NEW YORK—OPM band Sounds of Manila is celebrating its third anniversary this month with a series of concerts and the start of production for its first album.
Known for its repertoire of Original Pilipino Music, the group is thrilled about its work in progress, an album featuring the music of Cecile Azarcon. Azarcon, one time voice coach of Sharon Cuneta and Gary Valenciano, is the composer of hits like “Lift Up Your Hands,” “Ikaw Ang Lahat Sa Akin” and “How Did You Know.”
“We are very excited about this CD project,” Suzanne Lansangan-Sabangan, vocalist and professor told The FilAm. “Cecile (who’s based in San Francisco) agreed to co-produce it with us. We will record 10 of her most popular compositions and Lorrie Ilustre (in L.A.) will arrange them for us.”
“We are truly humbled to be working with Cecile,” said musical director Bobby de Leon. Bobby, a veteran in the music business, is the mentor of Jun Polistico and Gloria Papin, among other pop and ballad artists.
“Cecile is one of the pioneers of Original Pilipino Music. Her songs have inspired and influenced a lot of musicians and singers, including us,” he said.
Although a relatively young group, SOM has its fair share of highs and lows. Coming from different professional and personal backgrounds—challenges and differences have become part of its everyday journey.
But “since we have a common interest, which is music, and a common goal, it is easier for us to discuss and try to resolve any issue,” said Ronnie Sabangan, band leader and husband of Suzanne. “We believe that our musical journey will continue for a long time because we understand, respect, and value each other not only as musicians, but also as individuals.”
Ronnie, who also plays the guitar, started Sounds of Manila in 2008. He said “music has always been important to us.” He envisioned a group that would appeal to the Filipino-American community and to Americans in general.
“It was not so difficult to convince our members to join,” he recalled. “Most of us were former members of other bands as we have been in the music business for more than half of our lives.”
Ronnie and Suzanne, who are both educators, said they have to be creative and flexible “in order to reach out to our students in the same way that musicians do with their audience.” As entertainers, they not only perform but they also educate their audience with the type of music they perform. This has set them apart from other Filipino bands.
“We focus more on OPM. We treat each other like family and celebrate in each other’s achievements as we provide help and support whenever needed,” he said.
The group chose the name ‘Sounds of Manila’ because of its desire to bring the authentic Manila sound to its FilAm audience. “We perform a mixed genre of music that has been most enjoyed in the Philippines.”
Recipient of the 2010 Outstanding Filipino American Achievers in America award, the group took the honor seriously. “It means so much to us—because it has recognized our mission: to preserve and promote Pilipino music in our community.”
“It would be a great achievement for all Filipino American artists if our Pilipino music becomes a part of mainstream America. Could you imagine walking into a record store and hearing OPM music side by side American country music, jazz, R&B? That would be a dream come true!” said Ronnie.
SOM said its strength lies in each member’s unique talents. The other members of SOM are vocalist Hermie Angeles, a ‘Tanghalan ng Kampeon’ finalist and stage actor, guitarist Jojo Gendrano and drummer JR Gendrano. The Gendrano brothers are also members of the La Salle band It’s Simply Green.
“We are blessed that we can share our talents with our audience,” said Ronnie.
Members of SOM said they seem to have no problems working together despite having different personalities and temperament.
“Ronnie is easy to work with and he’s determined to accomplish our goal. He is confident in our musical skills, and that confidence has drawn our trust and respect for him,” said brothers Jojo and JR. “And we admire Bobby for his ability to bring out the very best in all of us.”
Catch SOM July 30 at Payag Restaurant in Queens and also at Philippine Fiesta August 19 and 20 in Secaucus, New Jersey.
As Ronnie plays on the title of the group’s forthcoming concert, “This is ‘Our Journey So Far,’ there’s still more work to be done.”