OPM rock history: 50 years of Anak Bayan

Rick Olivares

Posted at May 03 2021 03:23 PM | Updated as of May 04 2021 11:13 AM

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Anak Bayan. Photo provided by Emee Fortuno

When one talks about the origins of Pinoy rock, one has to start with the Juan dela Cruz Band. Of course, you have the guitar-instrumental bands of the '60s like the Electromaniacs, the Firedons, and other guitar instrumental combos. However, it’s really the sludgy, feedback, and beer-guzzling rock that got everything rolling in the 1970s.

Out of the ashes of the cleanp-cut and radio-friendly sound of the Mersey Beat came a harder edged and raucous brand of rock typified by The Who, the epic soundscapes of Led Zeppelin, the progressive sound of Yes, and the psychedelia of Jimi Hendrix and Santana rose Anak Bayan. 

When Edmond “Bosyo” Fortuno returned from a successful seven-year stint in Japan with D’Swooners that saw them play rhythm and blues to a highly-appreciative Japanese audience, he was flush with inspiration and excitement from the music he was hearing, listening to, and experiencing abroad.

He was blown away by his experience in the Land of the Rising Sun. What Fortuno had in mind was to record rock songs sung in the vernacular. 

In Japan, he saw the furious debate among the Japanese on whether their version of rock music should be sung in English or in Nihongo. While there were bands that performed in both languages, many eventually shifted to their native language setting the stage for what would be called J-Pop.

With a vision of forming a rock band singing in Filipino, Fortuno reconnected with Wally Gonzalez and over some eats and brews, and formed the earliest incarnation of the Juan dela Cruz Band of which Fortuno bequeathed the name.

Explained Fortuno: “If rock music was for the American John Doe everyman, then it can be the same for Juan dela Cruz.”

Edmond didn’t stay long however, as it didn’t seem like the band was going to materialize (it eventually did and recorded its first album "Up in Arms" in 1971). So, he formed Anak Bayan with co-vocalist and guitarist Vic Naldo, Bing Labrador on keyboards, Alex Cruz on saxophone, Sonny Tolentino (son of National Artist for Sculpture Guillermo Tolentino) on bass, with himself on drums and vocals. Marlon Ilagan, brother of actor Jay, was also a part of that band playing bass.

Anak Bayan was a regular in the Manila rock clubs like Reno’s, Romulus, Los Indios Bravos, and Flames. 

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Anak Bayan. Photo provided by Emee Fortuno

The album was recorded around the same time as Juan dela Cruz’s "Ang Himig Natin" record in 1973. The self-titled debut featured eight songs that were a merry mix of acid rock, jazz, and folk leanings. You could feel the music of Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, and the Moody Blues influence Anak Bayan’s music. 

“Jeepney Rock” and “Ang Probinsyana” led the way. “Double Crosser” had this Doobie Brothers vibe.

“Bangungot” featuring Fortuno on vocals and Alex Cruz’s lilting flute is a standout track, one that evoked San Francisco band It’s a Beautiful Day’s “White Bird.”

However, much to the dismay of the band, the album was shelved (due to financial concerns by the record label) and only released in 1977. By then much of the original Anak Bayan had moved on with Fortuno adding a new crew.

It was in 1978 when Anak Bayan scored its biggest hit and is the one they are known by – “Pagbabalik ng Kwago” that was also released as a seven-inch single. 

“Pagbabalik ng Kwago” has since been recorded by a diverse array of artist’s and bands from Gary Perez, Kapatid, Hey Moonshine, and Pedro’s Cannabis among many others.

One of them is supergroup Kapatid that featured the late Karl Roy (Advent Call and P.O.T.), Nathan Azarcon (Rivermaya, Bamboo) on bass, original Anak Bayan member Alex Cruz’s son Ira (Passage, Bamboo, Hijo) on guitar, J-Hoon Balbuena (Kjwan) on drums, and Chico Molina on guitars. 

Said Kapatid’s bassist Nathan Azarcon of the decision to record the Anak Bayan classic: “Familiar kami mga old guys sa band. And 'yung chorus, pasok sa vision ng banda.”

“Dadalhin tayo sa paraiso.
Sa pugad ng langit ang lahat ay magkapatid.
Pantay pantay lang.
Walang lamanggan, nagkakaisa.

While Pinoy rock held its own with the Juan dela Cruz Band, Maria Cafra, Sampaguita, Judas, Anak Bayan, and the Olongapo-based groups like the Frictions, disco was in full swing in the mid-to-late 1970s. 

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Photo provided by author

Anak Bayan went on with members coming and going with Edmond its one constant. The band’s second iteration was star-studded as it included Gary Perez and Jun Lopito on guitars and Gil Cruz on bass. 

However, the band effectively ended when Fortuno passed away in 2000 due to meningitis. 

And yet, Anak Bayan, and Fortuno’s place in Pinoy rock and OPM history is secure.

Recalled Jingle magazine co-publisher Eric Guillermo: “Jingle magazine produced Triple H (Hot na Hot Happening), a three-night concert at the Meralco Theater in the early 1970s. We had Bits ‘n Pieces, Boy Camara & Afterbirth, Soul Jugglers from Gapo, our folk rock group Jingle Clan, and Anak Bayan with Vic Naldo on guitar, Marlon Ilagan on bass, and Edmond Fortuno on drums.

“They played their extended instrumental jazz rock numbers and I was dumfounded to say the least for it was my first time to hear ‘kawala’ music. Remember that cover songs were in vogue during those times. Pinoy rock was unheard of during those years. So it could be said that Anak Bayan started everything.”