by Simeon G. Silverio Jr
It was a mildly hot evening last Saturday, August 15, in San Diego, California when Basil Valdez, a popular singer in the Philippines during the 1970s and 1980s, held a concert at the Pala Casino and Resort, about 45 minutes north from our house in Chula Vista. It was the height of the heat wave, which a local weatherman dubbed the hottest of the year. The temperature was in the 80s, quite hot for Americas finest city, where the weather normally ranges in the low 70s.
My wife and I usually spend our Saturday evenings watching a movie at a theater just five minutes away. But it was Basil Valdez, the one who had popularized many of the iconic, if not classical songs of our day; the time when we were dating in our twenties. Its not every day he performs in San Diego; it was, in fact, the first time I could remember, and I had been in San Diego for thirty-three years.
Why do they have to hold the concert in this faraway place? my wife asked as we trekked the treacherous mountain road in the last quarter of our trip.
Because it is free, I answered.
I didnt know what the deal was with this particular show, but as far as I could remember, Indian casinos did not charge for the use of their theaters. The fee didnt matter much, as the shows would draw concert-goers who would hang out before and after the show, eat at their restaurants, and play at the casinos. Because of the difficulty of traveling back home in the long-winding road in the dark as well as their enjoying a drink or two, some would rather book a room in the casinos hotel to make the most of the experience. For the casinos, it beats the risk of promoting their own shows, most of them featuring big-time and expensive entertainers themselves, and sometimes losing money if they did not draw enough patrons. At least this was the case when I was promoting shows using the casinos as venues.
During the 1980s, Indian casinos were legalized in California. The idea was partly as reparations for the injustices committed to Indian tribes when European settlers took their ancestral lands. It was also to help tribe members economically so they could be financially independent. Indian casino operations are so successful that they spend some profits on social programs and charities to spread the blessings outside of their communities.
At first, only bingos were played until the bingo parlors became full-blown casinos, not only with slot machines but also high stakes poker and other games just like in Las Vegas. Part of the success was due to the professional help of the Las Vegas casino managers themselves. Not only do they now offer games of chance but also top-notch live shows featuring the best the entertainment world could offer. Rascal Flatts, the famed rock band, will perform on September 24. In the near future, A-list entertainers like Kathy Griffin (no, shes not D-list as she satirically claimed in her previous television program at Comedy Central), comedienne Wanda Sykes and others will perform.
Why are Indian casinos located far away from the cities? Its because they are in tribal lands, which are usually remote from civilization. And perhaps, the long travel might discourage would-be addicted gamblers to lose their money in the place regularly. But no matter. Indian casinos nowadays are thriving and lucrative.
The program started promptly at seven, quite unusual for a Filipino show (remember the much-lamented Filipino time?). The first to perform was Tanya Varona, the daughter of the Filipino character actor Dante Varona who was also in the audience. His daughter dedicated her songs to him as he was celebrating his birthday. In his sixties, he still looked fit and healthy. Another celebrity in the audience was Pinky de Leon, daughter of Lilia Dizon and the character actor of yore, Gil de Leon, and sister of Christopher de Leon.
Geneva Cruz was the second front act. I dont have Filipino Channel or GMA7 cable TV, but I understand she was quite popular in the Philippines in 1989 and the 90s debuting as a 15-year old singer on Ryan Cayabyabs platinum-winning Smokey Mountain band. Shes now based in the U.S. and a spokeswoman and model for Image Spa, a cosmetic surgical clinic in San Diego and Los Angeles. Geneva belonged to the Cruz clan that had Tirso Cruz III, the late Ricky Belmonte and other entertainers as members. She was quite a powerful entertainer.
But not Matimtiman Cruz, she joked. But I would not mind, as she was a very funny commediene.
Cruz is a very common surname in the Philippines, like Smith in America.
By eight oclock, Basil Valdez started his performance. There was not much fanfare, as there was no live band. He was introduced, then walked on the stage in his all-black attire as depicted in the shows advertisements. He was in his sixties but did not disappoint. The audience was thoroughly entertained and got their moneys worth. That is, if only for the memories.
To be sure, the concert left much to be desired, at least, to the most nitpicking audience. But what could you expect? Basil was no longer in his prime, and his once powerful and expressive voice from his youth while beautiful bore a poignancy that comes with age. I and my friends had grown up listening to the incredible talent of Basil Valdez the artist over time. However, as I sat in the darkness of the concert hall, I was reminded that it has already been 40 years, not just yesterday. His voice was now reminiscent of the ephemeral moments of life.
This voice made such songs as Ngayon at Kailanman popular, which, thanks to the genius of composer George Canseco, could stand on their own, even if performed by a less talented singer.
Perhaps it would have been better to have a live band at the performance. But, in spite of what the concert lacked on the surface, the audience were enthralled by the iconic Basil as they clapped and swooned to the ageless anthems of their youth, a feat that only the man of the hour could deliver. So what does it matter if a live band did not accompany him but rather a background recording even if it was probably meant to save money, explained one fan.
Unfortunately, not everyone was as forgiving of the acoustics as the die-hard fans. To be honest, the sound system was a little blurry, doing injustice to Basils less than perfect voice. To make matters worse, the background music and the mike were a little bit loud, drowning whatever quality was left in the performance. But as I have noted before, the audience enjoyed very much the evening, as many were brought to the time when they were young, full of life and hope, with an expectant bright future ahead.
In hindsight, the concert was a reality check as much as it was an audio check for concert goers among whom were boomers who are also getting along in years. Time flies. Even the things one once enjoyed can sometimes disappoint. But that is life. Less than perfect is wonderful when sprinkled with gratitude and wisdom. Indeed, one is most grateful for Basil Valdez, who along with his Original Pinoy Music (OPM) contemporaries, distracted a generation of Pinoys with his songs from the harsh realities of the Marcos martial law years and gave the youth a reason to sing and dream along with him through a dictatorship.
I tell people that when I was young I used to enjoy old music. But now that I am in my late sixties, they make me feel sad as they remind me of the good days gone by, my relatives and friends who had passed away, and the youth I could no longer recover.
Basil shared some anecdotes behind some songs he popularized. He said his first composer was the great Ryan Cayabyab, the prominent UP College of Music-schooled, musician-composer spearheading the thriving OPM music arts. Cayabyab was bound for a life abroad but an offer from Danding Cojuangco, president of San Miguel Corporation, to stay on and build up Philippine music culture changed the course of pop music history. Opposite him was George Canseco, a Liberal Arts graduate of the University of the East, once a journalist who,like Basil, could not even read music. One time, he played a short chord on his piano, put words into it, and asked Basil to sing it. He would play the second chord, put words into it, and again asked Basil to sing, until they were able to finish the song that would become a great hit.
He was a heavy drinker, Basil remembered. An artist with a bottle of wine as his muse.
One time he called me up to his suite at the Hilton Hotel in Manila, Basil recalled.
Lets come up with a song so we can enter this contest, George told him.
We have to win so I could check out of this room, said the free-spirited artist who ran out of hotel money at that time.
Basil also shared the story behind the song, Paraisong Parisukat
In the old days (1970s), he recalled, there were no ShoeMart Malls. ShoeMart had only one store on the corner of Rizal Avenue and Carriedo. There were a lot of shoe stores in that area and it is where we bought our shoes.
Whenever one had chosen a shoe but it is not the right size, the sales girl would shout out loud to a small opening in the ceiling.
Size seven, style A-15, she would yell. The bodegero (stockroom keeper) would then pick the right size and style and throw it down to the salesgirl. Christoper De Leon played the lead character in the movie with the same title of the song, and he was the bodegero. The opening and the storeroom were squares, hence, it was his square paradise (paraisong parisukat).
It was surprising to know Basil did not dream of becoming a singer.
I was a philosophy student then, he remembered. Singing was just a hobby.
He started as a folk singer in 1970 and later joined Circus Band in 1972. The band became popular, and many of its members, including Basil, Hajji Alejandro, Pat Castillo, Jacqui Magno and Tillie Moreno had successful solo careers. During a lull in his career, he planned to go to Lausanne, Switzerland, take his Masters Degree in Philosophy, and eventually his Doctorate elsewhere so he could spend the rest of his life teaching. But George Canseco came out with another hit song for him, and the academic worlds loss became the entertainment worlds gain. – AJ ( with Gen Silverio). (Next issue, Remembering the Filipino Concert Promotions in San Diego, California)