Where Have All the Boy Bands Gone? (Part 2, The Apo Hiking Society)

Read about the Hagibis in Part 1 here.

The Campus Boy Band

Cover Art for the Single Blue Jeans

In 1991, the Apo Hiking Society—composed of Boboy Garovillo, Danny Javier, and Jim Paredes—released Songbuk ng Apo [Apo’s Songbook].  The first song, “Sa’n Na Nga Bang Barkada” [“Where have our friends gone?”], alludes to the groups origins as part of a large group friends. The song opens with: “Nagsimula ang lahat sa eskwela” [“Everything began at school”]. The Apo recall gathering in the school cafeteria:

Laging may hawak-hawak na gitara

Kaunting udyok lang ay kakanta na

[Always carrying a guitar around

Singing at the slightest provocation]

The song mythologizes the origins of the Apo Hiking Society, famously formed at the all-boy’s high school the Ateneo de Manila. Their name—a joke that juxtaposes disabled historical figure Apolinario Mabini and the unlikely act of hiking—reveals the group’s pleasure in schoolboy in-jokes. By naming themselves a “society,” the Apo transform a loose association of musically-minded friends, a “barkada,” into an unofficial music “fraternity.”

Boboy, Danny, and Jim began their professional careers as boyish singers.  Although each member is an accomplished musician, they performed on-stage without instruments (although their dancing was negligible at best). The Apo Hiking Society resembled an overgrown, adult version of a high school glee club. Like a high school glee club, they gave themselves license to explore the widest possible array of musical styles and subjects.

The Apo composed and sang pop ballads about love and heartbreak (“Panangalin,” “Nakapagtataka,” “Ewan,” “Pag-ibig”). They sang acoustic odes to friendship (“Awit ng Barkada”). They sang about childhood (“Batang-bata ka pa”), and children’s rights (“Bawat Bata”). They celebrated traditional music (“Lumang Tugtugin”), and described the art of songwriting (“Doo bidoo”). They wrote overtly politicized songs such as “American Junk,” an anti-imperial anthem critical of a Filipino habit of preferring American cultural products. They wrote hit songs for other artists,  famously Gary Valenciano’s “Di Na Natuto” (1985).  Apo’s longevity (1969-2010) and their prolific, diverse production meant that they contributed many pages to the great Tagalog songbook.

The Apo, Students, and EDSA 1986

The Apo Hiking Society appeared first as a group of students who, on a lark, would try their hand at being professional singers. In 1981, they released the song “Blue Jeans” and appeared in the teen film Blue Jeans. “Blue Jeans” barely sounds like a pop song. Verses and choruses are interrupted by a series of “jazzy” interludes. Unconventional tempo changes accompany each verse. In “Blue Jeans,” the Apo Hiking Society sound like a mix of a less edgy version of Billy Joel (because that’s possible) and a less flashy version of Elton John.

Sung in the voice of a disaffected student, “Blue Jeans” questions the value of school.. The Apo Hiking Society imagine study as labor so extended that the student’s blue jeans—then still clothing that designated youth—have faded. The song then mimics the voice of authority figures:

Ngunit ang kabataan daw ay kayamanan

’Wag daw basta’t itapon at pabayaan

Kaya magsikap habang may panahon

[But they say that youth is wealth

They tell us not to waste it

So you should work hard while there’s time]

The student chafes at the imagined voices of authority:

Sino ba silang nagmamarunong sa buhay

Huwag sana silang makialam sa aking buhay

[Who are they to think they know everything about life

I hope the don’t interfere with my life].

The Apo emerged as forces in the Original Pilipino Music (OPM) movement just when the “student” became a pop-culture fixation. When “Blue Jeans” was released, members of the Manila Sound-band VST and Co— Vic Sotto, Tito Sotto, and Joey de Leon—were starring in the sitcom Iskul Bukol (1977-1990; the name rhymes “school” with “bukol” or “lump,” which roughly translates into “Taking Your Lumps at School”). Tito, Vic, and Joey played students on the make at the fictive Wanbol University. Around the same time, Sharon Cuneta had a hit ballad called “High School Life” (1981).  Cuneta also appeared as a college student rebelling against paternal authority in the seminal teen movie of the Filipino film industry, “Dear Heart” (1981).  Even celebrated folk rock singer Freddie Aguilar—who usually weighed in on topics such as nationalism, disability, poverty, and bad children—released a hit song called “Estudyante Blues” (“Student Blues,” 1988). In the song, the student complains about endless scolding and a lack of freedom:

Ako’y walang kalayaan,

Sunod sa utos lamang”

[I have no freedom

I just follow orders]

In the 1980s Marcos era and its immediate aftermath, youth anxiety and rebellion was explored against a backdrop where teachers and fathers acted as substitutes for oppressive political authority. In pop entertainment, actors, singers, and comics tested the boundaries of authority and the limits of personal freedom. Pop culture could afford to be frank about the economic anxieties that besieged the young people of the era. “Blue Jeans,” for example, speaks openly about the personal struggle to self-motivate when it seemed that labor (study) would likely offer no reward (work). “Estudyante Blues” describes navigating an environment that is vigilantly policed:

Ako ang nakikita

Ako ang nasisisi

Ako ang langing may kasalanan

[I’m always wached

I’m always blamed

I’m always at fault”].

“Estudyante Blues” can be understood as metaphor for the condition of living in an authoritarian state. There are no freedoms, only a surplus of blame.

The Apo themselves would take an oppositional stance against the Marcos regime. They introduced sly anti-regime snark in their live concert performances. Jim Paredes recalls taking active part in the EDSA movement that overthrew the dictatorship. He lived in fear, but felt strongly that performers had a responsibility to the national community. He describes gathering civilians to protect Radio Veritas–the Catholic radio station that served as home base for the opposition. Boboy, Danny, and Jim were no longer students in 1986 and EDSA was not a remembered as a student movement. Nevertheless, the Apo Hiking Society managed to represent the possibility of dissident energy long embodied by students. These three Ateneo-educated family men whose musical style could be described as “easy listening” became the unlikely voices of the revolution.

Immediately after EDSA, the mood turned celebratory, and Jim Paredes composed the anthem that is still used to commemorate the events of 1986,  “Handog ng Pilipino sa Mundo” (“The Filipino Gift to the World”). Paredes’ Filipino “We are the World” could only have been written in a moment of political exuberance. Fifteen of the nation’s leading artists, including the Apo Hiking Society, recorded the song. They released an music video featuring the iconic people (with the unfortunate inclusion of Juan Ponce Enrile and the prescient inclusion of Corazon Aquino’s daughter Kris) and events of EDSA. The song has been recorded multiple times by different groups of artists, notably in 2011 for the 25th anniversary of EDSA. The Apo, very movingly, would sing “Handog” at Corazon Aquino’s funeral in 2009 alongside prominent vocalists Leah Salonga, Ogie Alcasid, and Jose Marie Chan among others.

“Handog” is a Filipino-pride anthem: “Masdan ang nagaganap sa ating bayan” (“Look at what is taking place in our nation”). The song credits Filipinos with the inauguration of a new revolutionary style. But it also opens with traces of the resistance that was so crucial to the EDSA movement:

Di na ‘ko papayag mawala ka muli

‘Di na ko papayag na muling mabawi,

Ating kalayaan kay tagal na nating mithi

[I will never permit the loss

I will never permit the revocation

Of the freedom we have wanted for so long].

“Handog” also reminds its listeners of the fragility of the people’s newly-won freedom: “Huwag ulit payagan umiral ang dilim” [“Don’t let darkness reign again”].

(The Marcos have been back for a long time. Imelda Marcos is old, free, rich, and powerful. Imee Marcos, Ferdinand Marcos’ daughter, served in congress from 1998-2007. Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. almost won the Vice Presidency in 2016. Jim Paredes is unhappy, and spent part of 2011 in a twitter beef with Bongbong.)

The Apo Hiking Society Hang Out and Drink Beer

In 1995, the Apo Hiking Society would challenge Tito Sotto, Vic Sotto, and Joey de Leon. Tito, Vic, and Joey of the Manila Sound band VST and Co and Iskul Bukol had transformed themselves into the masters of the television hang-out on daily variety show Eat Bulaga! (1980-present). They host segments ranging from the children’s beauty pageants to million-peso sweepstakes to guest song performances with an easy, seemingly unrehearsed charm. Tito, Vic, and Joey had transformed themselves into personalities as familiar as friends and family, and they literally cast their own friends and family. They had become part of the nation’s extended “barkada,” and they acknowledged this by naming their cast and their audience “Dabarkads.”

The Apo, who had begun hosting a Sunday noontime variety show on ABS-CBN in 1990, would be given Eat Bulaga‘s timeslot in 1995 after Eat Bulaga departed for competing network GMA-7. The Apo Hiking Society’s ‘Sang Linggo nAPO Sila intended to provide audiences with an alternate daily noontime “barkada.” After all, who could be better “barkada” than a “barkada” of singing, song-writing friends ? Like all other comers then or since, ‘Sang Linggo nAPO Sila failed to dethrone Eat Bulaga! and was cancelled after three short years.

The Apo had much better luck transforming themselves into the nation’s “barkada” through their partnership with the nation’s leading and oldest beer, San Miguel. San Miguel Beer’s commercials appeared on television as often as Tito, Vic, and Joey. San Miguel’s commercials were and continue to be iconic, spawning catchphrases (“Isang platitong mani!”)and earworm jingles.

One commercial featuring the Apo Hiking Society exploited their history as long-time friends and collaborators. The cameras follow the group composing music (while drinking beer), recording music, and performing live. The Apo sing a song that sounds like an allusion to their history:

Lagi kaming magkasabay

Samahang walang kapantay

[We are always together

Our fellowship is without equal].

As it turns out, they are singing about the beer. They end with the then already classic San Miguel Beer tagline “Ibang May Pinagsamahan, San Miguel Beer” [“It’s different when you have a shared history, San Miguel Beer”], a tagline that could be about the Apo as much as Filipino consumers relationship with their favorite beer.

In 1987 and 1988, the Apo Hiking Society appeared in two of San Miguel Beer’s most memorable television commercials. In 1987, they appeared in the “Bilmoko” commercial, which introduced the catchphrase “bilmoko” [“buymethis”] into the pop-lexicon. Boboy Garovillo– the Apo-member most interested in pursuing acting–plays the role of a man who wants to please his girlfriend. The girlfriend’s requests range from the reasonable (dinner, beer) to the outlandish (jewelry, clothing, a sports car). She points with a “bilmoko” gesture as folk singer Fred Panopio sings “Bilmoko ‘non/Bilmoko n’yan, ha?” [“Buy me this,/ Buy me that, okay?”]. Danny and Jim don’t sing, but the Apo were a package deal. They pop out of various background scenes–behind windows, serving dinner, drinking beer–alongside San Miguel Beer’s longtime partner, comic and television host Bert Marcelo.

In 1988, the Apo Hiking Society outdid themselves with the “Si-boom si-boom” commercial, in which they actually sing. Dressed in bright holiday gear on a beach, the Apo stalk a  woman in white who initially appears to them as if a mirage. The Apo are reduced to non-verbal utterance: “Si-boom si-boom yadadadada!” They finally summon the woman with beer as they sing the chorus “San Miguel Beer!/Galinggalinggaling!” [“San Miguel Beer!/ Awesomeawesomewesome!”]. “Galinggalinggaling!” or, more commonly, “galing-galing!” remains a Tagalog catchphrase.

The Apo released many songs that were perfect accompaniments for lazy, casual hanging out (preferably with beer). Danny Javier’s “Pumapatak ang Ulan” (1978) describes the he behavior rainy days provoke. Unable to go about his day, the singer has no choice but to spend the day drinking (“Laklak ng laklak ng beer sa magdamagan”).  “Awit ng Barkada” (1990) cheers-up a  friend through the company of his loyal, singing “barkada:”

Nandidito kami

Ang barkada mong tunay

Aawit sa ‘yo

[We are here

Your true friends

Ready to sing to you.”].

After all, the Apo say, as if in a beer commercial: “iba na nga ang may pinagsamahan” (“it’s really different when you have a shared history”). The Apo had always aspired to be the nation’s singing “barkada.” Their San Miguel Beer ads cemented that status in ways their variety show could not.

The New Campus Boy Band: The Eraserheads

The CD Cover for Ultraelectromagneticpop


When the Apo Hiking Society appeared in San Miguel Beer commercials alongside Bert Marcelo,  they were still the young guys. By 1996, they would appear as father figures in a  San Miguel Beer commercial alongside an emerging  band, the Eraserheads. The Eraserheads composed and sang the commercial’s jingle “Homeboys,” borrowing from the vocabulary of what was a still in the Philippines the emergent genre of hip-hop. The commercial seemed to announce that the Apo were passing the creative and beer commercial baton to these upstarts.

Like the Apo Hiking Society, the Eraserheads were formed on campus. Ely Buendia (vocals, guitar), Marcus Adoro (lead guitar), Buddy Zabala (bass) and Raymund Marasigan became the Eraserheads in 1989 at the University of the Philippines. They were a college band proper–rather than a boy band or a grown-up glee club like the Apo. They built their reputation at various campus venues prior to the release of their first studio album Ultraelectromagneticpop in 1993. In 2001, the Apo Hiking Society would release an album Apo…Banda Rito which included a (not-very-good) cover version of Ultraelectromagneticpop‘s first hit single, the pop-rock ballad “Pare Ko.” “Pare Ko” was the Eraserheads’ perfect Apo-song. It was not really a song about heartbreak, but a song about the “barkada’s” role in helping each other through heartbreak. “Pare Ko” was a song about fellowship and drinking with friends(“Huwag na nating idaan sa ma-boteng usapan”), laced this time with profanity (“Di ba? ‘Tangina/Nagmukha akong tanga”).

The Eraserheads are often described as the vanguard of Filipino 90s indie rock. Ely Buendia–the group’s most prominent member– has often identified as a fan of the Beatles, but their ’90s emergence means that the Eraserheads have often been mentioned in the same breath as American 90s band Nirvana. Comparisons between Nirvana and the Eraserheads seem unfounded–the bands sound nothing alike and the Eraserheads are not very angst-ridden. In truth, the 90s American band the Eraserheads might resemble most is Weezer. But there is a similarity between Nirvana and the Eraserheads in that their arrival announced the emergence of new musical movements. Nirvana announced grunge, and the Eraserheads paved the way for Filipino indie rock. Parokya ni Edgar, Sugarfree, Rivermaya and other similarly pop-rock oriented acts would dominate the 90s recording industry (alongside the nation’s always popular ballad singers).

The Eraserheads resemble the Apo Hiking Society in one very significant way. They made their comic sensibility essential to their music. The Eraserheads’ music were often steeped in irony. They sang songs about getting high (“Alapaap”), liking to drive and not being able to (“Drive”), falling in love (“Toyang”), and heartbreak (“Pare Ko”) only half-earnestly at most.

The Apo Hiking Society had often displayed a similar sense of humor. “Mahirap Magmahal ng Syota ng Iba” (“It’s Hard to Love Someone Else’s Girlfriend;” 1982) by the Apo is an extended joke at the singers’ own expense. The song’s arrangement made the song more cheerful than despondent. Instead of taking a tone of romantic despair, the Apo treat the love triangle as a slight headache (“O sakit ng ulo, maniwala ka!”). The song evades ethical dilemmas, choosing instead to grapple with logistics such as when to call and when to visit. The search for a girlfriend of one’s own is described as a hassle (“Maghanap na lang kaya ng iba!”), not worth the effort required.

Like the Apo, the Eraserheads would often be deliberately tongue-in-cheek. “Tindahan ni Aling Nena” from Ultraelectromagneticpop uses a bluegrass rhythm as backdrop for a comic narrative. One day (“Isang araw”), the singer visits Aling Nena’s shop only to fall in love like in a movie (“Parang isang kwentong pampelikula!”). He is so shocked by a woman sitting at the window that his heart falls just as he drops a bottle of vinegar  (“Natulala ako, laglag ang puso ko/ Nalaglag rin ang sukang hawak ko!”). Although Aling Nena warns that  her niece  at the window would be departing for Canada, the singer persists in his wooing her.  The song concludes ant-climactically: “Anong nangyari!…..Walaaaaa…walaaaa” [“What happened? …. Nooothing….nooothiiiing”].  The Eraserheads acknowledge mundane details from daily life (buying vinegar, a staple of the Filipino table), confront socio-economic realities (the migration of the Filipino labor force), and still produce innovative pop songs about love.

The Eraserheads would release many narrative comic pop-rock songs until their first disbandment in 2002 (most notably, “Huling El Bimbo” from 1995’s Cutterpillow). The Eraserheads were radically different from the Apo Hiking Society musically. But they were also, the Apo of the 1990s. They were the ’90s singers and songwriters who changed the Filipino songbook the most. Like the Apo, they have now been commemorated by cover tribute album, because they too have become the musical “barkada” of the people.

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