The music was hot and spicy at the Roadhouse Manila Bay recently, when the Philippine Blues Society (PBS) hosted a sendoff gig for Kat Magic Express—the local band that will compete at the 29th International Blues Challenge (IBC) set Jan. 29 to Feb. 2 in Memphis, Tennessee.
The first time the PBS—which is affiliated with international blues organizations, including the Memphis Blues Foundation—sent a Filipino band, the Bleu Rascals, was in 2010, to the IBC youth showcase division.
This year, Kat Magic Express—composed of Kat Agarrado (vocals), Sam Asuncion (guitar), Louie Talan (bass), Wowee Posadas (keyboards) and Vic Mercado (drums)—won the right to represent the country after topping the 1st Philippine Blues Competition (PBC), where 35 local groups participated.
“It was a close fight,” recalled Rafael Perez de Tagle, PBC chair and treasurer. What made Kat Magic Woman clinch the contest, he pointed out, was the band’s advantage in all the scoring criteria (the same as that of the Memphis tilt): blues content of the songs, vocals, talent, originality and stage presence.
At the sendoff gig, Kat Magic Woman cast a spell on the crowd—lead singer Agarrado enhanced her vocals with sensual body moves while the band cranked out blues covers and originals with unmistakable zest.
While it may be said that the blues is too foreign for Pinoys to play as their own, and in an international competition at that, there is also the view that reflects the universality of music.
If the blues traces its roots to the African slaves who were brought to America, it is also a music genre that may be adapted by people from all corners of the world who can express sadness in spirited fashion.
In its nine-song set, Kat Magic Woman gave a sample of its ability to capture despondence and related emotions with natural talent. At one point, on its version of Willie Dixon’s “I Just Want to Make Love to You,” Asuncion and Posadas engaged in a blistering guitar-keyboards duel after Agarrado half-growled in her husky voice, channeling Etta James.
But since the contest will likewise be decided on the quality of the originals, the band just might impress the judges with its own composition, “I’ll Be Waiting for You,” said to be inspired by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell on You.”
It’s an uphill battle, with hundreds of groups competing. But for the effort alone, Kat Magic Woman is already a winner.