Gilbert Guillermo and ‘Jingle’: a look back at the icon who brought music to every corner of the Philippines

The life and times of the pioneering music journalist and the magazine that would start it all in this corner of the world

In the very first issue of Jingle magazine published in the Philippines in October 1970, founding publisher and editor-in-chief Gilbert Guillermo penned the first of his regular notes to his readers.

“Don’t laugh now – Jingle is not THAT!” he wrote, referring to the Filipino slang for pissing. “Jingle is a songbook-magazine with emphasis on guitar chords. It is dedicated to the proposition that young people deserve good entertainment. Jingle is carefully prepared to suit the interest of students, young professionals and the not-so-young, who, in times like this, need a new, creative and exciting outlet.”

Guillermo passed away on July 21, 2020 at the age of 72, just three months shy of what would’ve been Jingle’s 50th anniversary.

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Since that inaugural editor’s note, Guillermo’s “new, creative and exciting outlet”, which he began with his immediate family after convincing them to sell one of their real estate properties, went on print circulation for more than three decades.

Jingle, Gilbert Guillermo
Gilbert Guillermo in the 1970s. Credit: Gilbert Guillermo’s family

Eric Guillermo, Gilbert’s younger brother who acted as the magazine’s music and chords editor, tells NME how the magazine was painstakingly put together during those early years, given the available technology – or the lack of it.

“We used to rent an old rickety, battered, small jeepney for our delivery needs. The printed copies came straight from the presses. We manually check for blank pages, cross-eyed registers of the cover, use blades or stripping knives to cut uncut printed pages not hit by the paper cutter,” he says.

Ces Rodriguez, a fan of the magazine who would later become its managing editor for a good part of its golden period, recalls the remarkable ascent of “the first publication of its kind in the Philippines”.

“Jingle became a kind of freedom wall, a place to say whatever the hell you wanted to say”

“It relied for the better part of its existence on newsstand sales for revenue. The magazine, which was initially published every two months, ran without ads. At the peak of its readership, it printed 100,000 copies – a feat then, as it is now,” Rodriguez wrote in a tribute piece on Guillermo published by Philippine business daily, BusinessMirror.

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Over the years, Jingle also spawned numerous related and non-related magazines after its initial success led to the establishment of Guillermo’s own publishing house complete with its very own printing press machine. In later years, it was eventually outsold by its mini-me, Jingle Songhits, a pint-sized version that featured songs with mostly lyrics and only some with chords.

But the self-titled songbook-magazine, later dubbed a “chordbook-magazine”, would remain Jingle’s flagship product up until Jingle Clan Publications, the family-owned company that operated it, finally closed shop in the 1990s.

Jingle, Eric Guillermo
Eric Guillermo in ‘Jingle Lang ang Pahina’. Credit: Chuck Escasa

Like the esteemed Creem, which was founded a year before Jingle, Guillermo’s magazine embodied an irreverent, tongue-in-cheek DIY spirit.

Along with an acoustic guitar, Jingle Chordbook-Magazine, with its chords and song lyrics, quickly became an indispensable staple of group singing assemblies that took place everywhere from somebody’s house to the nearest street corner – the equivalent of today’s karaoke sessions.

The younger Guillermo recalled that since not all released albums included lyric sheets, he and his staff often had to get a song’s lyrics manually – through repeated playback. Ditto with the guitar chords, even though it had formally trained guitarists assigned to write them. “We put accents atop the lyrics on every downbeat of the chords, periods actually,” he adds.

By themselves, lyrics and chords would have been enough to secure Jingle’s legacy. But the older Guillermo had other ideas.

Only 22 when he founded the magazine, the man was still at the height of his idealism. With either his initiative or his blessing, Jingle gradually expanded its content to include feature articles on popular and up-and-coming music artists, record reviews, poetry, essays, short stories, editorial cartoons, music industry gossip, comic strips, a Grin Page devoted to jokes (yes, jokes!) sent by readers, and an increasingly expanded letters section where angry fans often expressed their displeasure over bad reviews of their favourite artists.

Jingle Record Review Ratings
Record review ratings in ‘Jingle’

Because of its anti-establishment image and increasing emphasis on rock music, Jingle did not escape the attention of the authorities under then-Philippine strongman Ferdinand Marcos. During the early years of Martial Law, all print and broadcast media outlets in the country were initially closed. When Jingle was allowed to continue operating, it had to change its name to Twinkle for at least several issues.

The chordbook-magazine never changed its non-conformist tone, though. It became a melting pot for writers and artists who wrote and illustrated on the cutting edge of not only music but also literature, gonzo journalism and socio-political commentary. It was no surprise that as early as the mid-’70s, Jingle was already drawing comparisons to American and British music magazines like Rolling Stone, Creem and, yes, even NME.

“At the peak of its readership, Jingle printed 100,000 copies – a feat then, as it is now”

Jingle became a kind of freedom wall, to use another dated term, a place to say whatever the hell you wanted to say if in metaphor, and explore nascent talent. Thus, Jingle was the medium in which the best and the brightest found their voice,” Rodriguez wrote.

Many of the writers and artists that graced Jingle’s pages at one time or another later found success not only in journalism but also in related fields: public relations, graphic design, visual arts, education, law and independent filmmaking.

Jingle’s most famous alumnus is celebrated filmmaker Lav Diaz, who wrote poetry, feature articles and record reviews in the Filipino language during his stint as contributor. Diaz went on to become a noted exponent of the ‘slow cinema’ movement and went on to win awards at international film festivals including Berlin and Venice. In 2017, he was invited to be a member of the Academy Of Motion Pictures Arts And Sciences in the US.

There are also those who continued to thrive in music-related fields such as major record labels in the Philippines. Others, like this writer, never really stopped writing about music.

Jingle, Lav Diaz
Lav Diaz in ‘Jingle Lang ang Pahina’. Credit: Chuck Escasa

As a testament to Jingle’s legacy and cultural influence, a definitive documentary on the magazine called Jingle Lang Ang Pahina (Tagalog for Jingle Is The Only Page) was produced in 2012 by the Film Development Council Of The Philippines.

Directed by Dominador “Chuck” Escasa, Jr., the film featured insightful interviews with former Jingle alumni, including Gilbert Guillermo himself, who by then was already in poor health and did not appear on screen.

Following Guillermo’s demise, the film was again shown on Vimeo for free for two days, later extended to three by popular demand. There is now a clamour for the film to be screened once again on Jingle’s 50th anniversary this October.

There were also print, online and social media tributes galore from former Jingle alumni, popular Filipino musicians who learned how to play guitar through its chords and longtime readers and fans of the chordbook-magazine’s various contents.

One of the most moving tributes to Guillermo and, by extension, his magazine came from Filipino vlogger Robot Mortiz, who in less than two minutes thoughtfully captured the essence of Jingle and Guillermo’s vision for it.

In that same first editor’s note, Gilbert Guillermo also wrote, “Jingle tries its level best not to insult your intelligence (at least, we have conviction that we don’t). Come to think of it, Jingle costs so little for so much it gives. Before we truly sound too assertive or too apologetic, let’s end this ‘advertise-ment’ now and all together, let’s take a mind excursion down here in Jingle – where music is soul and soul is music. Now!”

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