Tuesday, January 15, 2008

A Tribe Called Fish

The Pinoy music scene had a love affair with a thing called foxcore courtesy of a band called Tribal Fish.

By: Vanessa Uy

For those who remembered, foxcore is a musical movement by women musicians who are into punk rock. This means being less adept at your musical instrument (usually an electric guitar) and being bitchy as the early 1990’s definition apply.

Tribal Fish are Leilani “Toks” Toquero on lead vocals and rhythm guitar, Tsin Reyes on lead guitar, Rowena “Taweng” Isidro on bass, and “Bullet” Kondo on drums. I acquired recently from a garage sale a worn out cassette tape of their eponymous album probably from 1994. Despite of the shaky sound quality, their musicianship skills still shine through.

In this article, I interviewed anyone who had seen them perform in the flesh. I’m only confident on the opinions and views of those fans whose musical inclinations are somewhat similar to mine. To them Tribal Fish epitomize the foxcore creed through and through, although they are more skilled than most of their contemporaries in musicianship skills especially playing guitar. One of them remembers their very first gig back in March 10, 1994 in the then center of the hipness universe Club Dredd. They were one of the freshest sounding foxcore bands in the Pinoy music scene at the time. They’re style is a mix of catchy power pop and punk with guitar virtuosity thrown in for good measure.

Another band, which was their contemporary, was Keltscross (a topic for latter review) gave the Pinoy foxcore movement much needed exposure to the denizens of uninitiated teens which at the time only thought that “Original Filipino Music” is this faux “R&B” pre copulation music for spoiled rich folks. Sadly, this is still true in the 21st Century.

Desperate for originality, majority of foxcore bands from the early “1990’s,” prefer a tonally dark sounding Gibson SG electric guitar and Marshall amp/speaker combo as opposed to the all Fender set up of the Sex Pistols circa 1977. In Tribal Fish the basic loud distorted three chord rock n’ roll format still remains, the lyrics are about the darker side of man’s inhumanity to their fellowman, the Philippine culture of politically motivated violence which seems a hang over from the Marcos regime. My favorite song on this album is “Sayaw Lukring.” This song is about a woman dealt with a bad fate being ostracized by everyone around her. I can identify with this, except the people who are presently ostracizing me are peeved by my relatively- charmed-spoiled-white-Jewish-girl kind of life. One of Tribal Fish’s more unconventional songs-lyric wise- is “Wag Kang Baboy” which makes one think that these group of punks are sticklers for good personal hygiene. This topic to me is kind of anathema to anarchist punk I think.

Women in “Pinoy Rock” are not new. For those who still remember or care to, in the 1970’s there was Sampaguita and Lolita Carbon, the lead vocalist of the band Asin. Lolita Carbon also had solo projects since then. Though even until now Filipina rock music performers are still somewhat of a novelty act. One fan recalls a radio interview of Tribal Fish from around November of 1994, which Leilani Toquero says: “It wasn’t our primary intention to form an all girl group.” Maybe there’s something to this “chemistry between band members” thing after all.

Sadly true then as it is now. Being a girl can be a drawback if you play in a band. Compounded by being young and still living with the parents. The same parents, permissive or otherwise, who are expected in Filipino society to frown upon their daughters if they stay up all night to play in a ratty, cigarette-smoke-filled venues with horny and drug-addled adolescent males and girls who are into sexual experimentation. Is “We’re not in Kansas anymore” the apt statement?

School and day jobs can also take their toll, especially here in our country where music piracy gained it’s present day “Filipiniana” status like Dr. Jose Rizal’s original home or something. Being a rock star just won’t pay the bills, except if you have a really, “REALLY” charmed life. Tribal Fish lost lead guitarist Tsin Reyes to her scholastic obligations. And add to that the perennial hassle of getting parental permission to play in out-of-town gigs. And you’ve got yourself an insurmountable problem that can really stifle your creativity.

In today’s Pinoy music scene, it’s more likely that we will never see and hear a band like Tribal Fish ever again. The band du jour are these bland, coma- inducing faux Parisian Café chanteuses who sound like they’ve taken a wrong turn and are now 12,000 klicks from Havana or something. To me 1994 was Pinoy Rocks “finest hour” as evident on the other bands from this period like Yano, The Youth, and The Teeth.


William said...

Surprised to see this article. My wife is Rowena, the bassist. We live out in Va. Beach as of now. She says whats up.

Vanessa said...

Dear William,
Thanks for posting. I hope I haven't inadvertently made your wife a target for stalkers - on line or otherwise. Just like the former mayor of Carmel, California. Erroll Garner who runs behind the sofa every time he's reminded of his greatness by writing one of the best jazz standards of the 20th Century - namely Misty.
To their credit, Tribal Fish is like our own version of Lunachicks. They are probably the only local band who wrote songs criticizing the chauvanism and machismo of the Makati corporate / showbiz elite.

William said...

Nah its cool. I browse around every few months looking for anything new posted online. The only stuff we currently have are a few magazines with articles and a book with a write up about them, and a CD laying around somewhere. I love hearing her stories though, and I always embarrass her with my friends, but its good fun.

Vanessa said...

Dear Tribal Fish Fans,
Ronaldo / RonRuiz posted a message back in May 26, 2008 in which I had only known back in June 27, 2008 that the rest of Tribal Fish who are still in Philippine soil will be performing (or has the event already ended?) in Strawberry Woodstock Festival in La Trinidad, Benguet. Robert Javier of the legendary "The Youth" will handle bass guitar duties since Taweng / Rowena has been living happily ever after in the US these past few years. Looks like the Class of 1994 of Club Dredd still refuses to die. Which for all intents and purposes is a good thing, given the present caricatured parody the present Philippine music industry with it's ungodly amounts of royalties and bereftness of talent has become. For more info, you can contact Ronaldo - who is happily married to Bullet - via his e-mail which he posted on an another site which this blog also ran ronruiz38@gmail.com .

Nancy said...

My friends and I went to see Strawberry Woodstock back in May 29, 2008. Sadly, I was too inebriated to remember the Tribal Fish performance. Nobody warned me that in the Philippines - especially in my old hometown of La Trinidad, Benguet - that the relatively cheap beer is not watered down. Unlike that in a Canadian "Nickel Beer Night".
The event was billed as: Strawberry Woodstock (May 29 - 31): Musical Tribute to Overseas Filipino Workers. The link on the poster was http://baguio-market.net/#
Described as three days ... Over 50 hours of live non-stop music... More than a hundred rock bands... One show... Start: May 29, 2008 7:00 PM and Ends: May 31, 2008 at 7:00 AM. Location: Benguet State University Football Field, La Trinidad, Benguet. Ticket price is 100 pesos per day.
Despite of my inebriation, I did manage to recall the performances of Grin Department, Lolita Carbon of Asin. Though I was a bit confused when Tribal Fish started to play because nobody told me beforehand that Robert Javier of The Youth was handling bass guitar duties. I was so out of it that I thought I was seeing a "superband" hybrid - i.e. "Tribal Youth Fish".

April Rain said...

Have you noticed that the Strawberry Woodstock Festival wasn't widely promoted. I haven't even knew that this music event even happened. I only knew about it back in July 1, 2008 when my older sister who is an OFW received a flier of the event in Dubai.
Have anyone of you heard of the Gospel Rockabilly band called "Jesus and His Disciples"? My older sister said that during her college days back in 1994, several campusmates of hers had a copy of this band's CD. Their style is reminiscent of Elvis Presley or Brian Setzer without a horn section. Their frontman who refers to himself as "Jesus" carries a Les Paul electric guitar shaped like a cross. They even have a Playboy magazine interview.

Ringo said...

One of my classmates in my college days back in 1994 played that particular CD and he let everyone read the Playboy article of that particular band. I think it was "Jesus and His Disciples" or "Jesus and the Disciples". It was a (relatively)long time ago, but I think they were a Country & Western / Rockabilly superband. I think the one they referred to as Jesus eerily looks like Waylon Jennings which also has a Penthouse magazine article about his music.

beetlesjuice said...

to Nancy... it's flattering to think you thought you were seeing a "superband"... we wish! unfortunately, it was just the beer;)
we never got to play because Toks (guitarist/vocalist) came in from manila too late.
as for vanessa's article -- thanks very much. just a correction on the part about Tsin Reyes... she was the "lead guitarist" only in name. she played about 5-10 gigs with us and she played in one song in the album (paano ba). the part where it says she had to leave because of her family was also "press release". but it would be too cruel to reveal the truth behind her "loss" so let's leave it at that.
finally, Ron Ruiz is the frontman of Feet Like Fins. we now have a 1-year old daughter. for pics and other stuff you can check out www.ronruiz.multiply.com.
peace and good vibes to all!

beetlesjuice said...

hmmm... Vanessa Uy, eh...

a line in the article -- "sticklers for hygiene" -- remind me of one Erick S. Caruncho.

could it beee...?

mark velez said...

i miss tribal fish so much..the albums still in my heart wala ako masabi sila ang pinaka banda ko noong 94 to 2000

Unknown said...