they were extremely exploited by their German manager.
         Jessie said, “The Dutch group you saw last night, they get about double our pay.”
         “But they are a lousy group and you are the rave, the main attraction. That’s unfair,” I said. “You played one hour per set and took a 30-minute break. They played 30 minutes per set and took an hour break. That’s unfair,” I said.
         “It’s a matter of contract, what we agreed upon.”
         “It’s against the law of supply and demand. You are more in demand. You should get a higher pay. It’s racism,” I was fuming.
         “Doesn’t work that way in the music world, Bernie,” Tina said. “Our German manager takes the lion share. We get the tail of the fish. He has us under his thumb. We are completely at his mercy because the contract is with him, not with us.”
         “What about that Dutch band?”
         Tina replied, “They got their contract directly. They are locals. They just stay here.”
         “Then get your contracts directly,” I suggested.
         “Nope. We will be black listed. It may be good for one stint but not for long. Bernie, this guy has contacts in clubs everywhere, Berlin, London, Amsterdam, Paris. We move around through his contacts like bees in a bed of flowers. We can’t go on our own. We don’t have that kind of contacts. Our stints are very short, a month or two, then we move on. That’s the way it works. We’re a bunch of high class slaves,” Teddy said.
         “Don’t you feel angry?” I asked.
         “We did at the start. But we have realized we are help­less,” Jessie spoke.
         “But you are such a great band. Listen, can I talk to your manager,” I was feeling so frustrated.
         Teddy gave a quick reply, “You kidding? Forget it, Bernie. Thanks for your concern but we accepted this form of slavery five years ago, a year after we started. We let things be. Anyway, we are high-class slaves. Look at Jessie here.”
         Everybody laughed.
         “Jessie has a girl friend at every port,” Tina said.
         “I have a baby in Berlin and another in London. One is coming up in Madrid,” Jessie said without shame and with the pride of a father. “Amsterdam is my problem. I can’t get my girl preg­nant. She’s too wise, you know.”
         Everybody laughed again.
         “You’re kidding.”, I said.
         “He’s dead serious,” Jerry said.
         “Are you planning to support your children across the world?” I asked.
         “That’s their problem. I did them a favor. They wanted a baby. What can I do? My goal is just to make my mark in every major city of Europe. I’m a sort of Johnny Apple Seed. They wanted a musician for a son, so they think they’ll get one.”
         Later on, I discovered that across Europe and the Carib­be­an, there were dozens of Filipino bands just like this group. Filipinos were natural musicians. They needed no music school­ing. Everything was learned by ear. They were oozing with talent but there were very few opportunities back home. Also, the pay back home was about a tenth of their pay abroad, even if they were exploited. That was the way it went for these guys. The Philippines was a major supplier of music bands for clubs and cruise ships across the entire globe. In the Asia Pacific, they played in Singapore, Hongkong, Tokyo, Bangkok, the US bases in Hawaii and Okinawa. And the painful part was, they were mostly exploited by syndi­cates.
         But these ‘slaves’, the five in this band I met in Ams­terdam, were having the time of their lives. The hard-earned money they got mostly went to support their families back home, par­ents, brothers and sisters lost in a land of no opportun­ities. These musicians were the heroes to me, people with super-talents exploited by a global system.
         The Amsterdam band was like a second family to me, Tina, my elder sister who made sure my clothes were alright, and Rose, who always made sure I ate good food with the rest of the guys. Teddy, Jerry and Jessie treated me like a younger brother, making sure I always had a drink when I dropped by the club. They became my home away from home.
Jerry, Teddy, Jessie, Rose, Tina, these are not your real names. But if you read this story, you will know it was you. It’s about 30 years ago, we have all aged, but if you remember, keep in touch and let’s have a cup of brandy for the good old days.

 

to shatter your time frame
into microscopic bits
is an achieve­ment in itself
to defy the light
and wallow in dark­ness
to let the wind carry you to nowhere
is a kind of wis­dom

 

Email the author to get a copy of the book.

 

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