MANILA -- Who would ever think that pop diva Kuh Ledesma was merely earning P50 a night when she started singing with the Ensalada Band at Holiday Inn Manila in the '70s?
At that time, there were other bands in the music scene, like Family Birth Control Band with Nonoy Zuniga and Circus Band with Basil Valdez.
Ledesma then joined Rebirth Corporation, which was playing at the Playboy Club. “They pirated me from Ensalada and offered me more money,” she said in an interview. “I was doing disco tunes. I wasn’t thinking of going solo yet at that time.”
She was paid P85 a night, which, she said, was already decent at that time for a performer. “I said to myself, ‘Bubuka ko lang ang bibig ko, kumikita na ako’,” Ledesma recalled. “Hindi ako gastadora, so I was able to save a lot of money.”
It was talent manager Sandra Chavez who convinced Ledesma to put up a show band. “Sandra visited me at the Playboy Club,” Ledesma shared. “She recruited most of the members. Music and Magic was really put up for me. We auditioned at the Alibi Bar, where other members were added.”
Music and Magic had nine original members with Ledesma, Bobby Taylo, Butch Elizaldez, Nonoy Mendoza, Angeli Pangilinan-Valenciano, Fe de los Reyes, Eva Caparas, Jet Montelibano and Toto Gentica. Vicky Sevilla-Pangilinan later replaced Pangilinan-Valenciano and Jeanette Casuga-Trevias also joined the group.
Pangilinan-Valenciano is a friend of Chavez’s that was why the former was recruited readily for the band. De los Reyes is a friend of Pangilinan-Valenciano’s and was taken in, too. Caparas auditioned, while Gentica, Mendoza and Montelibano were Ledesma’s bandmates at Ensalada.
When Ledesma and Music and Magic performed at Alibi Bar at Regent of Manila (now Heritage Hotel), Ledesma was receiving P300 a night. “Mayaman na ako noon,” she smilingly recalled. “We were doing four shows a week at Alibi Bar – Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.”
Music and Magic did every song as a production number. “That’s what made the Music and Magic,” Ledesma stressed. “We were a showband. The girls even had choreography for the songs. Douglas Nierras was our choreographer then.”
Ledesma credits every member of Music and Magic for the group's 40th anniversary concert on January 14, Tuesday, at the Newport Preforming Arts Theater (NPAT) at Resorts World Manila.
“It’s really a group effort to gather everyone for the 40th year,” Ledesma said. “I guess it’s a milestone to turn 40 years. There were nine original members. Half of them came back just for the show. Now we have a second keyboard. Toto will be the MD (musical director).”
“We are familiar with most the songs that we will sing,” Ledesma continued. “Our repertoire is more on the '70s and '80s, old standards, jazz, Top 40s and Broadway tunes like ‘Don’t Cry for Me Argentina’ from ‘Evita’ or ‘Money, Money’ and ‘Willkommen’ from ‘Cabaret.’”
Ledesma left Music and Magic after only two years and went solo. “I was already doing a lot of other things at that time,” she explained.
Despite this, there were still shows that were billed “Kuh Ledesma with the Music and Magic.” The band continued until 1986, when band members started pursuing their own careers, settled down or gave up the limelight for home and family.
Years later, some members have gone on to careers away from the entertainment scene. Sevilla-Pangilinan is a dentist and has been head of the Dental Department of St. Luke’s Medical Center Quezon City since 2013, though she still makes time to sing in occasional gigs.
Mendoza is owner and CEO of Midtown Inn and Diner, while Caparas has settled into domestic bliss in Los Angeles, California and holds a full-time day job. She sings, translates and writes songs for the Praise and Worship team of Bread of Life. Recently, she teamed up with The Union with Montelibano.
Most of the band members have remained in music and entertainment, becoming stalwarts in the industry in some capacity or other. They are renowned musical directors, composers, arrangers, music producers, musicians and impresarios for concerts, events, television, theater and film.
Taylo has been in-house bass player of ABS-CBN’s “ASAP Natin ‘To” for years. Elizalde has been with the Route 70 Band for 17 years now and continues to play in clubs, corporate events and concerts.
Elizalde arranged many of the numbers for the Music and Magic’s 40th anniversary concert, while Taylo is one of the music directors of the band.
US-based Trevias is one of the most sought-after musicians in Hawaii, playing regularly at the prestigious Moana Surfrider Hotel and continues to play for such artists as Martin Nievera, who performs regularly in the islands.
Montelibano, who directs “Music and Magic 2020,” may have started out as a performer, but has expanded his horizons into recording, artist management, acting and directing for TV and theater. He moved to the US and put up an entertainment production company.
Pangilinan-Valenciano heads Manila Genesis Entertainment and manages the careers of many fine artists including that of her husband Gary Valenciano and their children – Paolo, Gabriel and Kiana.
Gentica went into producing with his wife, rocker Lou Bonnevie – notably the musical festival, Earthday Jam, now on its 20th year. He also wrote the original musical, “Lapu-Lapu,” which will be revived in 2021 to commemorate 500 years of Christianity in the Philippines.
De los Reyes-Mendoza continues to sing on the Asian circuit and in North America and has literally made the world her audience.
Regardless of what path their career trajectories have taken them, the members of Music and Magic will all converge for one this highly anticipated reunion concert. Joining them as special guests are Gary Valenciano, Lou Bonnevie and Zsa Zsa Padilla.
Also giving able support are Gabriela Pangilinan and Kiana Valenciano, daughters of Sevilla-Pangilinan and Pangilina-Valenciano, respectively, while the latter’s son Paolo Valenciano and Ledesma’s daughter, Isabella Gonzalez, offered their professional editing services for the concert project.
INSPIRED BY 'TAWAG NG TANGHALAN'
Back when Ledesma was still in high school in Bacolod, she fondly remembers watching “Tawag ng Tanghalan” with her mom. That was what led her to enter the music scene and launched her singing career. The second among four kids, Ledesma is the only one among her brood who embarked on a professional entertainment career.
She is the niece of the late Elvira Manahan, the sister of her dad. Johnny Manahan is her first cousin.
As a college student in Bacolod, Ledesma could already carry a tune and was visualizing, ‘Kakanta ako one day.’ I just didn’t know then how it would happen.”
She took up nursing in Bacolod and passed the board. She was already a certified nurse when she went to Manila and entered the music scene.
Then she saw Pilita Corrales and Leah Navarro at Playboy Club and watched them perform from the sidelines. “I said, ‘Kaya ko din ‘yan. They performed as solo artists. That was what gave me the idea and inspiration to go solo,” she recalled.
She launched her first international album, “Precious,” back in 1997. The 12-track musical outing was produced by American producer Zane Giles, who worked with many international music artists, including Gladys Knight. Selections in “Precious” included “I Cried,” written by Odette Quesada, “Bag You,” by Grace Nono and the title track.
“All I know is that it was a very expensive album, but it had beautiful songs, all well arranged,” Ledesma said. “Maybe, the album was too advanced for its time. We want to re-release some of the songs.”
Ledesma also had her acting stints on the big screen. In 1982, she appeared in Peque Gallaga’s “Oro, Plata, Mata” and her only full-length movie came put that same year, Danny Zialcita’s “Tinimbang ang Langit,” where she was paired opposite Christopher de Leon.
Also in 1982, Ledesma had the chance to appear in a Hollywood film, Peter Weir’s “The Year of Living Dangerously,” starring Mel Gibson and shot in Olongapo City, which served as the backdrop for Indonesia.
Later on, Ledesma also tried acting in teleseryes. “Pero hirap ako sa schedule because of the puyatan,” she lamented. “The last one I did was three years ago. When you work in a teleserye, it becomes your life. You don’t get to do anything else much. I can’t go on tour for shows. That’s why I am not asking to be in another teleserye project these days.”
She is thinking about doing a movie that she will also be producing. “I have a group of people who are putting it together,” she said. “Just thinking of all the work to produce a movie, it’s tiring already. Life should not be like that.”
She will do another US tour with Zsa Zsa Padilla this year. Last September, they also performed together in a tour in the US. And towards the end of the year, Ledesma is set to mark her 40th year in the music scene with a major, solo concert.