By WENG CAHILES
The two-day Kia Beats Music Festival was a fusion of the contemporary and the classic when top local bands shared the stage with Metro Manila Concert Orchestra (MMCO). The 50-piece orchestra under the baton of Conductor Jonathan Cruz weaved their magic inside the impressive Kia Theater in Cubao.
On the first day, one could sense a certain unease that comes from not knowing what to expect. We tend to stick to what we know works – we like to leave the classics alone and we don’t want the modern to be too out of reach just for the sake of experimentation. But what a pleasant surprise that night was for everyone.
MMCO opened the night with their rendition of an OPM classic, Hajji Alejandro’s Kay Ganda ng Ating Musika. It perfectly set the tone, as it was indeed a night of celebrating fine musical talents. Indie favorites Ang Bandang Shirley was first to take the stage and you could sense how their fans in the crowd waited for something like this: for a band known to draw crowds to go out of their usual repertoire inside crammed bars. The first three songs were played without the orchestra (Tama Na Ang Drama, Siberia, Nakauwi Na) but when the strings and horns came in as the band started to play a new song Karagatan, you could tell how this one was for the books. For those who were hearing the song for the first time, this was the perfect rendition of it as the band was able to establish their own sound despite the soaring sounds of the instruments. During Umaapaw, there was a lovely buildup to the chorus where the violins took over and you see all the band members smiling at the beautiful music they were creating. If you are an avid Ang Bandang Shirley follower and you weren’t there, you better pray that play another gig similar to this because it was unforgettable.
Next to play was Motherbass, perhaps the one in line up you least expect to play alongside an orchestra. Composed of DJ Nix Damp P and drummer Macky Brillantes, the duo was a revelation. It is always interesting to see how a solo performer or a duo reacts to the challenge of being in a set-up where they would have to work with a lot of musicians. It was quite an experience to hear the dynamics of hiphop and electronica blend intricately into the cadence of an orchestra. On paper, it shouldn’t work but it did and it was a standout. They produced a solid set that made it hard for the audience not to move in their cushioned seats. The energy was pulsating and you could feel it being transferred to all 50 members of the orchestra as the strings and horns were played with a different kind of ferocity. The best part? They did a sample of Maskara, a Juan dela Cruz Band song that took a new identity thanks to the ingenuity of Motherbass.
Lastly, there was Farewell Fair Weather, a band that is arguably one of most musically proficient out there. Seeing them live is always a treat as they always produce a tight set. Watching them with an orchestra highlights how technically sound they are as a band. Individual talents shone through as the orchestra added a layer of complexity into their very clean way of playing music. Their guitar player Kim Hue Jin is always quite the performer with his guitar solos and he was more impressive that night as you could see how he is able to dictate the pace and tone it down when necessary. Mic Manalo’s jazzy vocals took on a different texture as it was complemented well by the skillful playing of the orchestra.
The second day put MMCO more on the spotlight, as they only had to share the stage with just one act. The audience had a clearer grasp of the power of a full orchestra. With just them on the stage, the symphony was more magical. You become aware of the individual instruments and you quickly become fascinated as they meld into a cohesive sound alive with small components. One thing about MMCO, or any orchestra for that matter, is that when they begin to play a song you are familiar with, you’d think “I know how this one goes” but they throw you a curveball by presenting the song in a unique arrangement without losing its soul like what they did with Buklod’s Tatsulok, Wency Cornejo’s Habang May Buhay and Alamid’s Your Love.
As one of the most familiar names in the OPM rock scene, Rico Blanco has gone through several phases when he went solo. His performance was a showcase of the transformations he went through – the crooner, his more experimental side, and maker of big OPM hits. The songs You’ll Be Safe Here and Your Universe were taken into a whole new level by MMCO as these pieces have a certain sentimentality that demanded the drama of a full orchestra. The lights, his voice, how the sounds echoed through the venue surrounded the audience, turning the music into an embrace. The second half of his set was a medley full of power and energy as he churned out one rock anthem after the other. Hits from his time with Rivermaya were alive as the crowd sang along Awit ng Kabataan, Liwanag sa Dilim and Hinahanap-Hanap Kita. Though the pace was frenetic, the orchestra never allowed themselves to be left behind. The harmony emanating between the classical and pop rock was seamless.
There may be clear divisions with all the different genres but in occasions like Kia Beats, we are given a glimpse of how music is able to transcend and tie all these contrasting sounds. It is the dream of many musicians to give their music a chance to transform by taking it to an entirely different place. As the audience, it is our wish to see it unfold right at our very eyes.