Coffee with the enemy

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – February 24, 2019 – 12:00am
I posted something on Twitter and FB last Thursday that got a lot of attention.

“A serious offer. Would anyone on the opposite side of the political fence want to have coffee? No, we will not talk politics. Let’s talk about things that make us see each other’s humanity. Jokes, personal stories, dreams, ideals, songs and books we like, etc. Let me know.”

Many people liked, commented and forwarded the message. But there were also reactions that were mixed. Some were intrigued, baffled. Two expressed that it was a waste of time. One questioned my motives. Many thought it was a cool idea. What was clear was many people read it, thought about it and somehow resonated with the idea.

It seems practically every Filipino anywhere in the world has had the sad experience of losing friends and not talking to family members because of disagreements about politics. The polarization has become too much. For many, the line has been drawn. It has become a “them versus us” situation.

Rational discussions on politics are now so hard to come by. Real facts have been drowned by so much fake news that people have lost their trust in the usual credible sources. Reason is under attack. Things have become too emotional so that people seek validation not from facts but from kindred spirits who share their opinions and feelings whether fact-based or not.

No wonder a post like the one above generated excitement among my followers.

Many people want their old lives back where they could just hang around with friends and family and talk about anything and everything. That has become quite difficult now. But it is still possible, under certain conditions. I know of some Viber groups that have rules discouraging discussions about politics and religion. Basically, one can talk and express anything as long as you don’t touch on these two topics.

In my ADMU Class Viber group, it has become the norm. Religion is okay, but politics is not. In fact, we had to make another Viber group for those who want to discuss politics just to make sure the conversation is not forced on anyone and no one gets turned off and leaves the group.

I am planning the first coffee meeting that I suggested above. It should be soon. It will be in a public place. People can simply show up. No need to identify themselves based on political beliefs or affiliation. That limits the person in the eyes of others. He becomes just that to some, even if we are really much bigger than that. The idea is to be able to appreciate everyone as individual, fellow human beings.

Everyone has dreams, ideals, wants, desires and goals. There are also a million things to talk about that do not have to necessarily arouse people and make them defensive, offensive, or toxic.

The world is filled with wonderful things to appreciate and talk about. There are so many topics to chat about, and experiences we can individually share that can inspire and enrich others intellectually, emotionally and even spiritually.

The aim is not to convert anyone to any cause but to see people in as many contexts as possible. More than being just labeled as Dilawan or DDS, let’s look at everyone as who they are. They could be parents, students, etc. who have something to share. They are people like us who also worry about the future. They love others and are loved back. We are certainly more than just political statistics. As humans we are multi-faceted, multi-talented, and open-ended. When we open ourselves to others and vice versa, we begin to look at them with greater understanding, empathy and perhaps even with respect.

But many tough questions can arise within us that can stop us in our tracks. One of them is: Can you actually make peace with someone who is truly despicable?

I have sat and listened and talked with killers, plunderers, some evil people. Some of them are well known public figures. Let me tell you, I had to stretch myself to try and understand where they were coming from. Some are difficult to understand. They aroused no empathy in me.

One of them actually espoused values like respect for human rights, anti-corruption, anti-violence even if he has a private army and has had people killed. But some of them were actually quite charming and even charismatic. You may even get to like them in some ways.

What I learned from those meetings and chats is that you can have greater understanding of people without losing your own values. In many ways, being exposed to them can solidify your own values and beliefs more, even as you take pity on them. If anything, I’ve learned that human nature is not simple. It demands a great openness to try to even understand it.

Psychologist Carl Jung said that when two people meet, a chemical reaction happens that leaves both of them changed. For sure, many of us have met people with bad intentions that have left us fearful, and even forced us to be quiet. But some of us have also met strangers who have inspired us to have more trust and faith in humanity.

Invite fellow Filipinos who do not agree with you out for coffee. Even if you exclude politics in the discussion, there are still many things to talk about. It would not hurt to reach out to the “enemy” and do the extra effort of listening and interacting with them. Who knows, maybe both “them” and “us” can become more human in each other’s eyes.

Tell jokes. Share life stories. Discuss what you are passionate about, etc. Maybe even do karaoke. Those can be steps (however small) towards healing.


The night the audience laughed… and cried

The night the audience laughed… and cried

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – February 17, 2019 – 12:00am

It was a night that around 500 people will remember for a long time. I’m talking about the night of Feb. 10 at the Maybank Performing Arts Theater at BGC.

Boboy Garrovillo, Sonny Santiago, Tato Garcia, Gus Cosio, Lito de Joya, Chito Kintanar and I — all original APO members in college — got together and bought a night of performance of Eto Na! MusikalnAPO, the hit musical. We did this to raise funds for fellow APO member Butch Dans who is sick with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). He was a heavy smoker for decades.

We planned this three months ago in 2018. I was told by Santi Santamaria, head honcho of 9Works (which produced the musical), that it would have a rerun in February 2019. We immediately reserved a night.

We went all-out and called friends, friends of friends, relatives, classmates, fans; we put out the message on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Soon enough, we sold the bulk of the tickets pretty fast. Everyone was supportive of the cause.

To be sure, the musical was not a hard sell. It was already on its second run. During the first run last August, it mostly ran full house and got a standing ovation every show. It was no surprise, then, that when we started selling, people responded positively.

We wanted the night to be different from all the other showings. We had cocktails. We served delicious canapés and Bay of Gold tuna and salmon on crackers. We also had wine.

We decided early on that we wanted to offer some kind of a surprise to the audience. We planned on getting the original APO members to sing two songs in the lobby during intermission. It got us all excited.

A few days before the show, we met to practice the numbers we used to sing as a big group then. All in all, 12 people have come and gone from APO over the years, some for just a short time. Two songs we often sang then were There is a Meeting, by Joe and Eddie, and In the Still of the Night by the Four Tops.

During rehearsals, memories of high school and college came flooding in. All of a sudden, it seemed we were not in our 60s, age-wise, but back in our teenage years. We were young, full of energy and noisy. We were teasing each other, as we used to then. We were smiling, even giggling during practice as we recalled stories of gigs, and crazy times in high school and early college. As the cliché line goes, it seemed like only yesterday.

With older, somewhat untrained voices now, we mostly could not sing the songs in their original key. They were too high. Boboy and I were the guitarists and we had to make adjustments by lowering the key from A to G. It was still high, but it was more manageable.


Lydia Paredes (right) and the crowd react.
We practiced on and off for about a two hours, in between laughter and stories.

A day before the show, my daughter Ala arrived from Sydney to watch. On the day of the show, we came in early and ran through the songs two more times. The audience showed up early to enjoy the cocktails. There were video screens in the room showing a collage of early APO photos.

On the spur of the moment, we decided to sing then and there, instead of waiting for intermission, since the people were already gathered in one place. Butch Dans, who was not confirmed to show up, was suddenly there. We plugged in the mics and guitars and started singing. Right from the start, the people gathered and sang with us. They shouted out comments, laughed at our jokes, and relished a few stories that we narrated.

The gig went quite well despite the technical difficulties with mics and guitars. We were ecstatic. The people who watched were all smiles. Many were remembering their own youthful days. Some were watching us for the first time and were quite moved by the love we had for Butch and for the warm camaraderie we all shared.

Soon after, we entered the theater with the rest of the crowd to watch the show.

Everyone was unbelievably high. The members of the cast were so hyped up because the original APO members were present in the audience. They knew they were portraying our story, however loosely, and singing songs we had made. They wanted to give 150 percent effort.

And they sure did.

It was my 14th time to watch the musical. Let me tell you, the cast was at their best. Everything went well. No hitches. The young performers were sharp as knives. Every joke was delivered well, every note played and sung beautifully with much feeling. The audience laughed their hearts out, and cried, too. Eto Na! MusicalnAPO has that effect on people.

Ala was in tears throughout. She was so glad she came home. The songs in the musical had been part of her entire life. She heard many of them being composed at home, and played as records, sung on TV and at countless concerts.

The love and the good feeling was everywhere. The more the audience showed appreciation, the more the cast showed its energy and talent. It was symbiotic. Everyone was soaking in a feeling of pure joy. Surely, Marie Kondo would find nothing to throw away that night.

The cast got a standing ovation amid lusty applause. During curtain call, they pulled us up to the stage to take our bows with them. After bowing, Boboy and I thanked everyone for their support.

The joy spilled out into the lobby as the audience took selfies with the cast and the original APOs. People stayed to share their reactions, to connect, and to just feel the good vibes.

We went home high, joyful, ecstatic, thankful that the Universe had smiled upon everyone who was there. Truly, an unforgettable night for everyone.


The thrill of singing world hits in Filipino

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – February 10, 2019 – 12:00am
Do you love to sing? Do you enjoy Karaoke? Many Filipinos do. And why not? Who doesn’t love singing?

And I am sure everyone has their favorite songs that they sing over and over again. But have you ever had the chance to sing them in Tagalog?

I saw Pete Lacaba, eminent poet, writer, teacher, journalist and friend at the Ateneo de Manila University a few days ago and I suddenly remembered one of the most unique and enjoyable gigs I’ve ever done. In fact, I would not mind doing it again. Pete invited me to do a show gig at Conspiracy Bar about six years ago and sing some of his works.


Pete Lacaba has done a lot of writing over the years, which has earned him great reviews, awards and accolades. But one of his most unique works unknown to the general public is a compilation of some of the greatest songs in English that he translated into Filipino. The compilation is called Salinawit ni Pete Lacaba. You can find popular songs from the ’40s, a Beatles song, and even recent songs up to the ’90s. The edition I have has more than 170 songs.

Singing songs I have always loved, but now translated into the vernacular, is such a wonderfully new way to appreciate them. To be sure, each language has its own nuances. Pete did not translate these songs literally. What he did was more of a “transplanting” of the songs into Filipino. Some things changed and some elements were added. But the songs mostly took root and flowered in the local language.

Take the song That’s All, which was popularized by Frank Sinatra, and lately by Michael Buble. It becomes like this in Salinawit:


(Sa himig ng “That’s All,” Salinawit: Pete Lacaba)

Tunay na pagmamahal sa habang- buhay,

’Yan lamang ang aking maiaalay,

At ang tanging puso ko,

Nakalaan sa ’yo. Yun lang, yun lang.

Alay ko sa ’yo’y pamamasyal sa araw

At kamay na kakapitan sa ulan

At mainit na dibdib

Sa gabi ng taglamig,

Yun lang, yun lang.


Ang iba ay maraming pangakò,

At handang ibigay ang mundo.

Matamis na halik at pagsuyò —

’Yan lang ang maihahandog ko.

Kung pangarap ko ay ibig mong malaman,

Ang isasagot ko’y simple lang naman —

Basta’t sabihin mong ako,

Ako lang ang mahal mo.

Yun lang, yun lang.

When translated into Filipino, somehow the words become more intimate. The images in my mind are transformed into a local setting. And the thrill of the song has a different kilig.

* * *

Here’s the next song.


(Sa himig ng “As Time Goes By,” Salinawit: Pete Lacaba)

Alalahanin mo,

Halik na totoo

Ay di nagbabago—

Kapag dalisay at wagas, Walang kupas.

At sa sinisinta,

Sinasambit tuwina’y “Iniibig kita.”

Kapag tapat ang pagbigkas, Walang kupas.

Rosas at awit Na di naluluma,

Lambing at galit At selos at tuwa,

Isang dibdib, Dalawang nilikha —

Pag-ibig ay ganyan.

Paulit-ulit lamang

Ang ating kasaysayan

Ngayon at kaylanman.

Walang wakas itong pag-ibig,

Walang kupas.

Brilliant, isn’t it? It was like it was originally written in Filipino.

* * *

Here is a famous song by the Beatles.


(Sa himig ng “Yesterday,” Salinawit: Pete Lacaba)

Kahapon lang

Ay wala akong dinaramdam.

Ngayo’y pasan ko ang mundo at sugatan ang puso ko.


Ang pag-ibig ay naging bula,

Kay dilim nitong aking daan.

Kahapon lang ay nasaan?

Ang inibig ko nang lubos

Ay wala na.

Di na babalik

Kaylanman Ang pagsinta…

Kahapon lang,

Ang pag-ibig ay parang laro.

Saan ako ngayon magtatago?

At nasaan ang kahapon lang?

In many countries, translating works is not uncommon. American musicals are translated into the local language. Miss Saigon was translated into German. Les Misérables was a hit in Japanese. We should be doing the same thing with books and music. It would be wonderful if Filipinos could read the world’s classics or famous books in the vernacular. Or watch the great Broadway musicals translated into our local languages.

* * *

Here’s a Carlos Jobim song I love to sing.


(Sa himig ng “The Girl from Ipanema” Salinawit: Pete Lacaba)

Kayumanggi, balingkinitan Itong dilag sa dalampasigan,

At pagdaan niya,

Nasasambit mo lang ay: “Wow!”

Sumasayaw siya sa buhangin, Hinahaplos-haplos ng hangin,

At pagsayaw niya,

Nasasambit mo lang ay: “Wow!”

A! Pa’no mo sasabihin

Ang kinikimkim na damdamin

At ang tapat mong hangarin? Kahit na ano ang ’yong gawin, Ikaw ay hindi mapansin.

Kayumanggi, balingkinitan Itong dilag sa dalampasigan, At ang ngiti mo,

Aay! hindi niya pansin.

(Ay! hindi niya pansin. Ikaw ay hindi niya pansin.)

Wow. Iba na ang dating! We may we feel we fully understand the English language. Intellectually, perhaps, we do. Viscerally, our natural expressions of feelings are still said best in our native tongue. From my own experience, I know that my Tagalog compositions are much more popular than my English ones. And no matter how proficient you are in English, to a Filipino an “aray” is still more instinctive and natural than crying “ouch.”

One thing I know is that a culture can often be enriched when it not only adapts something foreign but especially when it integrates it to the point that it has blended seamlessly and has become “local.”

Pete Lacaba is on the right track. He is expanding our repertoire of songs in the vernacular.

I asked Pete where I could get copies of his book for my friends. He had many copies made before which he gave away. Unfortunately, all he has now is a PDF file. Luckily I still have the one he gave me.

If you are interested and wish to have a PDF copy of Salinawit, try the internet. I found my copy there. Or please write to me and I may send it to you through email.

Pepe Smith: A legend on steroids

A few of Joey “Pepe” Smith’s favorite things: A jacket, boots, a guitar and a model airplane box

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – February 3, 2019 – 12:00am

Joey “Pepe” Smith was a legend, an icon, a rock symbol, etc. I am not using these words lightly here. Pepe Smith is really all that. On steroids.

I first came across him as a singer of The Downbeats, a band that front-acted for The Beatles in 1965 at Rizal Sports Stadium in Manila. He had an immediate impact on the audience. At that time, he was a Mick Jagger wannabe doing the song Satisfaction, complete with the Jagger shuffle.

The next time I saw him was in UP around 1971. I was in a room with other artists and Pepe dominated the scene with his bigger-than-life presence. He was tall, lanky, with very long hair, a loud voice, a dramatic style and an overwhelming charisma. He had that star quality that was different from every artist at that time. He was a rebellious, wild, outrageous, loud, confident person who at the same time possessed charm. To some, he was very likable. To others, he seemed menacing. Either way, he had a personality that riveted everyone’s attention towards him.

I also saw him perform one of the leads in the musical Hair, which may have been the first theatrical production in the Philippines that showed some onstage nudity.

Once you met or saw Pepe Smith, he was impossible to forget. He made an indelible impression on you, for better or for worse.

Early in his career, he sang with different bands until he joined Juan de la Cruz, the first real original Pinoy rock band. The group was not just amazing. It was revolutionary. I remember half-laughing and shaking my head in admiration when I first heard the song Rock & Roll Sa Ulan with Pepe reciting the lyrics. It had a mocking irreverence and cheeky defiance to it. It was so free it even challenged what everyone thought rock at that time should be. And soon after, on and on came the hits. Titser’s Enemi No. 1, Balong Malalim, Beep Beep, Himig Natin, No Touch, Langit, etc. flooded the airwaves. It is an understatement to say that they hit it really big.

Beebop, Sanya, Daisy and Delta

A vivid memory I have of Pepe Smith and the Juan de la Cruz Band was a concert at St Mary’s College in the early ’70s. I remember singing our versions of foreign hits and our own compositions in English. We actually got a pretty good reaction from the audience. But the reaction we got was nothing like what Pepe and the JDLC Band got. The audience actually went wild, loudly sang along and had a great time. It was a turning point for us as we watched from backstage. No, we were not going to turn into a rock band. We realized that the way to go was to write and sing songs in Pilipino. It sounded more authentic and real. It definitely changed the direction of APO’s career. And we thank Pepe and Juan de la Cruz Band for it.

I went to the wake last Wednesday night to pay my respects to Pepe Smith and to hear stories about him. I realized I knew so little about this legendary figure who was my OPM contemporary. Pepe was the son of an American pilot named Edgar Smith and a Filipina. Pepe’s daughter Daisy said he hardly talked about his dad because they did not get along. He has other sibs from both parents. He was 71 when he passed on.

I talked with Rose Cruz, the mother of three of his five children, and his companion at the time he died. She narrated the moment of his death. Pepe had put some of his many guitars on their bed and was changing the strings of his new favorite Washburn acoustic guitar. He was in a light mood. Suddenly, he told Rose that he was not feeling good. Rose asked him if he wanted to go to the hospital. He declined. Soon after, he had a stroke (his third) and died quietly in her arms.

I met four of his five children at the wake, too. The youngest and only boy is BeeBop who was named after the Gene Vincent song Beebop-A-Lula. He is tall and also is a dead ringer for his father. The youngest girl Delta was named after Delta Force, a type of airplane that Pepe liked. I also learned that Pepe actually wanted to be a pilot like his father. He was into model airplanes. Daisy was named after the poem “Desiderata.” Sanya, a daughter by a different mother was named after the word “Sannyasin,” a Sanskrit term for spiritual seekers who have managed to renounce all materialism. The oldest is Queenie, also by a different mom. Unfortunately, she was not there when I visited and I was unable to speak with her.

The four sibs described their father as a happy person who could change their moods when they were having a rough time. They all smile when they remember him. He was playful and mischievous. He was ridiculously funny. And he was a loving dad. They told jokes and anecdotes about Pepe with fondness. Daisy, who resides in Australia, said he was planning on visiting her in Queensland but tragedy struck too soon.

His hat, a bottle of Wild Turkey bourbon from Australia and a tiny flashlight Pepe liked bringing along.

There were stories of his wild and reckless behavior, too. Pepe spent two years in a Quezon City jail until he was acquitted of drug charges. Rose also narrated how Pepe, during one of his stays in the hospital as a patient, was walking around the corridor with a dextrose feed connected to one hand and a Jim Beam bottle held in the other. He was outrageous. She laughed when she remembered this. There was never a dull moment with him. When I mentioned the word “controversial” to describe Pepe to his family, they all laughed. I laughed too, because the word is too mild to describe him.

Pepe’s mantra, philosophy and religion, to be very simple about it, was “Rock ‘n’ Roll.” He led the rock star lifestyle with all its attendant highs and lows. He lived a life of excess. In the public eye, he was party town personified.

Pepe will be remembered by all of us as an OPM giant whose songs will stay with us for the next generations. Pepe in his own way was a mover and shaker. He and the Juan de la Cruz personified Pinoy Rock and made a real music genre locally. He dared to live his life without any reservations or compromises.

He will be missed by his family and friends who knew him better than we, the public, will ever know.

Goodbye, Pepe Smith. ’Til we meet again. And we all will. Meanwhile, enjoy jamming with Jimi Hendrix and the rock greats in Rock and Roll Heaven.