Many people know Bamboo because of his being a currently popular singer and TV personality in the Philippines, especially as a coach in the reality-television singing competition The Voice of the Philippines. However, what many of his new fans might not know is that, long before his solo stint, Bamboo was the lead vocalist of the ’90s-originating Filipino Alternative Rock band Rivermaya.
Formed in 1994 with original members Rico Blanco (chief songwriter / keyboardist), Nathan Azarcon (bassist), Perfecto de Castro (guitarist), Mark Escueta (drummer), and Francisco “Bamboo” Mañalac, Rivermaya was well-known for the now classic and commercially popular songs “Ulan,” “214,” “Awit ng Kabataan,” “Himala,” “Kisapmata,” “Panahon Na Naman,” “Elesi,”and “Hinahanap-hanap Kita.” After three albums (Rivermaya, 1994; Trip, 1996; and Atomic Bomb, 1997), Bamboo ceased to be a member of the group in 1998. Stepping up onto the vacated position of lead vocalist, Blanco with the rest of the team (with some original members leaving the band at various points, to be replaced by new musicians) soldiered on, releasing more albums (It’s Not Easy Being Green, 1999; Free, 2000; Tuloy ang Ligaya, 2001; Between the Stars and Waves, 2003; and Isang Ugat, Isang Dugo, 2006). Songs arising from this batch include “Nerbyoso,”“Ambulansya,” “Umaaraw,Umuulan,” “Balisong,” and “Isang Bandila.” Blanco left the band in 2007, compelling his remaining bandmates with newfound members to carry on, releasing three more albums (Buhay, 2008; Closest Thing to Heaven, 2009; and Panatang Makabanda, 2013). Notable songs from this batch include “Sugal ng Kapalaran,” “Remenis,” and “Malayang Magmahal.”
Bamboo the Band
After a five-year hiatus, Mañalac returned to the music scene in 2003 as the vocalist of a group that he and his bandmates called simply as Bamboo. With Nathan Azarcon (bass), Ira Cruz (guitars), Vic Mercado (drummer), and Ria Osorio (sessionist keyboards) as fellow members, Bamboo carried on for eight years, achieving commercial popularity and releasing four albums that received various awards and strong sales—As the Music Plays (2004), Light Peace Love (2005), We Stand Alone Together (2007), and Tomorrow Becomes Yesterday (2008). Remarkable songs include “Noypi,” “Hallelujah,” “Tatsulok” (originally by Buklod), and “Kalayaan.”
Bamboo the Solo Artist
In 2011, soon after the dissolution of Bamboo as a band, Mañalac pursued a solo career, retaining his name and releasing his first solo album, entitled No Water, No Moon. Recommended songs are “Back on My Feet,” “All Hail the Fool,” and “Ikot ng Mundo.” Musicians backing him up include Kakoy Legaspi (guitar/harmonica), Ria Osorio (keyboard/flute), Ardie de Guzman (guitar), Simon Tan (bass), Junjun Regalado (drums), and Yosha Honasan (backing vocals).
Bamboo in Winnipeg and Being with the Band
The Winnipeg leg of Bamboo’s Canadian tour was held on September 28 at Garrick Centre. The well-organized and well-attended gig boasted of good sound production and of a solid setlist that consisted of classic Rivermaya songs (“Ulan,” “Awit ng Kabataan,” “Ulan,” and “Hinahanap-hanap Kita”) and Bamboo songs (“Tatsulok,” “Hallelujah,” and “Mr. Clay”). Particularly remarkable for my taste were “Hallelujah,” which the band preluded aptly with an excerpt of Canadian singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen’s song of the same title, and “Tatsulok,” which started with the intro of Irish New Wave band U2’s “Sunday Bloody Sunday.”
Bamboo was really a hit among the listening crowd primarily because of his distinct and powerful voice, dynamic stage presence, and overall charisma. Nonetheless, without the precision and presence of the musicians backing him up—such as Kakoy Legaspi (lead guitar / chromatic harmonica), Ardie de Guzman (second guitar), Ria Osorio (keyboard/flute), Yosha Honasan (backing vocals), Simon Tan (bass / upright bass), and Paul Jones (touring drummer)—Bamboo’s music would have been incomplete.
Having been a scenester myself in the Philippine Alternative Rock scene since the late ’80s, I with my former band Half Life Half Death had the privilege to perform at countless gigs with many of such Filipino bands as Rivermaya, Eraserheads, and The Dawn. This gave me the opportunity to become friends with many fellow artists like Kakoy Legaspi. And because of this connection, I always make it a point to accommodate visiting artists from the Philippines to the best of my schedule. For this event, I was able to tour some of the guys around Downtown Winnipeg, The Forks, and Osborne Village which they enjoyed. We also took some of the members to a night out at King’s Head (Irish) Pub in Downtown to check out some live local bands, to dinner at Café ce Soir on Portage Ave., and to a short jamming session at the house of my haLf man haLf eLf bandmate Christine Mazur.
I asked Legaspi about the current music of Bamboo, and he told me that the core creative/writing force behind it were he, Bamboo, and keyboardist Osorio. I also asked him how it was working with another Rivermaya original, Rico Blanco (Legaspi was also a member of Rivermaya for several years); he said that working with Blanco was challenging in a good way because Blanco had a strong sense of focus—that whenever he had a song to work on, he definitely had a sure and well-structured set of ideas and a clear vision of what musical direction he wanted to pursue. Asked about Bamboo, he said that through the years Bamboo has become more involved in songwriting and has definitely improved his performing craft. (Note that Blanco wrote the majority of Rivermaya’s materials during his time with the group.)
Having had the chance to hang out with the band at the hotel they were billeted in before they finally left for Saskatoon in Saskatchewan (the next leg of their Canadian tour), I was able to chat for a bit with Bamboo; I asked him if there’s already a plan for his second solo album—he said yes and confirmed that he with his team was hoping for a release next year. He also expressed his gratefulness for the warm reception they received in Winnipeg amidst the cold weather.
Finally, “Is the chair on Voice of the Philippines comfortable?”
Bamboo simply responded with a smile, showing his dimples. Good thing Charina was not with me; she would have swooned; and as for me, I’m not easily charmed by cute smiles.