By Susan Claire Agbayani
“GAME!” This was the reply of Skarlet Brown — the artist previously known as Myra David-Ruaro — when Emelee Nicart, her successor as Put3Ska band vocalist asked if she was ready for the much-awaited reunion of the Philippines’ premier ska band at the Music Museum on May 24.
Back in the day — 1995 to be exact — Put3Ska was named Best Live Act and Best New Artist at the NU Rock Awards. Ms. Brown was also named Vocalist of the Year by the popular radio station in 1997. The group’s hit songs include “Manila Girl,” “Short Stories,” “Sirang Romantiko,” from its first album Put3Ska, and “My Boy Lollipop” from the second album, Manila’s Finest.
For a long time now, the band’s former members have fielded offers to hold a reunion concert, but it had been difficult to gather everyone together as they each have their own lives and careers now.
There were plans for them to reunite in December 2016, but these fell through. It was frustrating, recalled guitarist and lyricist Arnold Morales.
DJ Terry Hall — the former lead singer of British ska band The Specials, said to be a strong influence among the Put3Ska members — was a catalyst of sorts though for this coming reunion, Ms. Brown recalled.
When Mr. Hall was in town last year to perform for Fred Perry Philippines’s 10th anniversary, and the audience saw former Put3Ska vocalists Ms. Brown and Ms. Nicart together with Morales at the event, they loudly chanted, “Put3Ska! Put3Ska! Put3Ska!”
“For years and years, other people were convincing me. And I kept saying, ‘In time, in time,’” Ms. Brown recalled during an interview on the sidelines of the concert’s press conference at Gerry’s Grill Morato.
SKA IN THE PHILIPPINES
“When we finally decided (to push through with it), it was like going down memory lane,” she said, mentioning their first gigs at Club Dredd, and the “chaotic” (Explosion at the Dome) concert at the Araneta Center which was produced by then 97.1 radio jock Triggerman, and which was their first public appearance in a huge venue with her as vocalist.
While elsewhere in the world, ska bands such as Madness, The Wailers, and The Specials were hitting the charts, their kind of music seemed strange to the ears of local listeners in the beginning.
“As a music genre, ska is where dance hall, rock steady, reggae, drum ‘n bass, hiphop — Jamaican toasting which evolved into the modern day rap — would trace their roots. But more than being a genre, I would say ska — compared to other music of today — caters to and fulfills our primordial need to move, dance, and party… ‘Serious fun,’ ‘fuck art, let’s dance’ as the Two Tone movement of the 1980s defined it,” wrote Rommel Cruz, another former Put3Ska member, in a personal message via Facebook Messenger.
Thanks in part to the daily noontime show Eat Bulaga’s playing “Manila Girl” every time the performer Gracia would appear back in the day, even the masa (masses) could have its fill and feel of ska music.
WHO IS IN IT
The last time the band performed together was in Hong Kong in 2004, when a good friend of the band, a Hong Kong-based Brit, invited them to celebrate his birthday there, said Mr. Cruz, a bass player and arranger.
“All of the original members” will be at the reunion concert, declared Mr. Morales. Not quite all — missing, of course, will be the late drummer Luis Guiang (a.k.a. Weslu) who died in a motorcycle crash in 2007, and keyboardist Bing Austria will not be in the reunion either. And not all former Put3Ska members through the years will be in the concert. Not in the lineup are trombonist Rodney Ambat, keyboardist Gio Punongbayan, and vocalist Izel Sarangelo (a.k.a. host/actress/singer Tuesday Vargas).
Performing at the May 24 concert will be Skarlet Brown, Emelee Nicart, and Mae Ilagan, vocals; Brutus Lacano and Rogel de la Cruz, drums; Rommel Cruz, bass; Arnold Morales, guitar; Nomer de los Santos, keyboard; Marvin Flores and Daniel Quianzon, trombone; Richard Cruz and Joey de Guzman, saxophone; and Eldie Siochi and Ruel Cabrera, trumpet. They will be joined by Skataba, with Japan’s Beat Bahnhoff as the opening act.
“We’ll be playing songs from the first and second albums (Put3Ska and Manila’s Finest), plus a few covers,” said Mr. Cruz. “We also tweaked the arrangements of the horns section in some of the songs,” he added.
FROM FAR AND WIDE
Put3Ska fans from 15 to 25 years ago are now professionals. Some of them are already grandparents. “Some are abroad,” noted Ms. Nicart.
“They’re fired up once again,” said Mr. Morales. Fans are said to be coming from halfway around the world, from places such as the Middle East and the US. Some have already made advanced purchases of concert tickets. They expect foreigners, and even members of the diplomatic corps from countries such as Jamaica, Japan, and the United Kingdom to make the trip.
“Karamihan ng mga banda sa mainstream, nagpapa-underground effect (many mainstream bands pretend to be underground),” said Mr. Morales. “Kami, baliktad (we are the opposite),” said Ms. Nicart. “Kami ’yung bandang underground na nagpapa-mainstream effect (we are the underground band pretending to be mainstream),” Mr. Morales chuckled.
Plans are afoot to release a new studio album (“leveled up” promised Mr. Morales); and a tour is in the offing. They are open to reaching a wider audience.
Before Put3Ska, the late Mr. Guiang and Mr. Cruz collaborated on the shortlived ska-punk band Matang Kenkoys, where Skarlet Brown sang Selecter and Rezillos songs in Shakeys in 1990, wrote Ms. Brown in one of a series of stories on her Facebook account about the band’s history.
“Matang Kenkoys was an early forecast of more ska things to come,” she quipped.
According to her, back then former Skalawags and The Jerks bassist Edwin/Eisman Aguilar had a T-shirt printing and signage business in Pateros — and helped former Put3Ska keyboardist Bing Austria start a tie-dye business, hand-painting their works on kurtas. Mr. Aguilar told Mr. Austria to suggest “to change the group name ‘Downtown ’64’ (the group’s original name) to ‘Put3Ska,’” a bit on word play on the popular curse uttered by older folk in his native Batangas. That was in 1993.
Ms. Brown was recruited by Mr. Guiang in 1994 after the band’s vocalist Raymond Sanchez and guitarist Anthony Reyes left. Among those considered for the post was Advent Call vocalist Karl Roy, now deceased.
At around this time, the band got two new managers: Je Bautista of Betrayed, and Par Sallan who was then working on some projects with Octoarts, which would eventually become the band’s label.
“We were not NU 107’s Best Live Act for nothing,” wrote Ms. Brown in her Facebook story series.
“NU Rock Awards had no category for best horn players — but hands down — Put3Ska’s horn section was nothing like any other band at that time. They were a well-oiled, full-throttling ska music machine!”
The Put3Ska horn section “executed their parts, hard-edged driving, blasting those horn lines at what sounded like 200 beats per minute! Furiously jumping up and down, drenched in sweat, water, beer, liquor, and more beer for a full *#% set of an hour and a half.”
“The next four years (were) the brightest years in Pinoy ska History,” wrote Ms. Brown.
At the height of Put3Ska’s career, she made what she refers to as “a very difficult decision,” resigning from the band after “a series of bad experiences,” she wrote on her Facebook page. “’Yung wounds naman talaga, naghi-heal ’yon. Hindi mo nakakalimutan. Pero pwede na mag-move on (Wounds can heal, but you wont forget them. But you can move on). Part of it is forgiveness on both parties…”
FOR THE YOUNG
After Ms. Brown had agreed to perform at the reunion concert, Rommel Cruz’s wife Julie took her aside and asked her to, “Please do it, because our kids never saw you perform.”
And then it hit her — “In my household, Put3Ska is a myth. It’s not even played. (My husband) Marben probably saw us gig at Club Dredd, but we were not (yet) together. My daughter has no idea, except for stories (she has heard).”
She had to tell her daughter that it’s different now, as the band members have, well, matured. “I’m very looking forward to this with a little bit of nerbiyos (nerves),” she admitted.
“I desire to contribute to documenting and promoting Pinoy music archiving. I will forever remain an advocate of musician’s rights and welfare. I hope to do that and leave that legacy to my daughter and the people who want to know, and for those who truly care,” she wrote on Facebook.