August 25, 2009

Lyric Drum Day 2009

Lyric, the local distributor of Drum Workshop drums, pedals and hardware, and Meinl cymbals and percussion, had a Drum Day last weekend, at their Head Office and Showroom in Horseshoe Village, Quezon City. The Saturday afternoon event featured some of today's top Filipino drummers and percussionists. Performers include drummers Benjie Mendez, Franklin Benitez, and Otep Conception, and percussionists Maki Estrella (Roots of Nature), Francis Gaspar, and Paul Zialcita.

A couple of side notes before going through my blog... First, I wasn't supposed to attend the event because I needed to stay home and look after our house construction. But thanks to a text message from my buddy Michael Ong (guitarist of progressive rock band Fuseboxx), he urged me to drop by, and so I did. And second, I only witnessed the performances of the drumset drummers. Though I stayed for awhile after the drumset performances, I didn't really watch the percussion performances. So, my apologies to Mssrs. Estrella, Gaspar, and Zialcita. I had to leave early too (but I did hear some cool live performances before I left, when I was still there elsewhere in the venue).

Anyway, when I arrived at the Lyric office and showroom, the first things I noticed are the several drum and percussion gear on display and on sale. That day, Lyric was offering their drum and percussion products at huge discounts (and because of the success of this event, Lyric just announced that they extended their sale for one more week). There are plenty of quality, drool-worthy, GAS-inducing (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) equipment, mostly from Vic Firth, Meinl, DW, and PDP (Pacific Drums & Percussion, a subsidiary of DW). Several accessories and instructional books and videos are also available.

Plenty of friends from the drumming and music community were present for the event, and it's always a blast whenever we are on drumming events like this. It's also great to see three great Pinoy drumming phenoms together in one drumming event. When I arrived, Franklin, Otep, and Bagets were warming up and preparing for their respective sets. Most of my attention was also focused on the three beautiful drumkits set up for the three masters. Franklin used a 5-piece, gold-plated DW kit with a simple cymbal setup similar to Steve Gadd's (one ride, two crashes, and a pair of hats). Otep was on a rack-mounted, 5-piece PDP drumkit loaded with effects cymbals and a second pair of hats on the right side, which was mounted on a DW remote hat, its pedal positioned on the left side of the bass drum pedal (!). Bagets was all out on a black, 7-piece DW set-up, which included a 10" auxiliary snare drum and a 14" brass snare drum. All cymbals are Meinl, mostly from the Byzance series.

First performer was Franklin Benitez, best known for his work with Barbie Almalbis. Franklin played along to a Latin-style track for his first number, where the veteran drummer highlighted his Latin-style drumming skills. During Q&A, he entertained questions regarding his experiences performing with black musicians in the US. Franklin emphasized the importance of discipline, and how black American musicians are so particular with groove. One observation of Franklin is the playfulness of most Filipino drummers on timekeeping (ride/bell syncopations, for example), while most black drummers really mark the quarter notes on their grooves. Another observation he noticed is how dedicated several American drummers are. The great American musicians are really good, and they're really focused, pushing themselves to become the best they can be. He also cited how frank Americans are compared to Filipinos. While we Pinoys tend to be tactful and careful with our suggestions and criticisms to our bandmates, Americans would get to the point and work out things fast! I agree with Franklin's insights, and I'm glad he opened up those insights in regards to attitude. Later, Franklin shared some hand/foot combination exercises, and played a couple of drum solos, the last one accompanied by Otep and Bagets playing time on the PDP kit.

Otep Conception is a technically-gifted Pinoy drummer, and he showed us why during his set. He improvised on several odd meters and groupings, while being guided by a click on his earphones. What I admire about Otep's drumming is his articulation and his speed, most especially his right foot. This is one drummer who does not need a double bass pedal to play fast kick notes. But if he one day decides to play double bass, now that's a scary thought! I once told Otep that I wish I can have his lightning-quick right foot. Otep also highlighted some Gospelchops-inspired licks, which he shared to everyone. When a drummer asked Otep what he was thinking during his improvisational number, the latter said that he was thinking a lot about Bagets. Otep concluded his set with another impromptu performance, together with the next performer...

Benjie Mendez is the main event, and the most anticipated among the drumset performances. Bagets is a legend in the Philippine drumming and music scene, known for being a musical prodigy eversince his childhood days. His first big break was becoming the drummer of Side A at age 15, replacing original drummer Mar Dizon, another Pinoy drumming great. Mar is credited for giving Benjie the nickname "Bagets" because of the latter already being a phenomenom at such a young age. Bagets has played and recorded with several local and foreign artists, and he is currently with top Filipino band South Border.

Bagets is my mentor, one of my biggest drumming and musical inspirations, and not to mention, a dear friend. I've known Bagets for a number of years, and how much he would "hide" from drum-sharing events. But this time around, he was really eager to spread his message. He started his set by casually talking to the crowd and sharing some of his thoughts and emotions about drumming and the current state of local music. He stressed on the idea that music should not be a competition. Instead, we should do music to share the love and to glorify God, because without Him, we wouldn't have the gift of talent to make music. Bagets also became open, sharing stories about his life, his personal experiences, and his thoughts about the artists and drummers who have inspired and influenced him over the years. The talk given by Bagets was a revelation of what the man is all about. He is a natural artist, and I've known him as an eccentric and unpredictably moody guy. But last weekend, Bagets was at his element. The infectious enthusiasm he's known for was clear that day. To those who were present last weekend, especially the young drummers who came to see and hear Bagets preach and play for the first time, consider yourselves lucky.

Whenever Bagets is at the top of his game and playing with all his heart and soul, I can't help but be inspired by the power of his drumming. When I say power, it's not necessarily physical; it's what I feel whenever I witness this prodigy do his thing on the drumkit. There's magic in Bagets' drumming. His drumming is a melting pot of his major musical influences, from Vinnie Colaiuta to Jeff Porcaro, from Allan Holdsworth to Michael Jackson... Plus he puts his personality into it. For me, that's one huge factor among great musicians which I admire the most - personality. And there's so much personality in Bagets' drumming. It's so inspiring to watch and listen to artists who have that.

Bagets' first performance was an improvised 6/8 solo, based on his live performance on South Border's hit song Ikaw Nga, from the Mulawin soundtrack. Then, after an inquiry from a fellow drummer about shuffles, Bagets played several shuffle grooves such as Jeff Porcaro's Rosanna (Toto) and Bernard Purdie's Babylon Sisters (Steely Dan) grooves. Bagets ended his set in grand fashion, by inviting Franklin and Otep to jam and play triple drums. Watch the videos on Lyric's YouTube Channel.

I'm really glad that I showed up at Drum Day. I got several doses of inspiration, thanks to that. Great job, Lyric! Thanks for Drum Day!

* All photos by Anthony Dio, captured from his mobile phone.