There’s no stopping Basti Artadi
“What am I now, 42? 43?” the exact number escaped Basti Artadi for a moment.
He is in fact 42 years old, which is by no means old, especially for demigods of rock who seem to only grow stronger as years pass. But, afflicted with a rare medical condition that threatens to rob him of his ability to sing, and even talk, there is now a sense of urgency in him that is palpable.
“I am at a time when I just want to try and do as many projects as I can,” said Artadi, frontman of the seminal local band Wolfgang, which rose to prominence in the 1990s and became one of the stalwarts of hard rock and metal genres in the Philippines.
Artadi has schwannoma, a kind of benign nerve sheath tumor. In his case, he said, the mass grew near—and ultimately blocked—the seventh cranial nerve responsible for motor control of muscles on the right side of his face.
While Artadi can still speak just fine, it takes considerable effort and energy. The left side of his face does most of the work, bearing the burden of the paralysis of the right. “I consulted a doctor two years ago, who told me my mouth would eventually reach a stage where I would not be able to speak anymore,” he said.
He then made garbled sounds, as if envisioning how things would be like for him should that dreaded stage come. “That was when I thought that I had to get things done,” said the musician who has, for the past few years, been embarking on more solo endeavors and expanding his body of work outside Wolfgang.
In 2014, Artadi released his first solo album, “Everybody Knows That the Dice are Loaded,” a collection of “easily accessible” songs that he performs in shows with the band The Nice Ones.
This year, he played St. Jimmy in the local staging of the musical “American Idiot.” More recently, he provided live scoring for the Austrian film “Der Balletterzherzog” during the 10th International Silent Film Festival in August.
But, as he soldiered on in his mission to remain as active as ever in the music scene, it became increasingly clear to him that, if he wanted to continue doing the thing he was most passionate about, he would have to make some adjustments and sacrifices.
His facial paralysis, Artadi said, essentially forced him to relearn how to sing. “I had to sing in a different way because of my present limitations. There are good days and bad days…Some days it is just tiring,” he said. “There are some songs that I cannot perform anymore because my mouth doesn’t move the way it used to.”
One such song is “Very Free,” from Wolfgang’s third studio album, “Wurm.” “It is very high and fast,” he said. “I have to leave that one out of my sets.”
For this interview, Artadi was dressed casually in a grey hoodie and a pair of denims. Emblazoned on his white T-shirt was “All Black Everything,” likely a reference to the song “Run this Town” by the rap artist Jay Z. He relaxed in the living area of Ogie Alcasid’s house, waiting for his turn to record his part of the Inquirer jingle at the studio one floor below.
When he was younger, Artadi probably would not have agreed to do this project. Back then, he said, it was rock or bust. But that hard-and-fast mindset has seemingly changed, too.
“Back in the day, I was opposed to everything that was against what I did—it had to be rock or it had to have an edge,” Artadi said. “Now, if I hear something that’s not necessarily rock, but is something I could appreciate and consider good, then yeah, I will do it.”
“Well, as long as I do not have to come out in Jockeys!” he quipped.
Something was wrong
He first felt that something was wrong in 2009 but he kept it to himself. It was barely noticeable then and was not getting in the way of his singing. More importantly, he wanted the people’s focus firmly on his craft. But soon his right cheek slackened, the corner of his mouth drooped. Before long, people were talking.
Finally, in June, Artadi revealed his condition to the public through a lengthy post on his Facebook account, with a photo of an MRI scan of his head. “I guess I got tired of people speculating on what happened to me,” he said. “Some were saying that I had a stroke, that I had Bell’s Palsy or was on drugs. The funniest of the lot was people saying I was the victim of kulam (hex).”
In the same post, he announced he would be selling shirts to help him pay for a medical procedure that he intended to get. His sister, the former beauty queen and television chef, Sabrina Artadi, on the other hand, set up a GoFundMe page online, where they managed to raise $5,268.
The response the rock star received was more than he expected. “I was blown away. I feel lucky and blessed. I want to say thank you to everyone, and I mean that from the bottom of my heart,” Artadi said. “I want to thank the fans who bought shirts and those who came up to me and told me that they would be praying for me.”
Artadi was originally supposed to get a “facial sling.” But after consulting a doctor in the United States more than a month ago, he said he would instead undergo a muscle transplant. To be precise, a “head muscle flap microvascular facial plasty,” he recited the words from a message on his phone. “So, yeah, six, seven words!”
“They will get a muscle here,” Artadi explained, patting his right thigh, “and put it here,” his fingers rubbing an area near his right ear. “If everything goes well, that should restore movement to my mouth.”
For now, that is his best option. There was no cure, he said, only procedures to make things better. But extracting the tumor is extremely risky and could do more harm than good.
The surgery is scheduled some time next year. Is he looking forward to it? “No, not really!” he said, chuckling. “It would take about eight hours. And then you have to recover. But hey, you gotta do what you gotta do.”
Artadi knows very well that undergoing the procedure means going through yet another series of adjustments, of coping and relearning. But he does not mind. Not at all. His head is already churning with ideas on what to do next: put out more original material or perhaps make his own musical inspired by his catalogue.
“I am going to keep going and going and going,” he said, “until I drop off the face of the earth.”
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.