The idea of playing reggae started to come up in Mags' head around September of 1999 during the time when most of them were still in UP Los Banos and were very much active in their org, the UP Jammers' Club. Most of them had other bands then, busy doing their own thing. Mags got the thought of putting up a reggae band going around but never really came off the ground.
Ton-Ton was playing for this band then, The Spank, when their manager Dennis Empalmado introduced him to reggae music. By January or February 2000, Bunny Liwanag and Ton-Ton Hatol seriously thought of putting up a reggae band of their own, thus first tapping Mabs Tolentino on Bass, Al Sese on Drums, Mags Gahol on rhythm guitar, and Alfred Pagsuyuin on Keyboards. Their drive was more on doing original music of their own. After a few jamming sessions, their first song "Hey Body Rock" was born.
They rehearsed until they could play around 6 songs, most of them covers from the pirated "Jamaica Me Groovy" CD, then went on to embark on a "gigging spree." They were officially formed (well, at least this date is what they consider) on March 26, 2000 when they first played in front of a live audience along with sister band then Sucker Fish. They played in between the set of a show band somewhere in Las Pinas City, in a bar called the “Z Bar.”
After this one night stint, they went on looking for other places to play in and found the now defunct ORA Café along Kamias Road in Quezon City. Monday nights were theater nights, but usually the plays end early. So as fillers, they played a set there after the plays, driving or commuting all the way from Los Banos to QC just to play for a square meal. This was during the summer days of 2000.
When school started in June, they had lined up some productions of their own in small bars in UPLB, usually selling the tickets, making and putting up the posters, etc. by themselves. This served as their training ground for playing longer, as they played 2 sets, again playing together with Sucker Fish. This was also the time that they got Caio Cadiz to play percussions, since when they jammed at his studio, he would always toy around a spare snare drum, playing it like a timbale.
By September, they hooked up with Put3ska’s keyboardist Bing Austria, who got interested with the band the moment he heard that they played reggae. The band was booked by Bing in one of the Club Ska’s gigs, then in Freedom Bar, so he can see the band play live for the first time. Apparently impressed with Hemp’s performance, he offered to book the band around the Metro, a scene the band has longed to break in to.
The first real booking Bing gave the band was in Mayric’s, “where all the great bands are born…”. That night, Ton-Ton was not available as his other band had another gig so a session player filled in for him. Unfortunately, almost everything had gone haywire because of a cut string, a faulty guitar-tuning machine or something, that the band did quite badly that night. After the set, the band was told to come back again after they’ve had enough practice… So life goes on and the band continued to audition around and play in Freedom Bar on some Wednesdays, building a reputation. After a month, Mayric’s called back and wanted to book the band on a regular basis every Fridays together with Cocojam! This is where it all started to roll. By November 2001, a new reggae bar was opened in Timog avenue called XAYMACA Bar. They were looking for reggae bands to play on Fridays and Saturdays. Brownman Revival was the first band ever to play in Xaymaca, on December 14, 2001, the second band was Hemp Republic, on December 15, 2001, a Saturday. They played regular gigs there on a Saturday for a good year or so.
In May 2002, they thought of getting horn players to spice up the sound of the band and give the music a more festive feel. They got together with trumpet player Glober Calambro and trombone player Pards of the Radioactive Sago Project. Both of them are from the UP College of Music in Diliman whom they got in contact with thru trombone player Jason Cuevas of Brownman Revival. However, Pards couldn't commit because his real band is still Radioactive Sago, so Glober got Arjo Ayende to replace Pards, thus completing the line up.
Since then, Hemp Republic has been playing (more or less) the kind of reggae that they are known for today.
(from the very vague memory of Caio Cadiz)