By Susan Claire Agbayani
FORMER RADIO station manager and disc jockey (DJ) George Mercado, a.k.a. “George Boone” distinctly remembers having persistently wooed Cynthia Alexander — following her around in gigs at 70s Bistro as early as 1995 for instance — into signing up with a record company when he was its chief operating officer (COO).
“I’d always wanted to sign her up, so I used all my convincing powers to get Dyna Records management to believe,” he told this writer via Facebook Messenger.
“Recording of Insomnia and Other Lullabyes was incredibly smooth with Maly Andres of Violent Playground producing, and Angee Rozul on the faders. She insisted on a Taylor guitar for one of the songs which I had to rent from Litos Benavidez. She also didn’t want to settle for synths, and wanted a string quartet for a couple of songs.
A diva? No.
“Perfectionist is the word,” Mr. Mercado said.
Mr. Mercado is now CEO of CloudReady, a cloud tech company based in Singapore; he also teaches at John Robert Powers, and plays keyboards for a retro band.
Ms. Alexander went on to perform at Sanctum, Survival Café, and Conspiracy, among other venues, and released three other albums which she produced and released independently: Rippingyarns (2000), which contains most of her hit songs, Comet’s Tail (2005), and the live album Walk Down the Road (2009).
She moved to Washington state in the US in 2012 with her daughter Tala and her wife Stacey, and there she found peace and quiet. It was a place where she was “able to hear my thoughts.” According to an essay she wrote on the crowdfunding site Indiegogo.com, she has “played the stages, coffee shops, and parks” of her new home.
“… Since the release of my last album in 2009, I’ve gone through a personal sea change that culminated in my move to the Pacific Northwest. All this time, I’ve been writing songs that reflect my experiences. Now that I’ve set down roots and built a small home studio, I’m ready to record those songs and share them with you!” she said on the site.
Ms. Alexander wrote most of the songs on Even Such is Time (save for the adaptations of her mother’s poems). She also wrote the music, and performed and arranged the tungkaling, coral, lava rock, tungatong, gandingan, gangsa, rainstick, goats horns, kalimba, guitars, bass, synths, and piano on the new album which she produced in Tacoma, Washington. It was, however, mixed by Matthew Brown in Hamburg, Germany, and mastered by Levi Seitz of Black Belt Mastering in Seattle, Washington.
During the concert-cum-album launch of Even Such is Time at San Juan’s Music Museum on Jan. 13, she thanked “168 funder friends from the USA (including Guam), Canada, Australia, Japan, Singapore, and the Philippines” who made the mixing, mastering, and manufacturing of her latest album possible.
One such fan is Alden Copuyoc, a writer and entrepreneur who met Ms. Alexander when he edited Music Channel magazine in early 2000 and eventually became her good friend. “I followed Cynthia around. I love Tori Amos and Joni Mitchell. When I idolize artists I look for three things: poetic lyrics, instrument mastery, and distinctive sound.” He said Ms. Alexander has all three.
Her ardent admirers among the concert goers were pleased to have heard hits from her second album Rippingyarns such as “Walk Down the Road,” “U & I,” “Knowing There’s Only You,” “Daisy Chain,” “Weather Report,” and “Intertwyne”; Insomnia and Other Lullabyes (1997) such as “Wait,” “Malaya,” and what is probably her most popular song, “Comfort in Your Strangeness.”
Apart from guestings on broadcast media, last Saturday’s concert was the first time that Ms. Alexander performed songs from her new album for local audiences with a band. Aside from “Dressed for Nowhere,” “St. Cecilia,” and “Dreams,” she also performed “Snowhills,” which is an adaptation of “Love Poem” by her poet-mother Tita Lacambra-Ayala from the book Ordinary Poems which was written in 1967.
Ms. Alexander acknowledged her older brother Joey Ayala’s presence during the concert — even inviting him to go onstage for some “joke time.” She revealed how he was a crucial influence on her, having taught her “my first three chords in life,” and giving/lending her her first guitar at age 13, and, eventually, also giving her first bass guitar (never mind that it was “matigas tugtugin” — hard to play). And what an investment that was, as she eventually emerged as the best bassist in the World Band Explosion finals in Tokyo, Japan.
Among those who played with Ms. Alexander during last weekend’s concert were Mlou Matute on darboukka and piano and Abby Clutario on piano and chapman stick (both also did backup vocals); CJ Wasu on tabla; Zach Lucero on drums; Sancho Sanchez and Kakoy Legaspi on guitars; and Louie Talan and Yuna Reguerra on bass.
Ms. Alexander performed with the singer-songwriter twins Paolo and Miguel Guico from the young and promising nine-piece world/folk-pop band Ben&Ben. They sang the Beatles’ “Blackbird,” and “Dumaan Ako,” a song which was written by the late poet Maningning Miclat, set to music by Mr. Ayala.
Fresh from a sold-out concert and album launch at Teatrino Music Hall — right across the Music Museum in the Greenhills Shopping Center — Ben&Ben was Ms. Alexander’s front act, singing their own songs “Maybe the Night,” “Sa Panaginip,” and “Dahilan,” as well as “Ride Home,” “Leaves,” and their hit, “Kathang Isip,” which have “notched over a million streams each on music platform Spotify,” according to a press release issued by the concert organizers.
The fraternal twins, who are both engineering graduates from De La Salle University in Manila, don’t have musicians as parents. But their folks’ love and appreciation for music rubbed off on them such that they decided to jump into a career in music right after college.
“Growing up, our dad made us listen to a lot of artists from the 1950s and 1960s such as Dave Clark 5, Everly Brothers, Simon and Garfunkel, a lot of standards, and, of course, the entire discography of The Beatles. He’d also load concert videos of bands like The Eagles from time to time. Mom, on the other hand, listened to a lot of church and worship music during mornings,” said Paolo Guico in an interview via Messenger.
“We felt really nervous days prior to meeting Cynthia, since there was so much pressure to be at our best musically for the rehearsals and eventually for the show,” he said. “However during the rehearsals, we found ourselves enjoying the whole process because the music just flowed out of everyone,” he added.
“The collaboration with Ms. Cynthia was surreal. It actually felt like a dream for us to be able to share the stage with one of our biggest influences while singing one of our ‘life songs,’ which is Ms. Cynthia’s version of ‘Dumaan Ako’ by Maningning Miclat and Joey Ayala,” Miguel Guico said.
The concert was presented by the Organisasyon ng Pilipinong Mang-aawit (OPM) and SOS Movement, in partnership with Gabi Na Naman Productions and Vandals On The Wall.
Even Such is Time is available online starting at $7 for a digital download at cynthiaalexander.bandcamp.com/album/even-such-is-time.