The first article I wrote for this site was about how I inherited a Philippine teenage band. A group of older local kids needed a sponsor (someone willing to provide instruments). My wife and I suddenly found ourselves involved the local music biz and all the drama/tasks that come with it.
First, there is the drama of being involved in the lives of 9 teenagers. Most of the kids in the band come from poor families. Several of them come from broken homes or dysfunctional families, and therefore the band has increased importance in their lives. It’s their escape or their second family. These days, my wife and I are rarely called “Ma’am” and “Sir”. We have become “Auntie” and “Uncle”. The kids have squabbles among themselves, so we sometimes have to get involved. Generally, we leave them alone while they practice, and naturally, they learn songs that are currently popular. We often remind them their audience isn’t just young people, and suggest some older classics. Sometimes they just look at us with blank stares when we suggest a title such as the Beatles ‘Twist and Shout’. In a way I feel sorry for these kids, having missed the great music of the 60s, 70s, and 80’s. Mostly though, they just make me feel old.
Second, there is the task of keeping the band together and happy. Being poor, the kids have needs beyond the band itself. Some of the kids will drop by unexpectedly, probably knowing that they can always find a meal at our home. The kids have few (if any) nice clothes so we bought them clothes for performances, including shoes. Sometimes their schools require nice clothes for an activity and they borrow the band clothes. A year ago I thought packing up my American neckties and shipping them to the Philippines was pointless, but my wife didn’t want to throw them away so they were shipped. The boys have borrowed them several times for social events after I taught them how to tie them. Beyond the basics of food and clothing, they occasionally need access to computers/printers for school assignments, and we let them use ours. We have also taken them to the National Book Store and purchased them school supplies. Some of the band members don’t need our financial assistance, but to keep everything balanced, we treat all the kids the same. I figure it’s also a subtle way to keep all the parents supporting the band.
Third, there is the task of actually performing. Our band performs Sat. nights at an outdoor restobar. There is another outdoor restobar across the street. They have seen the success of our restobar, and have hired another (adult) band to play when we play. Two bands playing outdoors less than 50 meters apart creates a difficult environment for everyone, bands, and customers. So far, our band is outdrawing the other band.
Fourth, there is the task of transporting the band. Our band finishes between midnight and 1:00 AM on Saturdays, having been on stage for over 4 hours. They are exhausted and starving. My wife and I are also tired, just from staying up late. We load up the instruments and head back to our home for snacks. Generally, my brother in law will then drive the kids home while we clean up. We get to bed around 2:00 AM.
Fifth, there is the task of paying the band. On the surface that sounds simple, but this is the Philippines. Typically, each member gets 300 pesos. That means my wife needs 27 hundred peso bills every week. Throughout the week she puts aside all the 100 peso bills she gets a change, which means she is always paying with either 500 or 1000 peso bills. I can’t tell you how many times she is asked by sales staff, “Do you have something smaller?”
Lastly, there is the task of having fun, which is plentiful, especially during the last hour of their performances. By then, much of the small crowd is on their feet dancing and feeling no pain. The kids in the band feed off the crowd energy and are also bouncing around on the small stage. This is the time when I forget about all the pesos I spent on instruments, sound systems, lighting, food, and clothes. All I can think about is how cool it is to be here rocking in the Philippines.