Filipino Musicians Share How They’re Coping During Quarantine

Since the day we all got caught off-guard by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the entire world has been crippled and left struggling – not just financially, but also physically and emotionally. We are trying to make a living, stay virus-free, and keep our sanity during this very difficult time.

Due to the ECQ, most people have already started adapting to the new norm – the digital shift. However, for others, it just doesn’t work the same way. Some people rely mainly on physical human interaction to do their jobs. The live events industry – performers, producers, events staff – is badly affected, for one. For without a stage and a live audience, there is no show, there is no work, and there is no income. 

We reached out to a few Filipino musicians here and abroad to ask how they are coping with the pandemic and how they’re adjusting to the “new normal”: quarantine, working from home, stepping into the digital space as their new stage, and being on the frontline for some – PPEs, masks, and all.    

Filipino Musicians Share How They’re Coping During Quarantine

Gab Alipe (Urbandub)

“It directly affected my main source of income and took away the thing I loved doing the most: playing music, performing on stage with my band.”

 Photo by Paolo Ruiz

Gab’s initial reaction was on how to keep his family safe, stock up on supplies, and how the rest of the community will cope and get through this. 

Although there haven’t been any regular gigs since March, Gab is still thankful and happy that he gets to spend more time with his family, doing different activities together, and staying safe. Despite the situation, he only chooses to look at the positives. Spending quality time with family is the silver lining here”, he says. Once it’s safe, he plans to take his family out to their favorite restaurant, hopefully go out of town, and look for work.

In his opinion, there’s a lot of misinformation and fake news going around – panic mentality – and it’s hard for Filipinos to be united. “Sad to say, a divided country is a weak country. A weak country can be sold at discount,” he voices out. “Stay strong. Stay safe. Remain in your faith, whatever religion you may believe in, let’s try our best as a country to be united.”

Paco Arespacochaga (Introvoys)

“Personally, it was hard – and it’s still hard for me and my family.”

Paco with wife Jaja (Photo courtesy of Paco)

For Introvoys drummer Paco Arespacochaga, who has been living in LA, it wasn’t just about cancelled shows. Both he and his wife are also working as frontliners. His wife works as a nurse and he works for an ambulance company. As such, they have to be extra cautious to keep themselves and their kids safe. There was a time, he said, when his wife had to self-quarantine in a hotel. He also had to rely on video calls to communicate with his other kids, who live with their mothers. As a father, it makes him sad not being able to hug them. 

As for the band, their 2020 tour was rescheduled, so that’s an entire year’s loss of income – and not just for the band, but for their staff and the producers, as well. His podcast “Paco’s Place” has also been put on hold to observe social distancing as the show’s nature is a face-to-face organic interview.  

When the news broke out late last year, Paco was one of those who took it seriously. Pinairal ko na ung kapraningan ko. While people were laughing about it, my wife and I started stocking up on supplies, we had a headstart,” he shares.

When the lockdown was put into place, he thought about his friends who would lose their jobs, and worried about the economy. In the US, they usually feel the blessing of a booming economy. Now, however, unemployment, depression, and suicide rates are climbing. On a positive note, being a Filipino from a third world country has made him believe that whatever happens, wherever we may be, we know how to thrive and survive. “When life throws me lemons, I’ll make lemonade,” he laughs. “That’s how I’ve been adjusting and taking this opportunity to be a good example to my children. I don’t wanna call this the new normal. I tend to call this pivoting.”

Having faced so many challenges in life – losing both his parents at the age of 21, moving to the US, leaving behind his celebrity status in the Philippines – he never thought any of it as a new normal. “I’d say this is another challenge; and to deal with it is not to complain, but to be grateful. We’re lucky we have this kind of technology that still enables us to communicate.”

The situation has made Paco’s family stronger and has opened his eyes to what is important and what is trivial – things we can live without. He also added that it makes you see how superficial most of the things we go after really are. He has become more humble and grateful for surviving, and he will be grateful everyday for the rest of his life.  He can’t wait to hang out with all of his children, invite family and friends over, and just have a good time with everybody. 

“Let’s be fearful and hopeful at the same time, being fearful is different from being a coward. It’s okay to be scared because it opens your mind to be cautious and being cautious is what keeps you alive.  Live your life,  love your family, make the most of it. As much as you can, keep yourselves safe. Always wear a mask, practice social distancing… makakaraos din tayo dito,” he says.

Cooky Chua

“I get to spend everyday with my son. Grateful na ako na tao pero parang nag three times pa ang pagka grateful that we’re okay . I became more prayerful.”

Cooky Chua with son Waki (Photo courtesy of Cooky Chua)

Before all of this disrupted our lives, Cooky had been busy juggling – doing shows, a day job, and being a solo parent to her son Wacky. And like all the others, a lot of shows got canceled, including her show in Israel with Jett Pangan, Wency Cornejo and Dong Abay. Her initial reaction? “Will we lose our jobs? Did I save enough? Will my family be safe?”

“There are days when I feel very down and depressed because of all the uncertainty,” she admits. “But some days, I have a very strong resolve to survive this. I’m trying to keep busy with work. I have a part-time job sorting data, so I’m trying to keep busy with that. I also do online benefit shows when invited, like Bayanihan Musikahan and OPM.”

To cope, she spends her time during quarantine praying, listening to a lot of music, and watching Netflix. She also tries to research on past pandemics. In between all of this, feelings of hope surfaces; but most times, it’s just uncertainty and fear, thinking that there might not be live shows in the new normal.

If there’s some good this situation has brought about and that she’s grateful for, it’s being able to spend more time with her son. She also learned to save more for the future, and to worry less. “We should try to be more understanding since people are scared and we tend to say/do foolish things when we’re scared. I’m still trying to learn how to let go and not feel fear and anxiety,” she says.

When all of this is over, Cooky looks forward to visiting her loved ones, doing live shows, going back to the gym, running, and dance. “It’s okay to hope but it’s better to BELIEVE. We will surpass this and we will play live music again,” she states, hopefully.

Buwi Meneses (Parokya ni Edgar)

“Humanity was being ready with technology to adapt to live in nature harmoniously.”

Buwi Meneses in California (Photo courtesy of Buwi)

Parokya ni Edgar bassist, Buwi Meneses, was scheduled to go back to Manila from California to record a new album with Parokya last March; but due to the COVID-19 outbreak, he decided to cancel his trip to stay with his family instead. It’s a very serious and worrisome situation and he can’t help but think about the safety of everyone, hoping for proper information, and thinking of how to deal with finances considering how this will affect work. 

Amidst the mandated quarantine, with most jobs being put on hold, he is fortunate to still be able to work. He works for an ambulance company; and being one of the many frontliners risking their lives, he makes sure to take extra precautions – protective masks, gloves, eyewear, and constant sanitation. He reminds everyone to be more cautious and avoid going to crowded places. He gets to appreciate that there’s no traffic and pollution whenever he goes to work and enjoys seeing animals roaming freely as there aren’t too many people outside. 

Seeing how the world is slowly shifting to digital, he looks forward to being more digially connected. “We will all find ways to spread the art of music and appreciated in different parts of the world,” he says confidently.

Ebe Dancel

“I feel like the world stopped. Took me a while to find myself again. I was in shock for maybe a week.”

Ebe Dancel with his rescued Pitbull, Alon.

“I hope my family is safe.” “Pano na yung mga mawawalan ng trabaho at walang makain?” “Live shows are on hold. Until when? I don’t really know.” These are only a few of the things Ebe worried about after learning about the pandemic.

Ebe says that these are very strange times, and lots of things are uncertain. Some days are better than the rest, but he can’t keep worrying about the future. “It’s a wait-and-see kind of thing, so I focus on today instead. I can’t say I’ve fully adjusted to life in quarantine, but I’m used to being alone.”

What does the new normal mean for him these days? According to Ebe, he sleeps early and wakes up early. He works out in the morning, eats healthy, reads in the afternoon, works out again, has dinner, and then goes to sleep. “Boring, noh? I try not to spend too much time watching TV and being online,” he shares. 

Strangely, though, he shares that while most musicians pick up their instruments and take this time to write songs, he doesn’t touch his guitar unless for online shows. “I don’t know if that’s a bad thing.  I’m not even thinking about writing songs,” he admits. “Grief affects us in different ways. In my case, I find that it takes over sometimes and I find myself paralyzed and staring out into nothing. I try to catch myself and move around. I can’t lose hope.”

“Everything is up in the air right now. As a musician, I’m trying to figure out how to reach people. I’m not as equipped as other musicians, setup-wise. When I have online shows, I use my guitar, my voice, my phone, and let God do the rest for me.” 

Right now, no matter how ugly the situation is, there’s some good it does to everyone. For him, it’s taking better care of himself.  “Normally, I’d be traveling too much from Laguna to Manila and back for shows. I didn’t sleep much and ate restaurant food,” he shares. Now, he’s taking this time to rest and eat healthy, mostly vegetables. A few things he realized: he should have more faith in the Supreme Being, focus on the things he can control at the moment, and live life one hour at a time. 

“I do get anxious and worry about the future. I miss the stage. I miss the fans a lot. However, I’m still learning to be more patient with myself. I know God will guide me,” he states. Once the quarantine is lifted and it’s safe to go outside, he says he will run and bike, go to the beach, and play as many shows as he can until he loses his voice. “I miss everyone. I can’t wait to share the stage with musicians again and sing for the fans. Let’s all be patient. Lilipas din ito.

Jonathan Buencamino (Introvoys)

“It left an enormous impact on how I socialize and communicate with friends and co-workers.  It’s so sad that you can’t even hug or do a simple handshake.”

Jonathan in LA (Photo courtesy of Jonathan Buencamino)

Like his bandmate Paco, lead vocalist of Introvoys Jonathan Buencamino works in the health industry in LA. As much as it saddens him having all their shows getting canceled, though, he is still thankful he still has a job to keep during these trying times. Nonetheless, he is worried about three things: How can I protect my family? What if we run out of food? What if I get sick?

For Jonathan, coping was just a matter of getting used to things we don’t normally do, like wearing a mask every time he needs to go out and sanitizing his hands all the time. He’s not that happy with the new normal and hopes that a vaccine will soon be found. Things will eventually go back to how they used to be; and once that happens, he wants to see all of his friends, go on vacation, and perform again.

He also realized that, “In a blink of an eye, nature can easily take away the things that are dear to you. Life is short and we need to make the most out of it in a good way. God and family will be your strength during hard times.” He also believes that this pandemic will pass and we will all get through this.

Ben&Ben

“It led us to a period of self-reflection and a realization that all of us have the capacity to help our brothers and sisters in need at these times.”

Photo by Toia Avenido

Even in quarantine, Ben&Ben – all nine of them – have been keeping themselves busy working from home. According to Paolo, this crisis affected them in a positive way. It made them look inward and outward.

Pat said that upon the announcement of lockdown, they knew that they wouldn’t be performing for a while. With the realization that they can do something to help, they did a fundraising show online called Puhon last April, after which they donated PPEs, masks, and food to frontliners.

They also expressed that people need music and art now more than ever. So, even with stricter measures, they try their best to produce music to help people who listen to them through these hard times.

Jam shared that it was a challenge for them to figure out how to make music and play together virtually since they always did everything together. They have to be creative and keep things interesting. “We all have to learn how to move on with all this limited socialization”, Andrew adds.

The quarantine has been especially difficult for both Agnes and Kiefer, who both live alone. Kiefer had to keep himself productive so as to not to feel lonely. Agnes is thankful for her friends who help her by sending her food. She also gives food to frontliners. As part of her gratitude, she volunteered and spent a day helping them distribute.“It was a humbling experience realizing how a random act of kindness can bring a smile not only to those receiving it, but also to the one giving it”, she shares. “Seeing the frontliners happy made my heart full.” And in Toni’s words: “Selflessness and kindness can save the world.”

The band looks forward to eating out, spending time with close friends, and having a long (physical) jamming session together soon. “As in mga at least 4 hours straight jamming,” Poch says, laughing. Sa lahat ng nakikinig, maraming salamat. You don’t know how much it means to us when you support our music and our art in these difficult times. We promise to do our best to keep our flames burning in these challenging times.”

It’s unfortunate that the things that help keep us sane and have always been a part of our lives had to be shut down and deemed non-essential. The live events industry is in limbo, businesses are closed indefinitely, and workers are losing jobs – not knowing how or when they can get their lives back. 

“We are the people who get one shot to get a live event right. We pour our heart and soul into creating experiences that come down to defining moments for audiences and attendees.” – Shakira Villa-Symes

Still, there’s no losing hope. The National Live Events Coalition PH now exists to provide advocacy, network, and support to various live events businesses and its workforces. It is initiated and headed by one of the top lighting designers in the country, Shakira Villa-Symes, alongside different event companies, suppliers, agencies, and freelancers; and supported by Liza DiñoSeguerra (Chairperson and CEO, Film Development Council of the Philippines. 

The coalition aims to create awareness for the industry, being a large sector and seeing how badly it has been hit by COVID-19. They’re currently pursuing to work with the government to ensure that every sector of the industry is given help and support. They are also working on creating safety strategies for the audience and the workforce. 

It’s about time, don’t you think? Hoping that everything works well, so we can all go out and watch live shows and see our favorite performers onstage again.

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