Asin and Eraserheads: two legends play Winnipeg
by Jon Malek, PhD. Photos by Henry Balanial
Lolita Carbon of Asin
Ely Buendia of Eraserheads
The string of excellent Filipino music touring in Winnipeg has continued these past weeks. Asin, one of the most popular OPM acts during the Martial Law years in the Philippines, and the Eraserheads, “the Beatles of the Philippines,” performed in Winnipeg on June 3rd at Kanto Bar & Grill and June 10th at the RBC Convention Centre, respectively.
I was flying home from Toronto on June 1st, my mind still processing the conference I had attended. Tired and absentminded, I passed by a group of Filipinos, one of whom was wearing an Asin T-shirt. At first, things didn’t “click” in my head until I remembered, minutes later, that the band was performing in Winnipeg in just a few days and that it was probably the band on their way to the city. Alas, I could not find them to introduce myself as a fan, which would have been rich because I was listening to their song Himig ng Pag-ibig when I realized who they were. My suspicions were confirmed when I landed in Winnipeg and saw Kuya Manny Araullo at the airport to greet the group.
Asin – Kanto Bar & Grill, June 3
The Asin show was held at Kanto Bar & Lounge (44 McPhillips St.) in Winnipeg and was organized by Blackfest Event Production. The band’s stop in Winnipeg, though, was made possible by the insistence of Winnipeg’s troubadour, Manny Araullo, who suggested to Blackfest that they also bring Asin here. As Manny told me, “It’s like them [Asin] going to a town fiesta but not going to our house.” They were already touring Canada, and Winnipeg has proven itself to have a big appetite for Filipino music. It simply made sense. There was some concern about Winnipeg having too many events with June being Filipino Heritage month, but fans in our city proved just how much we love music. I am personally grateful to Manny Araullo for the work he did bringing one of my favourite OPM bands to the city.
Opening acts included the spirited and wildly talented Osang “The Rock” Diva, whose performances ranged from pop hits to Jon Bon Jovi’s It’s my Life. Kanto Bar & Grill provides an intimate venue for such a concert and had surprisingly good sound quality. The Asin band opened up with a mash-up of some of their most popular riffs and rhythms, followed by hit after hit of the band. The crowd attracted people of all ages, attesting to how relevant the band and its songs on Philippine nationalism and identity are today, especially in the diaspora. A lot has happened to the members of Asin, but the spirit of Lolita Carbon dominated the room. Lolita’s voice and songwriting demands admiration. Her stage presence has not waned, and the show of her and the Asin band moved all who were there.
Eraserheads – RBC Convention Centre, June 10
The June 10 concert of Eraserheads was one in a dramatic history of breakups and reunions with the band. Since disbanding in 2002, the band has had several one-off reunions and concerts. This Winnipeg show, however, was part of their Huling El Bimbo 2023 World Tour announced on February 1st of this year. The show brought together the original band members – Ely Buendia, Raymund Marasigan, Buddy Zabala, and Marcus Adoro – to play a setlist of their most famous songs, which have shaped the landscape of Filipino music in the last few decades.
In a 2017 Esquire Magazine Philippines article (https://www.esquiremag.ph/long-reads/profiles/ely-buendia-a1553-20170509-lfrm5), Buendia stated that fans loving the songs of Eraserheads “has nothing to do with me, or the song. It was just a convergence of the right elements, the timing. People grew up with ‘Ligaya,’ ‘El Bimbo.’ They were in high school, they were having fun, they were young. That’s why they liked it.” That was the strongest feeling I sensed in the hall at the RBC Convention Centre: nostalgia. It was not hard to hear stories from people who had listened to the Eraserheads while growing up or while in college, and the hits that night brought them back to those times.
In the same Esquire article, Buendia stated that he wouldn’t consider writing new music for Eraserheads because “expectations would be too great and I myself would be too concerned with a lot of stuff to ever write anything good”. A previous reunion concert had been done, claimed Buendia, for the sake of the fans who stayed loyal to the group after their breakup. In his Esquire article, Buendia stated “I guess I still enjoy playing live. I think I never enjoyed playing before. I will still continue playing live. Most probably I will be content if that happened. People will say, ‘Yeah Ely’s band, they’re awesome live!’ That’s the best compliment.” This must have been true for the current tour as Eraserheads has not appeared to have lost any of their appeal.
The hall was large, and there were chairs everywhere in the room. I’ve been to concerts here before, and there is always an area reserved in the back for those wanting to drink their alak. Indeed, those areas were there with bartenders and full fridges ready to serve – but no one was in line because they were on the floor waiting for the one reason everyone was there.
There were no opening acts to get the audience warmed up. The lights went out, the stage lights flashed, and a countdown started. I’ll always remember the screams from the crowd as the band took the stage, shadows of idols coming to play for Winnipeg. I liked this about the show. Sometimes, a few warmup bands are good to get the crowd in the mood and can give local talent an excellent showcase but, other times, the people know for whom they came. In this case it was two hours of Eraserheads as they performed a playlist of thirty songs.
For so many there – if not everyone – this was a chance to see a band they grew up with. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The global Filipino community is so strong that the stars of the Philippines are stars the world over. Winnipeg continues to prove itself as a destination for these Filipino acts. One must take their hats off to Alex Canlapan and ACC Events & Services for yet another successful event. Those who know Alex know how many hats this gentleman wears, but he performs every role with grace and ease. Music is integral to our lives and being able to see live music from the Philippines reminds the community here of where they come from and of the cultural richness of their heritage. Alex and ACC Events & Services serve the community with their hard work, dedication, and excellence. The performances of Kamikazee, Moira, and Eraserheads were made possible by the hard work of Alex and his team.
Congratulations to both Manny Araullo, Alex Canlapan, and all others who helped bring two excellent shows to the city.
Quoted: Esquire Magazine Philippines https://www.esquiremag.ph/long-reads/profiles/ely-buendia-a1553-20170509-lfrm5
Asin – Kanto Bar & Grill, Winnipeg, June 3, 2023
Eraserheads – RBC Convention Centre, Winnipeg, June 10, 2023
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