Paolo Garcia had a rough 2020, even by COVID standards. Around this time last year, Taal Volcano erupted, blanketing the Filipino musician’s Laguna home in thick ashfall. Days after the volcanic fury, his father died. And two months later, the pandemic broke out.
His work didn’t fare much better, either: the lockdowns cancelled virtually all his live gigs, shrunk his time with collaborators, and drove him out of sound studios and back to the corners of his home.
So it’s a miracle that Garcia managed the music calendar he did last year. He produced ‘Muling Kagat’, a remixed rarities album of songs by Hotdog, the famed disco-funk band credited with birthing the Manila sound genre – and the group whose founding members happen to be his dad Dennis Garcia and uncle Rene Garcia.
Garcia then naturally took part in the multi-artist tribute concert that spun off that album. And last month, he entered a new artistic phase as Parallel Uno, releasing an eponymous 11-track album. And here we are, talking mere days after Garcia’s 35th birthday and a week before his dad’s first death anniversary.
If it seems like a lot to process, that’s because it is. But Garcia doesn’t dwell.
“I like to consider myself a victor or survivor who kept busy and managed to overcome the circumstances of 2020, coping by constantly creating,” Garcia tells NME. The multi-instrumentalist and producer has amassed a cult following of music fiends and geeks after over a decade of making trippy beats as Pasta Groove – a play on a nickname given to him by a fellow musician. “I got the name from Allen Umali of Sinosikat who used to call me ‘Pastor Groove’.”
Garcia grew up listening to hip-hop, and began collecting vinyl at the age of 15. (He estimates his collection at 10,000 records, “from Brazilian music to Italian soundtracks to OPM to hip-hop to electronic to dance music to jazz to soul”.) He officially debuted in 2008 with the album ‘The Distinktive Sounds Of Pasta Groove’ – which is authoritatively titled, but now feels ancient, he says. “Back then the recipe was a mix of soul, jazz, funk, with neo-soul being the most prominent.”
Twelve years later, he’s decided to “close the chapter of that sound” and continue the journey as Parallel Uno – a name that also came from a friend, frequent collaborator Armi Millare of UDD. “It was a project we were supposed to do that never transpired. I thought it sounded cool so I decided to use it. Easy peasy!”
“The art form of sample-based music goes beyond just two-bar loops”
Garcia considers this new artist incarnation a “rebirth and step forward” in his music. The eponymous album still offers a sampling of his core tastes – soul, jazz, funk – “but with a hint of exotica, neo-kundiman perhaps?” he muses.
Kundiman is a genre of traditional love songs written in Filipino. These sentimental lullabies are capable of rousing deep sadness or inexplicable warmth, which carries through in tracks ‘Yan Ba’y Kasalanan’ and ‘Bukang Liwayway.’ UDD’s Millare, as it happens, also lends her vocals to another track.
In fact, ‘Parallel Uno’ is a veritable party, as it includes contributions from 20 other musicians from wide-ranging disciplines and genres. These include veteran blues bassist Simon Tan, Side A drummer Mar Dizon and composer-performer Krina Cayabyab.
Featuring jazz trio Baihana and a cappella group ConChords, ‘Yan Ba’y Kasalanan’ is a “heavy and heartfelt” tune, Garcia says. “Krina also sang on the ‘Muling Kagat’ album for the song ‘Pilipino’ – which is light and bubbly. I was joking with her that we covered both joy and pain this year with these two tracks!”
Garcia played drums, bass, keys and synths on ‘Parallel Uno’, but what stands out is the way he marshals a variety of samples throughout the jazzy, head-bobbing record. The skill and care that goes into selection and sampling may be lost on local traditionalists, Garcia agrees.
“I guess sample-based music has always gotten a bad rep because of copyright issues, etc. But what people need to understand is that the art form goes beyond just two-bar loops. When you can sample fragments of bits and pieces from many different sources it becomes more like sound collages,” Garcia says.
“Capturing the moments and stubborn determination in the mixing and mastering process is what it’s all about. I’d like to say 50 per cent is strategy and the other 50 per cent is magic.”
It’s magic with the occasional dab of humour: Millare’s vocal improvisations sail smoothly on the instrumental ‘Latin Linggo’, but elsewhere you can hear an snippet of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte expelling a reverberating “Fuck you”. Amid the colourful collages, there’s also a remix of ‘Bukang Liwayway,’ a ’70s song which speaks of a longing for dawn—a kundiman if we ever heard one, or as Paolo puts it, neo-kundiman. “The song was written by my dad for Celeste Legaspi. A tune she wrote for her daughter in her womb while she was pregnant.”
MANILA by HotdogPerformed by Gary Valenciano and Armi MillareWith Rubber Inc and Brass Pas Pas Pas PasHinahanap-hanap Kita Manila – The Manila Heritage ConcertTwo Filipino artists who have conquered the international scene take you back home to Hotdog’s “Manila.”Armi Millare is the singer, songwriter, and keyboardist from electronic-rock band UDD. Since 2006, she has released four albums with UDD and toured extensively across Asia, Canada and the US. Armi has also performed in the UK and in Berlin, and worked with Norwegian group D’sound and Japanese group Ovall.And what Filipino doesn’t know Gary Valenciano? For the past 37 years, the multi-awarded artist, composer, and arranger has enthralled worldwide audiences with his breathtaking performances and groundbreaking music. From heartfelt ballads and upbeat tracks, Gary has relentlessly conquered the Philippine recording scene decade after decade.Armi’s smooth and silky vocals and the passion and verve of Gary’s meet at the center of the country’s economic, political, social, and cultural activity; a city both romantic and energetic, that will move you and make you groove at the same time. With the artistry of directors Paolo Valenciano with RA Rivera and Juno Oebanda, you will see Rizal Park Luneta with fresh eyes — and realize that there is simply no place like Manila, and simply no celebration like the Manila Heritage Concert.#HinahanaphanapKitaManila #ManilaHeritageConcert
Posted by National Parks Development Committee on Sunday, December 20, 2020
Speaking of his dad – what were the best and worst parts of having a music maverick for a father? “The most difficult is being referred to as ‘Anak ni Hotdog’ (‘Hotdog’s son’),” Garcia says, laughing. “But the most satisfying was being able to travel the world and experience different cultures. Dad was all about that.”
It feels apt, then, that Hotdog’s legacy was celebrated last month in a tribute concert that also showcased the cultural vibrancy of Manila. ‘Hinahanap-Hanap Kita Manila’ featured the likes of Bing Austria, Ebe Dancel and IV of Spades’ Blaster Silonga breathing life into Hotdog’s nostalgic, toe-tapping hits, their performances filmed around the Philippine capital and streamed virtually.
The virtual celebration might not have happened without ‘Muling Kagat’, Garcia says. “There were really plans for a [live] tribute concert and then COVID happened, so it got shelved. ‘Muling Kagat’ sparked the idea which led to the tribute concert put together by the National Parks Development Committee. It was a great way to honour my father and uncle’s legacy.”
“The most satisfying of being a ‘Hotdog son’ was being able to travel the world and experience different cultures. Dad was all about that”
This year, Garcia will be busy pressing both ‘Muling Kagat’ and ‘Parallel Uno’ on vinyl (the timeline is flexible, but he says they’ll be done “I’d like to hope in the first or second quarter of the year”). In the meantime, there’s still plenty of satisfaction to be had in streaming ‘Parallel Uno’: a lot of dancing, maybe a bit of crying, and, on occasion, introspection.
To that last point: ‘Parallel Uno’ concludes with an ‘Outro’ featuring a snippet of dialogue from cult Pinoy ’60s broadcaster Johnny Midnight, who talks about “fear of self-annihilation… fear of becoming nothing.” But Johnny suggests, “the secret is self-discovery.” These lines perhaps ring just as true about Paolo Garcia’s work in music so far.
“I am all for blazing new paths within the corners of your mind. This is the artist’s way,” Garcia says. “We must continue to reintroduce ourselves to one another because we are constantly changing. I will continue to evolve as an artist. Being fearless and taking risks is a big part of growth. Take a dip and see how far you can go.”
‘Parallel Uno’ is out now