I arrived at QUBE Gallery to the crisp, clear sound of what I thought to be a very fine guitar. It was a Breedlove and it belonged to Martina San Diego. In Cebu for a couple of weeks, the 22-year-old singer-songwriter was about to grace the stage later.
That night, 22 Tango Records was back at the art gallery for the second leg of The Listening Room. We debuted this series back in January, with the Wonggoys headlining the show and premiering their new songs. For this one, we featured an all-female lineup from our roster to celebrate Women’s Month.
There is quiet intensity in between soundcheck and showtime. Organizers always think about running the show smoothly, making sure nothing goes wrong. The artists hold a different kind of anxiety. It comes with the prospect of performing and sharing the stories behind their songs. And with our #shhhhpolicy, these guys almost have no choice but to bare their souls to a listening audience.
My showrunner nerves seemed petty. If Martina had any pre-show jitters, she did a good job hiding them. We talked about Berlin while Cattski did her own soundcheck. The sky outside looked prettier with the setting sun.
Around 6 PM, people were slowly trickling in. Our invite-only event was attended by the head honchos of A-List Events, Anthill’s Anya Lim, Create Cebu’s Cecilia Martinez and Bea Sagun (QUBE Gallery), Francis Sollano, Paulo Varela, Martina’s family, musician friends, some very loyal 22T fans, among others. Miss Cebu Raine Baljak was also on her A-game doing guest relations.
Even with the AC on full blast, there was a happy flow of beer courtesy of Cebu Brewing Company. On display were works from Ed Defensor’s “Manature” exhibit which opened late February. The place was humming with friendly chatter until Manna, the night’s host, called everyone’s attention.
“We believe in giving our artists the space to sing their songs freely, to have their music appreciated by a listening audience”, she said before introducing Mother Folker Cattski, who opened with “Monsters”. Crowd favourite “Sea Hue” was also on her setlist, among other originals. She ended her set with an interactive performance of Rock ‘n Roll.
Mary Anchit was up next. The 27-year-old singer-songwriter has grown used to an attentive audience, having been a staple of 22T’s events that strictly adhere to the #shhhhpolicy. “It feels good to perform for people who actually listen. I’m glad I’m here”, she quipped in between singing The Race and Double Pay—the former a mash-up of narratives she encountered in a day, the latter a testimony about some stereotypes in the teaching profession.
Martina followed, hollered on by her very supportive family. She sang originals such as “Stars”, “Bridges” and an aptly titled new track “White Flower” which was about healing. The soft-spoken NYU student chatted freely about gig culture in New York, Europe and Cebu. “This is the first time I’ve done something like this in Cebu, so that’s pretty special”, she quipped. A natural storyteller, Martina was also quick to share about the evolution of her songs, how each one was influenced by time, space and circumstance. For those who don’t know, “Stars” was written after soul-searching on a rooftop in Cebu, while “Bridges” was written on a restless day in Central Park.
Also with a lot of storytelling to offer was Lourdes Maglinte, whose love songs are spiced with enough sass and bitterness you’re either feeling feelings or laughing along with her. As she spews “you’re not fooling my vagina” in one of her latest compositions, the crowd just laughs in unison.
It’s hard not to get hooked. One particular song that has gotten people hooked already is her new single “Empty Sheets”, first featured on last year’s Democrazy campaign, made it to the airwaves by January and premiered a music video by mid-February. As if this girl wasn’t busy enough, she also collaborated with Vincent Eco for a song called “Falling”, which they performed that night. Cue the fuzzy feelings.
The evening ends with a lot of chatter, a lot of hugging, a lot of photos. There is a certain rush after every gig. I know this because we do a lot of these gigs and I’m a ball of energy after every one. I know this because I see that rush in people’s faces. Music experienced more consciously, like anything intimate and shared, brings both a sense of calm and a wave of endorphins. The feelings resonate more deeply though, then you want more. We always strive to produce these kinds of events, we strive to share these to the community.
The Listening Room is experimental, a brave effort to shape a listening culture in Cebu where we mostly enjoy our local talents as mere background music. The Listening Room is special. For the artists, it’s a sacred space to bare their souls and songs with full trust in the audience. For everyone listening, it’s a chance to connect, empathize, feel. As Cattski sings in Rock ‘n Roll: “What you should listen to are songs that make you want to face your fears, boost your spirits, learn to fly and live to inspire”.
Check out this video recap of The Listening Room:
The Listening Room returns this May 26th with The Labrats, Wonggoys, Vincent Eco and Ella Melendez. Our guest list is filling up. To get invited, sign up for our mailing list here.
Blog & Photos by Nina Alcoseba