A Tribute to the ’80s Philippine New Wave Scene

A Tribute to the ’80s Philippine New Wave Scene

Part One: On the Cosmic Journey of Khumb Mela Band

Arguably one of the most underrated and poorly promoted Filipino Alternative Rock bands that emerged in the 1980s was Khumb Mela Band. Although the group began as a promotional gimmick of Widdie Saulo, the owner of the local shop Khumb Mela (in Harrison Plaza Shopping Mall, in Manila; and in Park Square One, in Makati—which specialized in sports gear, bags, and other stuff including bootlegged and reproduced imported music albums—Khumb Mela Band, which proved to be a musically tight and style-conscious group, took off and carved a name of its own in the Philippine Rock music scene in the 1980s.

I saw them live many times back in the late ’80s, the first time at a concert party billed as “Sneak Attack 2,” held in May 1987 at The Atrium of Makati. The fashion sense of the band members left a memorable mark in my mind. They were among the typically New Wave–attired bands of the time—teased or gelled-up hair, silk or satin longsleeves, madeup faces, boots or creepers, and lots of accessories.

Luckily my former band Half Life Half Death got to share bill with them at a few gigs in 1989 and in the ensuing years. Khumb Mela Band used to cover songs like “I Don’t Like Mondays’” (Bob Geldof & the Boomtown Rats), “My Way” (The Sex Pistols), “The Distance between Us” (Fra Lippo Lippi), and “Dancing with Myself” (Billy Idol).

I got to hang out with the band’s bassist in the early ’90s, when he became a member of Mariya, a band whose music had the influences of Pinoy Rock and Synthpop and whose initial members included Cool Carla (Abaya), Leni Llapitan, and Marvin Mendiola of Identity Crisis (another pioneering Philippine New Wave band) and Rozylyn Torres, who used to be a female vocalist in my former band Half Life Half Death.

Khumb Mela Band recorded only one album, entitled 108 Music, in cassette-tape format, released independently in 1988 and sold exclusively at the Khumb Mela shops. The band was among the first batch of Filipino bands that the now-defunct Philippine FM radio station NU 107 gave regular airplay during the station’s early days, in the late ’80s. Khumb Mela Band songs that I remember being played on NU 107 were ‘Questions,” “Moving Away,” and “Cosmic Journey.”

Before, I never really paid attention to the musicality of Khumb Mela Band. All I knew was, they sounded New Wave because of the incorporation of keyboard sounds and synthesized guitar melodies and the obviously New Wave attires of the band members. However, in retrospect, only in the recent years when I had the chance to listen again to the album after obtaining a copy of it from a fellow music enthusiast that I realized how Khumb Mela Band’s music was ahead of its time, especially the lyrics.

Khumb Mela Band’s musical ideology predated that of the 1990s-formed English Britpop band Kula Shaker, which adopted Hinduism as the central theme of its music. Yes, now that I fully understand Khumb Mela Band’s music, I realized that the central theme of their album was Hinduism—what with song titles like “Cosmic Journey,” “Limited Pleasure,” and “Govinda,” which predated Kula Shaker’s song of the same title released in 1996.

Formed in 1986, Khumb Mela Band was comprised by Andrew Jeffs (vocals), Randy Capawan (guitars), “Dodo” Isidore Fernandez (keyboards), Allan Dichoso (bass), and Boying Reyes (drums, backup vocals). Lyrics were written by Annie Reyes; music and arrangement by Capawan, Fernandez, and Reyes. The band’s major influences included the popular New Wave bands/artists of the time such as The Alarm, Billy Idol, Nik Kershaw, and Philippines’ very own New Wave pioneers Identity Crisis and Ethnic Faces.

By the 1990s, the members of Khumb Mela Band had ended their musical journey together. Jeffs embarked on a solo singing career. Capawan did sessions for Lampano Alley—the subsequent band of Binky Lampano, the vocalist of another pioneering Philippine New Wave band, Dean’s December. Fernandez became the session keyboardist of The Dawn during its live performances in the stretch of the 1990s. Dichoso did session works for other bands that included Mariya and Mulato.

Final Note
Sadly, in 2010, vocalist Jeffs passed away due to complications of renal cancer, amidst a brewing band reunion as prompted by a number of concert producers who expressed interest in reintroducing the music of Khumb Mela Band to the current music generation.

Experience or rediscover the music of Khumb Mela Band by sampling a copy of its one-and-only album via this link: http://www.mediafire.com/?it5b4u2rcolb9i2.

I thank the guitarist of Khumb Mela Band, Randy Capawan, who promptly replied to my questions about the band.