The Other Women of Pinoy Rock

By Jing Garcia

Popular names often pop up to define the feminine energy behind the music that characterizes Pinoy rock today. Yet, also in the scene are other women of similar conviction if not of stature

Sampaguita" Sampaguita

Remember Sampaguita, the girl who made Laguna a province you wanted to often come back to?

What about Lolita Carbon of Asin, whose band's "Cotabato" still deliver the same shivers down the spine, on a subject that continues to haunt this country's southern lands even after 20 years?

These are just two women in the local rock music scene who have established their names permanently in the continuing evolution of Pinoy rock -- an evolution that has included women as an inspiring musical power on and off the stage for the past two decades.

When the '90s came, Western popular music culture saw a sudden resurgence of girl power, particularly in rock music. Never did the world see so many hard-rocking female performers since the Women's Lib days of the late '60s and early '70s. Sure, the punk rock era in the latter part of the last century produced unforgettable names, like Joan Jett, Chrissie Hynde and Patti Smith. But the '90s produced a different breed of female bands.

Dubbed by music critics as riot-grrls, this female version of American grunge music penetrated the male dominant rock scene with women wielding roaring mechanical chainsaws.

Courtney Love of Hole was one of them, along with all-female bands like L7 and Babes in Toyland, to name a few.

And for these women, mixing sex with rock music was an effective way to deliver their relentless message of pure girl power.

Of course, Manila also experienced its own version of the riot-grrls scene, as with most musical genres perpetrated by the West.

By the mid-'90s, the local underground/alternative scene was getting a taste of kick-ass women: Tribal Fish and Keltscross were just among the all-female groups who, aside from portraying rock sexiness, came complete with screeching electric guitars and to-hell-with-you attitudes.

Today, women in Pinoy-rock are a bit subtle. Gone are the loud guitars, screaming rhythm and angst-ridden vocals; yet they express the same strong message. A familiar stand on equality, respect and feminism.

Popular names, like Cynthia Alexander and Barbi Almalbis of Barbi's Cradle, often pop up to define the feminine energy behind the music that characterize Pinoy rock today. Yet, also in the scene are other women of similar conviction if not of stature.

"I have always dreamed of being a musician and being described as such, rather than being looked at as a female rocker," says Aia de Leon, lead vocalist of alternative band Imago. The band's first album entitled Probably Not But Most Definitely from Viva Records is out in the market.

Brownbeat Myra Ruaro and the Brownbeat All-Stars

"Being a girl, I found it unusually comfortable in the rock scene; everyone seems to be 'family,' not only within my band but among other bands as well," she shares.

Similar sentiments came from Myra Ruaro of Brown Beat All-Stars. "I didn't experience any discrimination. As far as I know, men in my circle have always respected women because they look at us more as artists rather than the opposite sex," says Myra. "But then, when it comes to concerts and live shows, meron talagang mga bastos at nambabastos (there will be rude people)," she adds. "You just have to live with it, 'coz you're not there for them but for yourself."

Myra has probably experienced it all. In the new wave-driven 80's, she was in a gothic band called Ardourn Delirium, whose male members eventually ended up in a pop-rock band called Alamid in the mid-90's. Myra continued with Put3Ska, where she made her trademark hit song "Manila Girl," before joining her present alternative dance party-band Brown Beat.

"When I was with Ardourn, patago lahat (I had to do things in secret) because I was still studying; I was young and my family definitely didn't allow me to sing in a band, so ang hirap talaga (it was really hard)," recalls Myra.

Barbi Cristi, guitarist and chief songwriter of Color It Red, had the same dilemma. "In the beginning, it was hard for my family to accept that this was the life I had chosen. They were particularly scared of the (economic) instability and the stereotypes that revolved around rock music, like drugs."

But with perseverance for their chosen path and discipline against the sex, drugs and rock & roll lifestyle prevalent in the industry, both women have proven their worth not only to fans but to their families as well.

For Myrene Academia, bassist for the current alternative favorite college-band Sandwich, it's a different story. "I never really encountered any opposition when I decided to enter in a band. I feel blessed and privileged to be able to check out opportunities."

How does she handle the sexism in rock? "I don't. All because I don't consider it a man's world; most of my idols in rock are women like Kim Gordon, Kim Deal, Bjork, even Madonna, who don't consider themselves as women in rock because they just do what they want."

For all of them, the main problem is how people accept your music -- a setback common to both genders. "Doon lang ako takot, kung paano nila tatanggapin yung music namin (That's the only thing I'm scared of, the people's reception of our music), not our being women. Marami lang talaga ang mga tao na sarado ang utak (There are so many who have closed minds)," says Aia.

"This is a general problem not limited to us women; a lot of male rock bands feel the same way," adds Myrene.

In terms of musical creativity, all girls agreed there is no difference between the sexes. "If you're writing a song, the most important thing is that you can sympathize or empathize with a situation or become sensitive to the events around you, feeling it and being articulate enough to put it into words and eventually into a song," sums up Barbi.

"If you ever come across good poetry that doesn't have a by-line, would you be able to guess who wrote it, much more the gender?," she adds.

Being part of the local underground and alternative music scene for more than two decades now, I've seen how these four women have worked, how they have struggled to pay their dues, and how their peers and followers have treated them.

Myrene and Barbi are often found behind the lead singer, yet without their extensive contribution, their bands would certainly be crippled.

In the case of Myra and Aia, they lead their pack. But no matter what position you have in a band, as long as you do well in the creative process and supply quality for growth, gender questions become non-issues.

October 7, 2001