“Well, if you live, you gotta grow old, baby…” sings B.B. King. Just about everything in this world gets old, and so does the blues community. It is not surprising that blues businesses and musicians alike may have a sense of crisis. Attracting more young people into the blues world is a big challenge for them today.
Blue flower (Photo credit: @Doug88888)
At the King Biscuit Blues Festival held in a small town called Helena in Arkansas in October, the president of the Blues Foundation, Mr. Jay Sieleman, murmured, bemoaning the graying of the festival crowd: “Look, about 60 or 70% of these people are pretty old. What will happen to the blues fans 10 years from now after they are gone?” It must be universally true that most blues fans today are older folks. It is because those folks, who were young during the revival of the blues in the 1960s and developed a liking for the blues back then, are in their 50s and 60s or even older now. The same holds true for Japan.
In Japan, particularly in Tokyo, blues jams have been mushrooming, thanks to a live music boom, and young musicians are being rolled into the trend. It is quite interesting that not only bars and coffee shops but also Japanese style pubs, noodle restaurants and the like, which traditionally have never hosted live music before, are eager to have live blues performances and jams. There are a few possible reasons: As is the case with bars and coffee shops, those pubs and restaurants use live music to attract more customers, particularly those whose disposable incomes are higher than those of most young people; Blues is so much easier for jamming than other genres of music because the chords are simple, so that more musicians, young or old, can participate; and the host of a blues jam will usually make a special effort to bring in as many people as possible, which eventually promotes the venue. Naturally, the typically Japanese “me-too” syndrome tends to heat up competition among venues. Hence less customers at weaker venues. So, the pie has to become even bigger.
Here is an interesting effort made by the manager of a live music venue in the west part of Tokyo, where the younger population is concentrated because there are a lot of colleges, universities, vocational schools, etc. His live music club is rock’n’roll-oriented to cater to the young crowd. But he decided to host a blues jam a few times a month so both young and older musicians can play together. While this really helps young musicians learn the blues, it is in fact an intriguing idea to solve a dilemma: Younger people with less money do not bring sufficient profits to the club, therefore, to attract older customers, who spend more money, offering a blues jam is one of the best and quickest ways. From the blues community’s viewpoint, it is great that a rock venue promotes the blues music to younger folks and makes them think it is cool to play the blues. Will there be a blues renaissance in Japan in the near future? Maybe!
We are pleased to announce that Feedblitz, the service provider for our weekly newsletter, finally responded to our inquiry about clarification of their monthly charges. They admitted that their billing system was making a major mistake, billing me the full ANNUAL service fee every single month for 6 months. They promise to “make things right.” We will see. But at the very least, their charges should return to normal, and we can again justify the cost of maintaining the newsletter.
We have some catching up to do. Hopefully we will do so over the next few weeks.
Regional media is suddently paying more attention to blues. Also regionqa networking among blues artists and venues is on the upswing. Blues musicians are banding together to help super typhoon victims in the Philippines. Plus Magic Dick and Tommy Castro tour Japan.
OFFICIAL SUMMARY VIDEO OF COTAI JAZZ & BLUES FESTIVAL/COMPETITION
Here’s a follow up video from the organizer of the Cotai International Jazz & Blues Festival/Competition that captures the outrageously fun spirit of the event. And yes, that’s the Bleu Rascals from the Philippines performing the sound track of the video and holding up their check for FIRST PLACE. I will give everyone advance notice about the event when dates and application procedures are announced.
MAJOR REGIONAL NETWORKING
One of our major objectives is to encourage and feature blues networking within the region. And it’s happening!
Blues Asia Network received an email from French bluesman Christian Desarmes, now living in Bangkok, that he planned to visit Manila on November 14-16. Christian indicated his interest in doing some jamming. Utilizing its network on Facebook, Blues Asia Network arranged within an hour featured guestings for Christian at four gigs at three different venues, with three different bands. We also received an alert from Bangkok bluesman Danny Woody that yet another expat blues from Bangkok was headed to Manila at the very same time: American pro musician Eddie Baytos.
Christian infuses his guitar and vocals with a distinctive personality, stamping his blues with clear individuality. He first performed acoustic with Manila’s new acoustic guitar/harp duo featuring Hoochie Coochie Mikkie and Ian Lofamia, supplemented by the lap slide of Haro Eckter. It was delicious. Next he performed electric guitar/vocals with the Bleu Rascals on Friday, repeating at their Saturday gig. And on Saturday he was the featured guest of the Ian Lofamia Bues Band, with its straight-ahead Chicago blues.
Eddie Baytos, we learned, is an accomplished New Orleans style keyboardist and Zydeco accordion player. Blues Asia Network found a 50-year-old accordion for him, but unfortunately the strap was broken. We are already talking about a return visit, with enough advance planning to assure a great evening or two as featured guest artist.
ALSO: Aussie John McNamara jammed with Singapore’s Raw Earth recentlyt at Muddy Murphy’s. John was on a brief tour of Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. Maybe next time, there will be a way to get him — and others like him — to include Jakarta, Bandung, Bangkok and Manila in the tour.
AUSSIE RADIO TO SPOTLIGHT OZ BLUES
FROM WARWICK LEDSHAM, who hosts the Blues Room radio show in Australia every Wednesday night: Some news for you blues heads, the Blues Room has a new show starting on the 23rd of this month on a Sunday night from 8.00pm–9.00pm. it will be called Ozz Blues. Australian artists will still be played on the Blues Room, but Sunday will be Ozz blues only.
NEW MUSIC TV FROM BANGKOK
Irishman bluesman Keith Nolan, a musician residing in Bangkok, has just announced the soon-to-be-launched ACCESS ALL AREAS television show covering music. He already has interviews completed with several eminent international musicians. His new Facebook page will keep us up to date about the program.
MAGIC DICK & TOMMY CASTRO TO PERFORM IN JAPAN
Magic Dick and Tommy Castro perform in Japan this month!
Magic Dick (of The J. Geils Band)
with Tommy Castro And The Painkillers
at Billboard Live Tokyo on Nov. 22, 2013 and
at Billboard Live Osaka on Nov. 23, 2013
Yen 8,000 in serviced area, Yen 6,000 in casual area
1st stage: open 17:30 start 19:00, 2nd stage;: open 20:45 start 21:30
Thanks to our Japan correspondent C K for passing this on.
STREAMING BLUES FROM GUAM
FROM JOHN HOFFMAN: Guam’s foremost blues man
Tom, just to let you know KPRG Guam is streaming at kprg.org...my show is Mondays at 9pm.
BLUES MUSICIANS & VENUES BAND TOGETHER TO HELP SUPER TYPHOON VICTIMS
The recent super typhoon that hit the Philippines gratefully by-passed Manila, but the central part of the country is suffering utter devastation from the strong storm ever to hit land. Blues bands and blues-oriented venues are already lining up a series of benefit concerts over the next 2 1/2 weeks. I know of at least five of them — and there will be more from musicians of other genres. This is MUSIC THAT MATTERS.
FB POST FROM DEAN CARAYAG IN THE PHILIPPINES — JUST HAD TO SHARE IT:
I have been playing music for God knows how long already and I have only recently (by recently meaning a year ago) got into blues. A point of comparison that I wanted to raise is the community of the people into the blues scene. I used to be a dude in the alternative scene and one huge culture shaker is that fact people are so welcoming in the blues scene. After watching loads of videos around the scene in Manila, blues really welcomes the people who wanna jam along. The stage is shared among people who share the same passion. It drives me insanely happy all day and all night that I found love for this specific music genre.
I continue to thank God for this blessing. I continue to learn more and feel more blues. I really hope to make it big too, so that more people will learn to love what this community loves.
Stephen McCracken has been stationed at the British Embassy in Manila for over two years now. A major blues fan, he often travels with live blues as his destination.
Blues music is alive and well in Bangkok, whether in the Iron Faeries, Adhere, Apoteka, Saxophone or in one of the many other blues and jazz bars dotted around the city.
I write this from the perspective of being Manila-based where there is one great blues bar (the Roadhouse where, if you close your eyes during a set by the Bleu Rascals or the Ian Lofamia Band, you can almost picture Lake Erie glinting on the sunlit Chicago shore….) but there are few other specifically dedicated blues or jazz clubs in the heart of the city.
Adhere never fails to impress me – a tiny place but with great authentic blues music, Ped’s band in the Saxophone at weekends always sells out but my new favourite is Apoteka, round the back of Soi 11 on Sukhumvit, which is celebrating its first anniversary. The bar itself is quite reminiscent of the Roadhouse and I love the open wall onto the street where patrons can sit outside but still be fully involved in the bar atmosphere. The bar’s music director, Danny Woody, has a great band named “Danny California’s Blues Allstars” that currently plays Chicago blues music there three times a week. Check out their Facebook page.
Other bands play there too, including the veteran Bangkok blues band the Soi Dogs, making it a live blues haven seven nights a week, also with a blues jamming session on Sunday afternoons.
It strikes me though that there is no crossover between the Filipino bands who play at the Roadhouse and other bars in Manila and the Bangkok blues bands, all of whom tread a similar path. The Bleu Rascals, with their brand of Chicago and Texan blues in particular, would go down a storm at Apoteka, as would the Ian Lofamia Band. Danny’s Blues Allstars would similarly do so at the Roadhouse.
I appreciate cost is a significant factor of course but would recommend an informal festival every six months, one in Manila and one in Bangkok that would showcase these extremely fine talents to a wider audience than their respective, well trodden, weekly circuits currently do.
Our followers who read our Blues News Around Asia – October 27-November 2 summary will have certainly noticed the two news items about Japanese guitarist Kenmi Chank, who last week spent some vacation days in Manila in order to jam in the Manila blues scene. Our Japanese correspondent C K thought some might wish to know more about who he is, and she directed us to his online profile, which we present below.
Kemni jams at the Roadhouse Manila Bay with te Bleu Rascals
Kenmi was originally from Hokkaido. He started playing the guitar at age 16.
After graduating from a music school in Japan, he went to Toronto, Canada. While he was teaching guitar in Toronto, he actively worked with a number of musicians in many different genres in their recording sessions, tours, and so forth.
His music is based on the Blues, R&B, and Soul. He was said to be “funkier than funk-raised black counterparts.” His groovy rhythm oriented guitar style is highly evaluated.
He came back to Japan in 2006 and moved his base in Osaka in 2008. Today, working as a guitar instructor for a music school, he performs at many events, supports many artists/musicians, produces bands, etc. across different musical genres.
Musicians he has worked with: Damian Arokium(ex-Amanda Marshall band — Sheryl Crow) — Jim Armstrong — Julian Fauth –
Kenny Neal Jr — Stevie Salas — Ken Yoshioka — Tom Stephen(The Jeff Healey Band)
Junction Rd / Jim Armstrong & Sonic Deli Band
aco-write / HINA
R U Ready / Blues Element
MUDTOWN / Jim Armstrong & Sonic Deli Band
BABY’S GOT THE BLUES / Blues Element
I Love Harp / Ken Yoshioka
Bloody Roar Extreme Sound Tracks / HUDSON SOFT
Live! / Izumi Matsuyama
and many more…
This week started out rather slow for blues news, but it certainly did come to a rousing close. Blues Asia Network has been encouraging regional networking and exchange from our inception — and just last Friday, we witnessed a major demonstration of just how exciting this can be. Check out our TWO news items about the incredible jam session in Manila, featuring the Bleu Rascals and visiting Japanese guest artist Kenmi Chank [and even others, who joined in]. Our frequent correspondent Ron McMillan unearthed a rare video of Memphis Slim performing in Bangkok. The Cotai International Jazz & Blues Festival released an official summary video of the event — and any blues band in Asia that aspires to greater fame should check this out [and blues fans in Asia can also be proud once again!]. Manila, meanwhile, has a new blues venue, while Japan holds another regional blues festival.
JAPANESE GUITARIST KENMI CHANK IS GUEST ARTIST IN MANILA
Blues networking is paying off! Paul Leobrera of the Bleu Rascals jammed at several blues bars in Tokyo in July, making friends with quite a few Japanese blues musicians. Now one of them is visiting Manila, and will be jamming the the Bleu Rascals tonight at Roadhouse Manila Bay.
Bleu Rascals will be at ROADHOUSE MANILA BAY TONIGHT! and we have a VERY VERY SPECIAL GUEST! Mr. KENMI CHANK from Osaka, Japan, A very very great blues guitar player! We played together when I was in Japan and I was blown away!
AND WE EVEN HAVE A VIDEO TO PROVE IT: JAPANESE BLUESMEN JAM IN MANILA
When last Friday night finally rolled around, blues fans got even more than they expected. Not only was Kenmi Chank there to jam as a special guest. So was surprise guest Mr. Taka on alto sax. As well as 14-year-old Joko, making his debut on the Roadhouse stage. It turned into a fabulous, almost hour-long jam — and Blues Asia Network captured it on video. We share the entire jam here, especially for our followers in Japan. THIS IS WHAT REGIONAL NETWORKING IS ALL ABOUT!
GEM FROM THE PAST: MEMPHIS SLIM IN BANGKOK
Ron McMillan dug up this gem from a concert in Bangkok a couple years ago. Does anyone know any background to this concert series? Judprakai Concert Series 45# Bangkok Thailand
From Classical Music To Blues & Beyond
Wouldn’t it be great if we here in Asia could arrange a real “blues tour” through the region for musicians such as this? If you know any background information on this event or have thoughts about regional touring, please leave a comment below.
OFFICIAL SUMMARY VIDEO FROM COTAI INTERNATIONAL JAZZ & BLUES FESTIVAL/COMPETITION
Macau’s TV outfit Music In Music just released this official summary of the Cotai International Jazz & Blues Festival/Competition, highlighting the FINAL FIVE, plus the announcement of the top three winners. This is a good guage of the level of international competition in this event. Once again, we encourage blues bands around Asia to start preparing to enter this competition in 2014. There’s nothing to lose by doing so. You might even earn an all-expenses-paid trip to Macau — and if you are good enough, you might even bring home a BIG prize.
Another new blues-friendly bar opens in Manila. Cruiser’s Saloon is located in the southern outskirts of Manila, on the access road by Merville. It is managed by Butch Montejo, former manager at Roadhouse Manila Bay. Butch also fronts a fine blues band 69 Proof. Blues fans can expect regular blues gigs there. The venue doubles as a Harley Davidson spare parts shop.
Sunday, November 3, there is a small blues festival in Fussa, Japan, running from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in a supermarket parking lot. There is a military base nearby. A nice showcase for various local and regional bands.
Timbre Music in collaboration with Western
Australian Music presents Singapore – Western Australian Music Exchange
A first of its kind cross-cultural regional
music exchange program
30 October 2013, Singapore – Singapore-Western Australian Music Exchange (SWAM) is a
cross-cultural regional music exchange providing a platform for three
Singaporean artistes/bands and three Western Australian artistes/bands the
opportunity to travel and perform in Western Australia and Singapore
Formed in a partnership between Timbre Music, together with Australian partners ‘West
Australian Music (WAM)’, and the ‘South West Development Commission (SWDC)’, and
supported by The Music Society, Singapore (SGMUSO), the exchange program
supports the selected music acts by having them experience exposure in both
markets and to develop their presence in each respective music
The program will see the selected three music acts from Singapore and Western Australia perform at celebrated live music venues and festivals in the corresponding countries. With a generous grant from the
National Arts Council of Singapore and West Australian Government through the
Department of Culture and the Arts, the first of many performances will begin on
7 November 2013 with the Singapore music acts performing two shows in Perth at
the prestigious WAM Festival alongside other Western Australian talents. Western
Australian music acts will be flying up to Singapore over the next few months to
perform at Timbre live music venues and other events.
“I am really thrilled to announce this project which engages opportunities for Singaporean
music acts to penetrate and develop export potential in Western Australia. This
inaugural cross-cultural exchange program is the first of its kind between
Singapore and Australia and has much potential for progression. Both countries
stand to benefit from this project, which could spring out and further expand
cooperation, tourism, trade and co-production opportunities for both markets.
The bigger picture really is that Singapore and Western Australia then has the
potential to become the gateway to the rest of Asia and Australia.” Danny
Loong, Co-Founder & Chief Creative Director of Timbre Group and Vice
President of The Music Society, Singapore (SGMUSO).
After an open call for submissions, the SWAM Singapore panel consisting of representatives from
SGMUSO and Timbre Music, have voted to select the top 8 bands, after which WAM
then selected the three Singaporean music acts – Charlie Lim, Sezairi and The Sam Willows – to embark on
this exciting journey. The Western Australian music acts will be selected at a
later date in 2014 by the SWAM Singapore panel to be invited to perform for the
Singapore leg of this project.
“We are very pleased to launch this important music project at the 2013 WAM Festival that will provide a unique
opportunity to WA contemporary musicians and will strengthen cultural ties
between WA and Singapore. Strategically, Singapore is an important centre in the
region and a gateway to Asia. The Singapore music market is
growing rapidly and Singapore is also well positioned as the starting point for
developing an Asian touring circuit. For Singapore artistes, participation in
the WA music marketplace provides an ideal entry point to Australian markets.
This exchange capitalises on those opportunities for the benefits of both
countries.” Wendy Were, WAM Chief Executive Officer
Be sure to follow these esteemed music acts on their social media networks, as well as to
stay tuned to the WAM website to find out more about their
Further information on Timbre Music, WAM and SGMUSO can be found
Group was founded with the social mission of developing the Singapore music
scene through the talent cultivation of local musicians, and growing sustainable
audiences for them. Today, the Group has evolved into a holistic music lifestyle
company with a diversified yet synergistic portfolio of businesses ranging from
food and beverage, concert and festivals promotion and music education. It
currently comprises six live music restaurants and bars, two international
festivals (Timbre Rock & Roots and Beerfest Asia), a pizza restaurant and
delivery service, an artist management agency, and two music
Timbre Music, the music and artists promotion arm of the
group, spearheads initiatives to meet the diverse entertainment demand that the
Singapore audience has been clamouring in recent years. Since its inception,
Timbre Music has presented a wide variety of commercial, independent and
eclectic acts ranging from Bob Dylan, John Legend, Imogen Heap, Paul Simon, The
Fray, Gipsy Kings, Buddy Guy, Ernie Watts, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Orquesta
Buena Vista Social Club, Vertical Horizon, Jools Holland, Colbie Caillat to
Asian artists such as Endah & Rhesa, David Choi, Zee Avi and more. Timbre
Music also represents the host of resident artists currently playing at Timbre
venues and extends production expertise to complement gigs. Timbre Music
believes in championing Singaporean and Asia musicians and also to introduce the
audience to the diverse genres of music that is on offer in the greater world,
regardless of its origins.
Group’s Portfolio of Brands
• Switch • 12-inch Pizzas & Records • Barber Shop • Timbre 12-inch Delivery
• Timbre Music • Timbre Music Academy • Junior Academy of Music • Timbre Rock
& Roots • Beerfest Asia
mission is championing West Australian music. It is the peak body responsible
for supporting, nurturing and growing all forms of contemporary music in WA.
There for the musicians, the music industry and the music consumers, WAM’s suite
of programs and activities enable meaningful connections, provide opportunities,
play active roles in advocacy and policy development, and embrace all who wish
to play, listen and partake in local original music.
About The Music Society, Singapore (SGMUSO)
is a non-profit entity that supports artistry, business and production by
developing skills, advocacy and opportunities. We transcend music genres,
cultural and language boundaries and support the growth of the music industry
both home and away.
There’s a delicious solo blues tour by Aussie John McNamara slated in KL and Singapore from October 30 to November 5. Taiwan-based Mike Mudd gives us a glimpse of his major blues opera in a haunting video. Busking continues to spread in Asia. The Blues Foundation spotlights Asian blues on the front page of its website. And Aki Kumar shares his blues harp and his roots in a fascinating US radio show. Meanwhile, Blues Asia Network is almost recovered from its whirlwind trip to Macau, and all the subsequent details — WHEW, what an adventure!
AUSTRALIAN BLUES MAN JOHN McNAMARA TOURS SE ASIA
Fresh from his tour of Germany, Aussie acoustic blues guitarist/vocalist John McNamara heads over to Kuala Lumpur and Singapore for a series of appearances. In Kuala Lumpur, he will appear at one of the best live music venues in the city, No Black Tie. NBT, known mostly as the city’s primary jazz venue, brings in major blues events every 2-3 months. The NBT event will be a special Muddy Waters tribute, featuring also some of the top blues talent in KL.
In Singapore, he appears at the Sultan Jazz Club, as well as at Timbre’s Barber Shop, where he appears along with Danny Loong’s Raw Earth. Check out McNamara on his website — www.johnmcnamarablues.com — where you will be treated to a selection of his recorded blues.
Here’s the full schedule:
Wed 30th Oct – The Sultan Jazz Club – SINGAPORE
Thu 31st Oct – No Black Tie – KUALA LUMPUR
Fri 1st Nov – No Black Tie – KUALA LUMPUR
Sat 2nd Nov – Barber Shop Timbre (W/ Raw Earth) – SINGAPORE
Tue 5th Nov – Sultan Jazz Club – SINGAPORE
BLUES FOUNDATION TAKES NOTICE OF BLUES IN ASIA
The blues world is taking notice of the rise to blues prominence by Asian blues bands. The prestigious Blues Foundation, based in Memphis, has just published an article about Asian success at the recent Cotai International Jazz & Blues Festival on the front page of its website: www.blues.org
MIKE MUDD & CHEN MO UNVEIL HAUNTING NEW VIDEO
Every now and then something truly significant comes along in the Asian blues scene. Mike Mudd, residing in Taiwan, has created a blues-based opera which has finally come to the stage. Here’s a snippet of the opening, done in the form of a music video. APPLAUSE! APPLAUSE! APPLAUSE!
KUALA LUMPUR STREET JAMS LAUNCHED
BLUES BUGZ of Malaysia has announced major street jams, lasting up until December. Google translate gives us this English version [the original is posted at Malaysia Blues Community on Facebook:
Geng INVITES WELCOME ! KL Street Jam is a well- situated location in Market Square Square facing the market square HSBC in KL Central Market area where Bluez rakan2 Bugs and other comrades will performing in " acoustics " in " OPEN WATER " . To rakan2 interested in music a variety of concepts in welcome welcome to relax lepaking berfamily melodious while catering to the head. Many bands will be involved early starts per hour 5pm to 11mlm hours .
KL Street Jam is a party organized by the Kuala Lumpur City Hall Employees Association of Malaysia ( Employee ) Malaysia will be held until December 2013 this .
Bluez bugs will be aired with the song itself for all performances . To those who have never seen us or LISTEN LIVE will lagu2 USHA we can come and personally . Some of us who will be our lagu2 dendangkan is
1 . Kuala Lumpur
2 . Gegarkan
3 . destination
4 . fly
5 . I Should Be So Superstar
6 . Everybody Rock N Roll
7 . Agreed Im ( album " KUALER " )
8 . and 2 Sub
Bluez bugs will be at 2 slots of 1 hour 6.00pm and 10.00 pm . 1 slot we will play a total of 4 or 5 songs only. SO ! Do not miss this gang . Chances are we who acoustical ALBUM titled " REMOVAL OF HIGH BLUES " diriliskan the day will be ( DIY ) .
Ape already . Thank Kaseh Kerne willing Support us even from ape skali corner already . And Do not Forgot . Support Blues in Malaysia 's Sin .
KL STREET MUSICIAN AZNAN AZIZ added this comment: "It is the City Hall Street Music programme.The idea is encourage public more concious and indulge more on street art.All gnre music tradional and modern are invited and given a chance to play.It all started by the city buskers initiative.A good efforts by all parties involved.”
AKI KUMAR FEATURED ON RADIO IN CALIFORNIA
India-born blues harp player, along with his sidekick Little Jonny, was featured this week on radio. It’s an intriguing 45-minute exploration of blues and Aki’s roots. Aki has become one of the most highly-regarded blues harp players on the US west coast.
BLUES BUSKING SPREADS IN THE PHILIPPINES
Blues busking is spreading in the Philippines. Here’s notice of a prime location, giving permits to four fine musicians, all new to the busking scene. Hoochie Coochie Mikki has been the pioneer blues busker here, and obviously it is catching on.
Philippine pop band I.V – Inner Voices – has recently gotten hooked on the blues, illustrating the importance of cross-fertilization in the music scene. I.V. keyboardist/composer Boying Bergado became intrigued by a blues original recently uploaded to the internet by Ace Agamata of Blue Way Trio:
“Thanks again Ace,” Boying wrote on Facebook, “especially to your song “My Woman”, for it opened the door for me to enter the wonderful world of blues music. I guess there is no turning back for me now. I’m totally hooked. Hope there’s more inspiration to come so I can share more of this.”
That inspiration led to Boying’s own original NANGUNGULILA, what the band labels “blues pinoy-sttyle,” uploaded this week to SoundCloud. Still pop in flavor, the song has strong blues underpinnings.
Ace replied: “I think this is good material to introduce Pinoy style blues to the mainstream listeners.”
Manila’s young blues band Bleu Rascals has scored a victory on the international music stage that has set the country to talking. The Filipino blues band has walked away with the top prize in an international jazz & blues competition, earning in the process a significant cash prize. This is an unheard of victory, as Filipinos seldom venture into the international blues scene.
The Cotai International Jazz & Blues Festival, held in Macau October 11-13, 2013, is a new arrival on the international festival circuit. Only in its second year, the 3-day festival is a mix of street party, band performances and high-stakes music competition. Conceived by the marketing people at the Cotai strip of 5-star hotels and casinos, the festival is built around a music competition that drew 118 entries from around the world.
Organizers promised to announce 12 Finalists on September 18, one week after close of entries on 11 September. “Choosing the Final 12,” admits festival organizer Adriana Lucas, “was a nightmare!” Entering bands were required to submit a video shot within the previous 3 months, along with a band profile and list of notable achievements. “Many were easy to eliminate,” she elaborated, “but choosing the Final 12 from our remaining short list was very difficult.”
The Final 12 was a truly international list, coming from mainland China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines, India, Russia, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Brazil, the U.S. and Australia.
Considering the significant cash prizes, on top of the promise of an all-expense–paid trip to Macau, it is no surprise that so many bands entered: 1st Prize, HK$ 250,000 [equivalent to almost US $34,000 or P1.4 million], 2nd Prize, HK$ 150,000 and 3rd Prize, HK$ 100,000.
Among the finalists were two blues bands from Asia: Big Bang Blues from India and the Bleu Rascals from the Philippines.
The Bleu Rascals is composed of frontman Paul Marney Leobrera, who just turned 20 in September, on guitar/vocals, along with John Jay Garcia on drums and Oliver Salaysay on bass, both in their early 20′s. They were by far the youngest band in competition, with almost all bands featuring seasoned professionals in their late 30′s and above.
The Bleu Rascals arrived in Macau via Philippine Airlines on a Wednesday afternoon and attended the band orientation that evening. Organizers reviewed the judging criteria: style, improvisation, technique, musicality, performance and audience response. As the week wore on, it became clear that audience response was, from the organizer’s point of view, the most important criteria. On the other hand, jazz and blues content was not specifically mentioned, being subsumed under the vague category of “style.”
Hosting the event was the Venetian Hotel & Casino, with support from surrounding resort hotels. The outdoor stage was erected at one end of the long plaza between the Venetian Lagoon and the hotel, while the bands were provided rooms in the nearby Sheraton Macau Hotel.
The Australian sound tech crew with the Bleu Rascals.
On Thursday, bands were offered well-equipped rehearsal space, and the Rascals ran through their set list. Surprisingly, quite a number of the bands skipped rehearsal. Most important was the “sound check.” Paul Leobrera reported afterwards that it was “the best sound check ever,” and he raved about the quality of the sound and the professionalism of the Australian sound crew brought in for the event.
The festival, which followed a New Orleans Mardi Gras theme, kicked off after office hours on Friday, with five of the bands, including Big Bang Blues from India, performing their 30-minute sets. Illustrating the careful thought and planning that went into the event, each 30-minute set was followed by 30 minutes of street entertainment, allowing ample time for the tech crew to set up for the next band and providing the audience with a welcome break, especially since the the music area was standing-room only. The street entertainment was truly outstanding: a dixieland band that paraded up and down the plaza, a one-man band from Italy with the most amazing “rig” I’ve ever seen, a “Blues Brothers” dance team from England that held stationery poses for 20 minutes before breaking out into a well-choreographed dance routine accompanied by an crisply-edited melody of Blues Brothers hits, assorted jesters and flame show.
The Bleu Rascals 30-minute semi-finals set was scheduled as the next-to-last act on Saturday night. They determinedly stayed away from festival grounds, not wanting to hear any of the competing bands which might distract their focus.
When the Rascals finally mounted the stage at 9 p.m., a lot of the competing elder musicians were in the crowd. They had heard “the buzz” about this “amazing band from the Philippines” that spread like wild-fire after their sound check, and they wanted to see what they were all about. The Rascals rolled out a rousing up-beat set that lit up the audience with hand-waving, cheers and screams. To be honest about it, the Rascals had a strong “home court advantage,” as many in the crowd were Filipino overseas foreign workers.
Perhaps the strongest testament to the Rascals performance were the comments of their competing professionals, who expressed their amazement to Blues Asia Network later in the evening in the backstage “green room.” One word kept popping out of their mouths: “jaw-dropping.” People were simply amazed at the extraordinary mix of Paul Leobrera’s awesome guitar technique, coupled with the deep emotion that he poured into the music.
That is just the kind of reaction the band has been drawing at its international performances in the past: at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, opening for Buddy Guy and Keb Mo at the Timbre Rock & Roots Festival in Singapore and headlining at the Jakarta International Blues Festival, all in 2012, plus Paul’s duo act with Shun Kikuta at the Japan Blues Festival in July 2013.
Paul’s tie-up with Shun is particularly notable. Shun spent two decades in Chicago performing and recording with many of the blues legends, most especially playing lead guitar in Koko Taylor’s band for over a decade, right up until her recent death. Actually Shun first discovered Paul back in 2011 when he performed in a special blues night at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, and Shun has followed Paul’s development ever since. After performing with Paul and the Bleu Rascals again in Manila just last September, Shun declared: “The Bleu Rascals are the best blues band of their generation I have ever seen.” Yet another blues professional with lots of Chicago experience and now leader of the Atlanta Boogie Band, Michael Bourne, performs with the Rascals whenever he visits the Philippines. Michael identifies Paul as “a once-in-a-generation guitar player.”
Despite all this hype and their amazing Friday night performance, the biggest test for the Bleu Rascals was yet to come.
Yes, they advanced into the Final Five, joining Japanese jazz pianist Manami Morita, now residing in the New York, Andy Fransco & the UN, a blues “party band” from California, R & B singer Turrini Guidi from Italy, and innovative rap group Chekov from China. For the finals competition on Sunday, the Bleu Rascals were slotted to perform last. Blues Asia Network learned later from an inside source that the organizers arranged the schedule with the bands with the most enthusiastic crowd response coming last.
It all looked good — UNTIL the Rascals launched their championship set. Something was badly wrong with the sound. It turned out that two tubes in Paul’s guitar amp were blown. It wasn’t so evident on the opening up-tempo “Let The Good Times Roll,” but to anyone who had heard the Rascals in the semi-final round the night before, the sound problem was clearly evident in the slower, more soulful “Lenny” and “Gravity.”
Displaying strong character, Paul and the Rascals did not even wince. Paul simply plowed ahead through the set, still playing with incredible strength and conviction. The crowd was even more enthusiastic than the night before, especially during the first half of the set and when he specially thanked the Filipinos in the audience. After the set, when Paul came down backstage, he said nothing at all about the sound, but was still full of smiles and warm handshakes to the crew and organizers. Perhaps significantly, the lead sound tech backstage told Paul, “Don’t worry. I will replace the amp for your Victory Set.”
The one-hour wait for the judge’s announcement was excruciating.
Festival organizers had gathered a three-man judging panel. Mitch Myers is a renowned jazz critic, editor, and respected freelance writer for many American magazines including The Hollywood Reporter, Down Beat, JazzTimes, Magnet and High Times. He is also the author of the book on popular music culture, “The Boy Who Cried Freebird: Rock & Roll Fables and Sonic Storytelling.”Corey Frye is the vocalist of The Main Squeeze, the winning band of last year’s The Venetian Carnival Jazz & Blues Battle of the Bands contest. Both Mitch and Corey live in Chicago. José Isaac Duarte is the Vice President of the Macau Jazz Club, and is an economist, university lecturer and media economics analyst.
Finally the announcement of winners came.
Second runner-up was Chekov, the multi-national group based in Shanghai. This is a very original band, though with limited jazz or blues content. The band is fronted by an engaging rapper. It also features a trumpet playing through electronic effects pedals for a “spacey” sound, as well as a traditional Chinese bowed string instrument. These are backed by a keyboardist with some jazz chops, bass and drums. The band’s influence is Norwegian electronic jazz. Their shortcoming was playing the same set in both the semi-finals and the finals, but the crowd loved this band.
First runner-up was the jazz keyboard trio fronted by Manami Morita. Manami is another in a string of major Japanese exports of a very gifted female jazz pianist.
And the winner is: THE BLEU RASCALS ! The crowd, and especially the Filipinos present, erupted into almost delirious cheers. Within 20 minutes, the Bleu Rascals played their third set, this time a VICTORY SET, with a replaced amp as promised. The Rascals were so pumped up that they delivered what Blues Asia Network considers their best set yet. And to their credit, they did not repeat any songs in any of the sets.
In the aftermath of their victory, Blues Asia Network learned from one of the judges that they immediately recognized the sound problem in the finals round and identified it as being in the amp and not in any of the Rascals own gear. In fact, this judge said, the band’s professional demeanor in playing through this adversity actually earned them points. And the Rascals later got an email from one of the Australian tech crew:
I want to thank “you” for your amazing soulful music… What you three create on stage together, I haven’t witnessed in a long time…! To work with you on stage was an absolute privilege. Right from sound checking you were the techies favorite, and we all enjoyed every minute of listening to you play together. We all witnessed something special on the weekend…. The Bleu Rascals..! Thank you sharing your amazing gift of playing the blues with me.
Yet another of the Australian technical crew posted this message on his Facebook page:
Awesome gig…. winner was a Philippino trio who will go far, young guitarist who rolls Hendrix, Stevey ray-Vaughan and Ry Cooder into a jaw dropping display of mind numbing proportions
And, finally, from a blog written by a young student from Sweden who is studying this term in Macau:
Actually, it was a competition of music groups from all around the world and the groups were playing various kinds of music, not only jazz. I liked especially one from Philippines called Bleu Rascals, which had one of the best and most crazy guitarists I have seen. The group I liked won the competition. I think it will be famous in the future. You will see.
Certainly this victory is one of the most remarkable for a band in the alternative music scene in the Philippines. It is a testament to the currently flourishing blues scene in the country. Now the question is, what will this talented band accomplish next?
BIG NEWS THIS WEEK: Two Asian Blues Band will compete in Macao for a top cash prize of HK$250,000 – wow, that IS big! And Blues Asia Network will be there to cover it. Also two Asian Blues Festivals announced for November, and we get a glimpse into the recently concluded 18 Degrees Festival in India. Plus the 1st ever Manila Bay Blues Cruise, and the blues scene in Bogor and Cebu. Philippine blues legend Wally Gonzalez is the subject of a major feature story in the nation’s top-circulation magazine.
TWO ASIAN BLUES BANDS IN COTAI INTERNATIONAL JAZZ & BLUES FESTIVAL — October 11-13
It happens THIS WEEKEND. And TWO BLUES BANDS FROM ASIA are among the 12 Finalists: The Bleu Rascals from the Philippines, and Big Bang Blues from New Delhi. What an honor for these bands to be joining this prestigious event, staged along the Cotai Strip in Macao.
These two bands are among 12 Finalists, chosen from many applicants from around the world. With a top prize of HK $250,000, you can imagine the talent this festival/competition has drawn.
Each of the 12 bands will play a 30-minute set on either Friday or Saturday. Then FIVE FINALISTS will be announced at 11:30 p.m.on Saturday. The selected bands will then each play a 30-minute set on Sunday, with the top three bands announced at 11:00 p.m.
This annual festival, now in its second year, promises to become one of the major music events of the year in Asia. You can follow developments at the festival at its WEBSITE.
BIG BANG BLUES AT COTAI INTERNATIONAL JAZZ & BLUES FESTIVAL
Also among the top 12 finalists at the Cotai International Jazz & Blues Festival is BIG BANG BLUES from New Delhi. Catch a glimpse of them in this video — and wish them well in this new adventure.
MANILA BAY BLUES CRUISE LAUNCHED — November 27
The date for the first ever Manila Bay Blues Criuse has been set for November 27. The group organizing this has officially registered the name and set up a special page on Facebook. When the page gets to 100 “likes,” the organizers will do a raffle and choose two people for free tickets.
The cruise can accommodate 80 guests on this cruise. 40 on upper deck and 40 on lower deck.
The bands playing will be Ian Lofamia Band and Bleu Rascals, plus some guests.
The departure time will be 5:30 p.m. from the Sun Cruises Terminal Building close to CCP. Fernando Ma. Guerrero corner Paseo Palisoc, CCP Complex, Roxas Blvd., Pasay City. The Cruise will be 3 hours filled with Blues, just bring an open and happy mind. Food and drinks can be bought on board the M/V Spirit of Manila.
The Jakarta Blues Festival, sponsored by the Indonesia Blues Association [INA],will be held this year on November 16. You can follow upcoming announcements of artist line up at the Jakarta Blues Festival Facebook Page.
The 10th Taiwan Blues Bash has announced the international headliners for this annual festival in Taipei, also to be held on November 16.
Sponsored by the Blues Society on Taiwan , the Blues Bash will take place at the Taipei Artists Village in Taipei. Headliners will include Wolf Mail, Curtis ‘King’ Kovach, Matt ‘Cadillac’ Matthew Cooper, Shun Kikuta, Nacomi Tanaka and with great sounds from locally-based Blues players, as well. More news to come at the Blues Society on Taiwan Facebook Page.
BLUES IN CEBU
Blues Asia Network recently received two inquiries about blues & jazz happening in Cebu, Philippines. Yes, there is some blues happening in Cebu, but you gotta know where to look, when to look and who to talk to.
*Cebu Blues Bands 1. Cuarenta 2. Kingston Blues Project 3. Purple Kush 4. Blues Bonanza 5. JRI
The Philippine Blues Society group on Facebook is a primary source of updated information:
Join the group and post your questions there. It has several group members from Cebu who can give you more information.
The main blues hangout over the years has been The Outpost, with the blues band Cuarenta often booked there. But this seems to have quieted down of late. Still you can ask questions there. Cuarenta’s leader is Arnold Ang — he’s pretty knowledgable about things, organizes each year the Cebu Guitar Festival, usually in November. There is also a very talent teenage blues guitarist there in Cebu. A couple months ago, Cuarenta was performing at the Radisson Blues Hotel, but I think that gig is no longer happening.
JRI seems to be the most active blues band right now and has been having a weekly gig at Boat Haus out in Mandaue, Mactan, on Wednesdays. One of the band members regularly posts in the Philippine Blues Society group on Facebook. A cautionary note: we have a report from a recent visitor that Boat Haus may be a venue for a mature male audience — Blues Asia Network would appreciate receiving more feedback about this club via private message.
The Bogor Blues Community is one of the most active among the many blues groups in Indonesia. Here they share a recent jam. The guitarist, by the way, is still 17, I think — another emerging teen blues star in Asia.
NO REHEARSAL..ON THE SPOT..NICE JAMMIN’..hepi viewing n enjoy it folks.
The Thrill is Gone (BB King Cover) – PKI (Penikmat Kopi Item) jammin’ with Vera DC Blues n Exap DC Band @Roast Chicken Cafe in Bogor. West Java – Indonesia (04 October 2013). in the “BLUES NIGHT EVENT” hosted by BOGOR BLUES COMMUNITY.
Bluesman Inu Page n Vera : Vocals
Dede Aldrian n Exap : Guitars
Heru : Bass
Muhammad Fadhil Opay : Drums
Agus Setyo : Keyboards
18 DEGREES FESTIVAL IN INDIA
The 18 Degrees Festival was held a couple of weeks ago in Shillong, India. One of the main features were performances by young Indian blues sensation Kapil Chetri and Kara Grainger from Australia, now living in the US. Fortunately, they were captured on video when they performed together.
Kapil, by the way, is a new member of Big Bang Blues from New Delhi, which will be one of the 12 Finalists at the Cotai International Jazz & Blues Festival this coming weekend.
PHILIPPINE BLUES LEGEND WALLY GONZALEZ FEATURED IN TOP MAGAZINE
Filipino blues and rock legend Wally Gonzalez is featured in this month’s Philippine Inquirer Magazine, the largest circulation magazine in the country. The author is Eric Caruncho, universally acknowledged as the best music critic in the country.
This article delves particularly into Wally’s past accomplishments, which earned him legend status. I’m not sure that Wally’s musical history has ever been presented so thoroughly in print before now. Excellent article.
What the article leaves out is detailed information about Wally’s current activities. About three years ago, Wally’s Manila Blues Experience began a long run, just recently concluded, at Martini’s Bar at the 5-star Mandarin Oriental Hotel. This gig was a major breakthrough for the blues in the Philippines. Word started circulating that Wally’s band was the bar’s cash register winner of all other bands playing during the week. Soon Martini’s brought in another blues “cash cow,” the Blue Rats. The Peninsula Hotel, just down the street, followed, engaging the young Bleu Rascals for a year’s run. And then the famous Manila Hotel’s Tap Room started booking blues. Together, these gigs made blues “fashionable” again. And Wally started it all.
Moreover, last year Wally’s band Manila Blues Experience decided to enter the 1st Philippine Blues Competition, but with a substitute guitarist Sammy Ascuncion and a name change to Kat Magic Express. Wally felt that it would be inappropriate for himself to join the competition, as he was a Board member of the Philippine Blues Society. Kat Magic Express went on to win the competition and represented the country in Memphis in February 2013.
Nowadays, Wally is fronting another band, Wally Gonzalez BandWagon, which is featured on Saturday nights at the new venue Skippy’s in Bonifacio Global City, except when he is out of the country. Furthermore, he has been mentoring young King Pineda, just turned 17, who has recently emerged as the next teenage blues star in the Philippines.
Keep it going, Wally. You are truly the main blues man.
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