Crash Chords: A Line In The Sand (beach music)

junior kilat

junior kilat (Photo credit: RainHeart)

Hey Jude‘s Boracay, photo by Jude Defensor

There’s no better way to get into the mood for writing about beach music than actually going to the beach! So naturally, I’m off to Boracay. On the ride from Kalibo, I happen to be seated right in front of a set of speakers blaring the Visayan reggae of Junior Kilat. The band’s front man Budoy Marabiles seems to have gained instant nationwide notoriety through Celebrity Big Brother, even if in the Visayas his wacky cable TV magazine program on small-scale industry called “Ismol Tym” has already made him a media icon for years. Junior Kilat brings to life the legendary Sigbin of Cebu’s lower mythology through their in-your-face dub/reggae act. The band’s live performances are notorious for their crazy energy and madcap antics. Reggae maybe be familiar to most for its down-to-earth arrangements and carefree message, but Junior Kilat adds droll humor and complex issues to their atmospheric sound, the upshot is a true island original.

Boracay’s DJ Manster. photo by Jude Defensor

Upon arriving at Boracay’s blessed White Beach, it was time to drink down the sunset over at Hey Jude’s while chilling out to the soundtrack spun by island DJ extraordinaire, Manster. The night-time hours faded into a colorful blur and before I knew it, I was brunching at d*mall, munching on a Mozzarella Burger over at Byte Club, and reflecting on the patron saint of beach dudes, Jimmy Buffet, and his cult hit “Cheeseburger in Paradise”. In Jimmy’s own words, “The myth of the cheeseburger in paradise goes back to a long trip on my first boat, the Euphoria. We had run into some very rough weather crossing the Mona Passage between Hispaniola and Puerto Ricoand broke our bow sprit. The ice in our box had melted, and we were doing the canned-food-and-peanut-butter diet. The vision of a piping hot cheeseburger kept popping into my mind. We limped up the Sir Francis Drake Channel and into Roadtown on the island of Tortola, where a brand-new marina and bar sat on the end of the dock, like a mirage.” Awesome.

Margaritaville-West German7''SingleCover

Margaritaville-West German7”SingleCover (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Singer/songwriter Buffett has translated his easygoing Gulf Coast persona into a successful recording career and a business empire based on a lifestyle spent by the beach. With a core of Sun Belt fans he has dubbed the “Parrotheads”, and songs like “Margaritaville” hitting the Top Ten, Buffett’s tropical world view has earned him the throne of king of all beach bums.

It’s interesting to note how beach music (also called shag music) didn’t really have a point of origin. The carefree beach dances that used the name started somewhere – the beaches of South Carolina, where white kids had broken the color barrier as early as the 1930s by convincing local DJs to add rhythm and blues to their lists. Shag was one of those rare cultural events that picked its own music after the fact. When the 1960s rolled along, beach culture found its new epicenter on the Pacific coastlines of California and Hawaii.

Pet Sounds has been regarded as one of the gre...

Pet Sounds has been regarded as one of the greatest albums of all time and is one of the most universally-acclaimed albums in rock history. “The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time”. Rolling Stone . November 18, 2003 . . Retrieved November 3, 2009 . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Beach-related or otherwise, the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds is one of the best albums ever, breaking ground for an impending wave of innovative and intelligent rock. The project was also a musical watershed in the studio craft of composition and production, featuring dense layers of gorgeous male vocals, keyboards and guitars overlaid with orchestrated strings, bicycle bells, harpsichords, flutes, the theremin, Hawaiian instruments, Coca-Cola cans, barking dogs, and more. Looking past the technical achievements, the songs themselves stand as classics, with brilliant melodies sustaining lyrical themes of love, innocence, spirituality and modern-day ennui. The album may be brimming with Brian Wilson’s hallmark idiosyncrasies, but its vocal harmonies remain pure Beach Boys.

Where else would we expect to find a wellspring of sweet summer pop than Australia, that lucky country of lifeguards. The Lucksmiths are an Aussie indie-rock trio turning out wispy folk-pop melodies that underline self-effacingly witty lyrics to cheery-poignant songs with titles like “T-Shirt Weather” and “The Year of Driving Langorously”.  Their eight albums are overflowing with lighthearted, good-natured, laidback but sharply written ditties concerning swimming pools, road trips, theme parks, summer jobs and summer stock, in a wistful, jangly style I like to call “breezy indie”.  They’re surf and turf and shrimp on the barbie with a slight dash of The Smiths.

Deutsch: Ballermann 6/(span. Balneario Nº 6) F...

Deutsch: Ballermann 6/(span. Balneario Nº 6) Foto: 22. Mai 2001, Lothar Velling, Disenyador gràfic, Espanya (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What have 600 years of progress since the Renaissance managed to cook up on Europe’s beaches? For Old Worldbeach culture, it has been reported that the seaside villages on the Balearic Islands of Spain are strictly separated by nationality. The Germans here and the English there and ne’er the twain shall meet. Ballermann 6 refers to one of the best-known clubs on the isle of Mallorca. Decidedly lowbrow and unpretentious, this mecca of mass tourism plays the most popular, trashy, summery music you can imagine. The English say that Ballerman 6 is where all the Germans go to get drunk at breakfast time and pass out in the noon-day sun to British music. Although it’s more accurate to state that what they’re really playing are mostly UK-produced remixes of old American pop songs (i.e. the Pet Shop Boys either riffing on or ripping off the Village People). While the Germans contend that when the English do have the good taste to write a whole new song for the occasion, it’s usually about some lofty theme such as rubber chickens.

-text by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved. first published under music column Crash Chords in Manual magazine, 2006.

The Hot Spot – keeping connected in Boracay

Boracay is as close to a compleat paradise as we can get to without flashing our passports. It’s got everything: white sand beaches, warm sunshine, wild parties, and most importantly, what we techies want – wi-fi! The Hot Spot has hotspots! Yes, there’s yet another reason to brave the planes, boats, and crowds just to scope out our sweet little corner of wireless broadband bliss. After all, just because you’re on vacation doesn’t mean you have to take a break from the net. On the contrary, it’s a really triumphant W?BIC! (Why? Because I Can!) moment to be able to wirelessly surf the web while the sea breeze blows over your face and the waves lap at your feet (and hopefully not at your laptop!).

Over the long weekend we stayed at the idyllic Boracay Terraces Resort, right at the very end of White Beach. Beyond the other things to recommend about the resort, like the huge, lavishly appointed rooms, and in-house spa service, is the fact that they’ve got a really strong and steady wi-fi signal that was a cinch to connect to, and consistently speedy. In fact, some of the resorts in the relatively posh-er Boat Station 1 area seem to be set-up for the requirements of the discriminating jet-set who can’t go half a day without checking their e-mail or see how their stocks are doing. You can walk across most of this stretch without missing a byte, perfect if you need to shanghai some wi-fi! Towards the busier Boat Station 2 area, where the most popular party places are located, wi-fi gets spottier, harder to sniff out, and less liberally shared. There’s supposed to be an unsecured connection throughout the area provided by Globe, but it didn’t seem to work when I tried it. Some places require you to ask for a key from the manager or owner. Boat Station 3 is backpacker central, and as expected, features a respectable sprinkling of hotspots. Basically, for it’s size, Boracay may just be one of the country’s most wired (and wireless) islands, you needn’t stray far to stumble onto a signal somewhere, or in a pinch, you can always jack in at a cafe.

Even when on vacation, easy connectivity can actually become more of a necessity than a luxury when emergencies strike. And in our case, it was a State of Emergency! Through the chaos, the ability to check the latest news reports and keep in touch with friends and family kept this crazy weekend from spiraling out of control.

It’s all in the bags

Packing and preparation is half the fun of traveling, at least I’ve always thought. But bringing your delicate high-tech gadgets with you for an island getaway poses a peculiar challenge. Although it may work for some people to just dump everything into a duffel bag, the prudent techie traveler prizes protection, organization, and security when bundling his gear. So the first order of business should actually be a thorough back up of all your crucial data, be they work documents, contact info, or downloaded porn. You’re never sure what disaster may strike while you’re out and about, and knowing that you’ve got back-up files safe at home can help salvage your trip just in case the worst happens.

Once you’ve banked your software, time to think of bagging your hardware. The heavy black leather-laden bags your laptop probably came with just won’t do. You’ve got to shop around for a lightweight, padded, more casual-looking carrier, one that won’t look out of place on the beach, and maybe with some room for sunscreen or a racy novel. Top-dollar brands like Crumpler and Targus all feature a range of hip gadget-friendly bags, but the budget conscious can get away with any well-constructed messenger bag or backpack plus a little ingenuity. If you’re going the cheapo route, just make sure that your gear carrier has its straps, handles, zips, and clasps securely stitched and fastened, and that the material is of a decent thickness and quality. Bags constructed with waterproof fabric or lining is ideal, padding is a plus. For that added layer of armor, and a nifty way to keep things neat and tidy, go pick up a pack of resealable zip-loc bags. The sandwich-sized ones work well for small gadgets like cellphones, PDAs, MP3 players, digicams and their chargers, the roast-chicken-sized ones are good for power bricks and even small notebooks. For larger gear, garbage bags may do the trick. One bag for each gadget makes them easy to discern when rifling through your stuff, and keeps cables separate and tangle-free. That humble plastic bag could be what provides the precious few seconds before corrosive salt water gets into your gadgets’ circuits as you fish them out from the sea right after you stumble off the boat.

Next, if you don’t have one yet, invest in a lockable security cable for your laptop for the times when you have to leave it behind in your room. Try to figure out a thief-proof way to secure it to something large and hefty, looped around the bed’s headboard and legs works well, and don’t forget not to leave the key lying around !

When on vacation, it’s best to charge as often as you can, since you’re never sure what gimmick or sidetrip might crop up to prevent you from powering up, or you may need to make an urgent phone call or trip research session that may sap your batteries

Hands in your pockets

As a traveler, you’ve got to keep your hands free. It would be rather tiresome to be continuously clutching your phone or camera in either hand when they’re not in use. But if you think it’s just too dorky-touristy to carry your camera, phone, or PDA around on your neck or waist, then you have to invest in clothing with pockets. A gadget vest would be the next less dorky-touristy thing, but considering the heat and the not-too-cool fashion statement you’ll be making, this option is reserved for those guys who can keep from sweating and can pack some serious swagger. So that leaves us mortals with cargo shorts, trunks, or board shorts. Past color, style, and size, pocket quality is another feature you now have to consider. Check for pockets lined with dense fabric and not hole-prone mesh or net-like material. Those that you can zip or Velcro closed are preferred. And of course, your gear has to fit in them. Just using common sense, never let your gadgets out of your sight. Friendly local boatmen or guides may offer to hold your gear or take your pics for you, and although I’m sure that most of them may be honest folk, just be wary of the exceptions who may not be! Executing a regular pocket-pat-down maneuver to check on your gadgets is not a bad little habit either.

Unwire and Unwind

With all these things in mind, don’t forget to actually go have some fun! Let loose, lie down, go wild. Decompress and disconnect yourself from technology for some time. Doing this will make you appreciate it all the more when you plug back in. Anyway, you can always send an SMS when you feel the tech-withdrawal symptoms coming on.

-text and photos by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved. first published in m|ph magazine, 2006

Life On The Astals Plane

 first published in Manila Bulletin, 2004

In a real estate realm saturated with pretentiously packaged condominiums, or squeaky-clean suburban developments, not too many addresses remain that possess both character and cachet. The Syquia apartments in Malate, with its art-deco trappings, vintage elevator, heavy wooden staircases, and pinstriped doors is in a class all its own. Home to artists, art lovers, politicians, pundits, kooks, weirdos, and various combinations of the abovementioned, the Syquias’ walls provide refuge for personalities that are just too large to live behind any gated community, no matter how exclusive. And from the very start, Cita Astals seemed to fit in just fine.

“The first time I came here was in 1983 with some friends. It used to be like a giant dormitory, a lot of fun,” she reminisces.

An encounter with Cita Astals may not be the best thing to prescribe for the easily intimidated. Her stentorian voice and arched eyebrows definitely add to the daunting Astals Aura. Once inside Cita Central though, the longtime Manila councilor and lifetime artist is a very welcoming and accomodating host. Cita is puzzled why out of all the building’s notable residents, we’ve chosen to feature it’s self-professed “craziest one”. But of course, why should we settle for anyone less?

“I moved in with my boyfriend in 1989. And then I kicked him out and ended up staying,” Cita states succinctly. And who wouldn’t stay? The high ceilings, huge windows, polished hardwood floors, and capacious rooms evoke an era when space wasn’t a luxury, and luxury wasn’t in short supply.

Even with her ex out of the picture, she didn’t always keep all that space to herself. “For a time I’d share the place with friends. If I liked them they’d live in one of the bedrooms for a few months.” She also had the company of her much beloved pet dog, who unfortunately passed away. She tried breaking in a new puppy as a replacement, but that one grew too chew-happy and was returned to sender. Right now, besides her staff, the apartment also shelters several ancient plants that stubbornly thrive on in Cita’s makeshift lanai area.

Cita admits to not really having a plan or philosophy when it comes to fixing up her abode.“I prefer a simple setup. It’s a pretty simple place.” When asked to elaborate about her approach to interior design, she takes on a deer-lost-in-headlights expression. “It’s not meant to be anything. I didn’t really design the house, since I’m not much of a homebody,” she surrenders.

That simplicity also carries over to Cita’s concept of entertaining. “We don’t have big parties since I’m not really a party-thrower. The other people in the building are into that. Although sometimes we have dinners or I hold meetings here.”

Like in her life and career, Cita’s apartment has seen its share of radical shifts. One room in particular has undergone several transformations according to Cita. “It used to be where me and my boyfriend slept together. It was technically his room. One of my conditions if we were to live together is that I have my own room.  Although I never slept there for the 5 years that we were living together. I had, as you may call it, a room and a half!” states Cita, cackling merrily. “The room became an office for a while. It was where I made my book compiling all the ordinances of Manila. But now it’s my bedroom,” she asserts. The room still contains her infamous ex’s bed, which she continues to sleep on.

Cita’s onetime decision to brighten up her walls produced near-incendiary results. “I just wanted a change of color, I was getting tired of white. I wanted a mixture of yellow and orange. I experimented with this wall with the painters, then when we got what I wanted, I left them for a couple of hours.” She returned to find her entire apartment awash in flames, of yellow-orange paint that is. In a fit of creative zeal, the painters had left no wall untouched. Not really wanting to go home to a cabaret every night, Cita left one wall on fire, but had the others repainted a more sedate white and yellow-orange tone.

Scattered about the apartment are “An assortment of stuff I gathered from my travels and what friends have given me.” These range from images of Hindu deities, to Indonesian puppets, Grecian sculpture, oil paintings by local artist-friends, and even a sheepskin rug from Australia. And yet Cita remarks that visitors never seem to fail to zero-in on a set of figures depicting couples engaged in rather lascivious poses.

As we go about poring over her knickknacks, Cita realizes with some amusement that almost all of her furnishings and decor used to belong to friends “All except the electronics and appliances”.

Even her hefty low-slung sofas and seats weren’t sourced from a store. “I bought the furniture from a friend of mine who was leaving the country. He had brought them in from Nepal.  It’s very strong, old wood. This set is around 30 years old. It spent 10 years in Nepal, and 20 years in the Philippines. All I did was have the cushions re-upholstered.” The couch in the hall is upholstered in leather and is for visitors to sit on, while the couch in the sala has cushions of katsa for the lounging comfort of close friends.

Her favorite piece is a solid wooden coffee table set in front of the couch. “You don’t need nails to assemble it. The pieces lock into themselves, like giant wooden Nepalese lego blocks!” Cita exclaims with a throaty laugh.

While we take photos, Cita wonders whether the bright pink top she wears could clash with her blazing walls. “Pink is my working color,” she explains. “Notice that I don’t have anything colored pink in the apartment. This is so that I won’t blend into my furniture!” And with that we unearth yet another one of her rare and quirky design rules.

Although a bit hazy as a homemaker. When it comes to her role as a public servant, Cita’s ideas and contributions are very concrete. “I’ve opened a road. We cleared it, partially put in the drainage and cement. But there’s still another 600 meters to pave. I would like to see that completed,” she states. “I also have an ordinance now to regulate the caretelas. So that they don’t cheat the tourists or be cruel to their animals.”

Cita’s big vision for Manila literally lies on the horizon. “I dream of having a beach in Manila, a Boracay-style beach,” she reveals. Backing her aspirations with action, Cita has actually been working to make her dream real. “We’ll have to treat the water for that to work. That’s why for my latest ordinance, I filed the Manila Water Code charter. So for the first time we’re going to have laws for our water.”

As we steer the conversation away from home and on to city hall, Cita sheds her giddy daze and regains the steel and focus that has made her such a lustrous presence on stage and screen. “The mayor and all the councilors are working together towards the same goal of improving the city,” she proclaims with some pride. “But there’s still a lot of work to be done. We’re always hoping to have more new buildings, new developments in the area. Little by little things get done.” If and when the day comes when it really all gets done, then maybe Cita can finally find the time and inclination to indulge in a bit of domesticity. But politics is impossible to predict, and Cita is just plain unpredictable.

-text by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved

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