Music review: Skalawags reunite after 28 years

Rick Olivares

Posted at Jun 05 2017 02:34 AM | Updated as of Jun 05 2017 12:09 PM

Music review: Skalawags reunite after 28 years 1
The stage was set for a memorable night with ska band Skalawags. Photo by author

“Hey, Rude Boy… it’s 28 years in the making. Every one sing with us please!”

Casie Villarosa, face glistening with sweat, pointed to the crowd that had waited for over four hours with bated anticipation. The crowd began to chant as the Skalawags, after a 28-year hiatus, launched into the Specials’ “Too Much Too Young.” 

On a hot and humid Friday evening this past June 2, over 300 people – many dressed in fly blazers, suspenders, slacks or ripped jeans; wearing Vans, boots, or Doc Martens; and scally caps or pork pie hats worn over their buzz cuts -- ventured over to B-Side in Malugay, Makati for a show.

Well, it wasn’t just any other show.

The Skalawags, the first Philippine ska band, was performing in a one-off reunion show titled, “Jump ‘N’ Stomp: The Skalawags Reunion.” And joining in on the fun were other ska outfits Skaface, Dandimites, Neighbors, the Buzzer Beaters, Mobster Manila, and Coffeebreak Island. 

Organized by Russell Eustaquio, vocalist of Tame the Tikbalang and defunct ska outfit Skavengers, Bad Omen guitarist Jon “Fishbone” Gonzales, and Coffeebreak Island manager Luv Nogoy, the show provided both a history lesson to today’s music fans and also served notice that the local ska music scene is alive and skanking.

Recalled Eustaquio: “We were having lunch talking about a different project when the idea of setting up a Skalawags reunion came up.”

“It’s not simply a nostalgia thing,” Gonzales wondered aloud a few hours before the opening. “It’s about the music. If this takes off, then it’s all good.”

“The timing had to be right,” added Skalawags founder Edwin Aguilar. “And that time… is now.”

“I think that the reunion and all the bands performing tonight showed that 'yung local na eksena ay healthy at buhay na buhay,” added Skalawags guitarist Bong “Lennon” Eudela who is more known to music fans as the co-founder of reggae outfit, Tropical Depression.

Of all the outfits that performed that evening, only the Skalawags are inactive. And theirs was a brief but influential history.

Edwin Aguilar recounted in a Facebook post last June 1 about how the band first got together: “One day in 1986, my friend Tony del Rosario brought home his friends from the Technological University of the Philippines who were mostly members of the Kabataang Pusakal (a gang). Tony had mentioned to them that one of their boarders (Aguilar himself) was a punk rocker who had a guitar, amp, and distortion pedal but failed to mention knew only three chords. I recognized Bong Lennon from his short stint with Betrayed because he looked more like a hippy than punk. Back then he was Bong Flouride. I got invited to be part of the band they were forming called Truce which would be the foundation of Skalawags. The members were Raymond Sanchez on vocals, Bong Montero on guitar and vocals, Bong Lennon on bass, Nonong Timbalopez on drums and me on rhythm guitars. They will discover that I only knew three chords on the first day of practice.”

Truce played at neighborhood gigs and at Mayric’s where they alternated with that first Filipino reggae band, Coco Jam. “They played reggae and we played ska,” quipped Aguilar. Eventually, the band changed their name to Skalawags.

The band later added more members for a “fuller sound” in guitarist Casie Villarosa and keyboardist Sam Salazar. 

“We played gigs at Mayrics, Red Rocks and a few rallies,” added Aguilar. “One memorable gig was at a big rally on EDSA. We were playing to protesters on top of a flatbed truck when the anti-riot police decided to disperse the protesters. We continued to play... but to a different audience -- the anti-riot squad.”

Coincidentally, the Skalawags played their last gig on the night the old Club Dredd (then located along Timog Avenue) opened. 

Skaface, a band composed of a Briton, New Zealander, and some Filipinos opened the night by playing some classic ska songs from the Maytals, Bad Manners, and Justin Hines & the Dominoes. The Dandimites followed with a more uptempo set after which Neighbors, the Buzzer Beaters, three-piece outfit Mobster Manila, and Coffeebreak Island. 

Coffeebreak Island, perhaps the most well-known of the bunch, served as a fitting appetizer for the main entrée. The crowd, in fevered anticipation, took their cue from the electric performance of singer and guitarist Paul Putian and the mighty beats of veteran drummer, Brutus Lacano.

When Skalawags -- keyboardist Sam Salazar, guitarists Bong Eudela and Casie Villarosa, lead singer Raymond Sanchez, bassist Edwin Aguila, and drummer Nonong Timbalopez -- hit the stage, the stage was set for a memorable night as the crowd, some who hung outside the nearby cafes and eateries, began to swarm in as the dancing commenced. 

They raced through many ska classics but one of the more eagerly anticipated songs was the only one they recorded -- “Thank you, America” – for the “Paalam, Uncle Sam” cassette album that was released in 1990. 

Skalawags ended their nearly hour-long 10-song set with the Specials’ “Too Much Pressure.”

“That was a good one,” later exclaimed the sweat drenched Villarosa. “The crowd was great. Hopefully, no one waits another 28 years for the next.”

Post note: After the Skalawags went their separate ways in the early 1990s, Bong Eudela and Nonong Timbalopez joined Dominic Gamboa (who had joined the Skalawags briefly towards the end of their short career) to form Tropical Depression. Sam Salazar joined Color It Red. Casie Villarosa formed The Marginals. Edwin Aguilar joined different bands from Keres Kuru, Buklod, Salatin, Popong Landero, the Jerks, Wayfarers, and Neighbors. Raymond Marquez was the only one who didn’t pursue music as he went into teaching.