MANILA STANDARD, MARCH 11, 2006. LIFESTYLE SECTION
By K Lopez
Their rhythm is rooted in the land of Jamaica—a musically diverse and politically charged country—where, in the 1950s and the 1960s, civil unrest found its salvation in the conglomeration of music from the tribal sounds of Africa, calypso from the carnivals of Trinidad, and American rhythm-and-blues.
Their lyrics are dancehall branches—poking on shut eyelids, bearing messages that propagate “One Love,” and reaching out into the Filipino mindset of dancing in times of despair, and singing away the sorrow.
Their determination is as tough as the fiber from which they coined their name.
They are Hemp Republic.
Cultivated in the lush region of UP Los Baños, this band has been around since February of 2000 when only four reggae bands (including them) were existing in the Philippines,. The group started out with Tonton Hatol (lead guitar), Bunny Liwanag (vocals), Mags Gahol (rhythm guitar), Mabs Tolentino (bass guitar), Al Sese (drums), and Alfred Pagsuyuin (keyboards).
The band’s first song, “Hey Body Rock,” sprung forth after a few jamming sessions. They then worked on track covers from the Jamaican Me Groovy CD and played their first gig in March 26, 2000 at the Z Bar in Las Piñas.
After the gruelling process that almost every amateur band goes through—hours of traveling to music joints, faulty equipment, rejections from establishment owners, self-produced gigs at local pubs—the band’s dream finally started to flourish when they got together with Put3ska’s Bing Austria (Juan Pablo Dream). Interested in their brand of reggae, he asked them to play for one of Club Ska’s gigs which were then being held at Freedom Bar in Anonas, Quezon City. Captivated by their performance, he offered to book them gigs in the Manila area—an opening they had long been waiting for.
After countless audtions and rigorous rehearsals, they were given a regular Friday night slot at Mayric’s, alongside Coco Jam. It was then that Caio Cadiz (percussions) joined and added more flavor to the already vibrant music of the group.
It was in November of 2001 that Xaymaca, a reggae bar along Timog Avenue, opened its doors. The second band that played in that joint was no other than Hemp Republic, on the evening of Dec. 15, 2001. That gave way to the rocksteady presence of the band in the Filipino music scene.
In 2002, Glober Calambro (trumpet) and Arjo Ayende (trombone) joined in the fray.
The band released their first full-length album, Welcome to Hemp Republic, in April of 2005. It contained ten tracks of positive music—a welcome relief from the tiresome, pseudo-emotional releases of the time. The music video of their first single, “Sabihin Mo,” was released in September of 2005, followed by “Fireflies” in January of 2006.
The line-up now consists of Tonton, Bunny, Mags, Alfred, Glober, Caio (who took charge of the drums), Eggy Mallari (bass guitar), and Jeck Ceñidoza (trombone).
As more and more reggae bands are coming out today and more and more Filipinos are appreciating the music, members of Hemp Republic are more than enthusiastic to say that there is an increasing awareness of the genre to Pinoys. Gahol shares that it touches their hearts to see people dance to their songs— the reggae beat. “This means that slowly Filipinos or at least those who have watched us and other reggae bands play, see that reggae is something worth listening and enjoying to. Eventually they will dig deeper into its essence,” he said. “It also means that we are open to new sounds and new things in general,” he adds.
When asked if they get in trouble with authorities since reggae is associated with marijuana and because some of them are wearing dreadlocks, Hatol points out: “Anyone who looks different or dresses differently or out of the ordinary are sometimes tagged as a ‘drug-addict.’” He adds, “but no, we have not been in trouble, so far.”
Or maybe some police have not heard of reggae yet.
Hemp Republic has a regular Saturday gig at Xaymaca Bar, Timog. For bookings, contact Tenten at 0927-3059335.