Orange & Lemons goes back to Bulacan roots with ‘La Bulaqueña’ album

Jakob Magbanua

Posted at May 05 2022 03:31 AM

Orange & Lemons’ new album since the mid 2000s is at once a departure from the band’s sonically British roots, writes Jakob Magbanua. Handout
Orange & Lemons’ new album since the mid 2000s is at once a departure from the band’s sonically British roots, writes Jakob Magbanua. Handout

Orange & Lemons’ “La Bulaqueña” is at once a departure from the band’s sonically British roots, and a tribute to their beginnings in the province of Bulacan. 

Last April 29, Orange & Lemons christened their first album in 15 years with a performance at the Teatrino Promenade.

The show had a particular intimacy and seriousness, owed in part to the chosen venue. It wasn't too big nor small, and there wasn't any space to stand, sing, and sway. Instead there were theater seats, and while people waited haranas and kundimans played – a reminder that the show wouldn't be the Orange & Lemons known for faux English accents and jangly guitars, but something else entirely. 

After the singing of the National Anthem by guest and award-winning soprano Lara Maigue, the members of the band – vocalist and guitarist Clem Castro, bassist JM del Mundo, drummer, Ace del Mundo, and pianist Jared Nerona – dressed in elegant barongs, took center stage and took turns reading poetry. Balagtasan done, four-piece band was joined by a rondalla ensemble of bandurrias, octavinas, guitars, and a string suite of cello, violin, and bass. 

They ironically began their set with two songs from Moonlane “Gardens”, an album released in 2007 – “Ang Katulad Mong Walang Katulad” as a waltz as interpreted through tinikling and the rondalla, and the less baroque “Buhay at Pag-Ibig” that launched into a blues rock anthem albeit with native instruments. 

"Pag-Ibig sa Tabing Dagat" was their first song from “La Bulaqueña” proper. It invites listeners to imagine being at the beach with its tropical guitars, and lead line drenched in reverb. 

"Ikaw Ang Aking Tahanan" – so positively jangly and saccharine – is perhaps the one new track that bore resemblance to their Brit pop-inspired music. 

Working through their set list, there's a sense that the band was having a ton of fun as Castro swung from side to side with exaggerated strums.

The band ended their first set with a cover of Jose Rizal's "Awit ni Maria Clara" that was a duet between Castro and Maigue.

The show was punctuated with an intermission from jazz singer Sandra Viray and Nitoy Adriano, noted guitarist of The Jerks, and a short set by Clem Castro and the Castro Family Rondalla. They played a handful of instrumental songs, men, women, and children all keeping pace with those lightning fast tremolo lines. The music is a legacy of Clem Castro's late father, a rondalla teacher himself who passed away last year. 

When the band returned to the stage for the second set, they were decked in dark blue barongs’ perfect for they called, the "Gabi" or "Night" set. 

There was even greater deal of musical influences on display in this second half of the set. 

"Bituing Marikit" was a soulful rendition of the eponymous Nicanor Abelardo song. 

"Yakapin Natin ang Gabi," a fun fusion of traditional Filipino music, and danceable disco in the vein of ABBA with funky guitars, and a four on the floor beat could easily be the best performance of the evening. 

The titular song from “La Bulaqueña” was their penultimate song, as a testament to how catchy it was, it remains stuck in my head a week later. As a final act of fan service, they performed “Hanggang Kailan” a capella, a classic of Pinoy alt-rock, and a certified lambingan anthem, much to everyone's delight. 

Orange & Lemons' “La Bulaqueña” is a tribute, a look back to the band's origins in Bulacan, home of poets and heroes. To their families. To their Bulakenyo roots. And the old masters, Rizal, Balagtas, and Abelardo.