For Ebe Dancel, anniversary show proves how music transcends generations
Last January, during the anniversary concert celebrating the 20th year of Sugarfree’s debut album, “Sa Wakas,” the group’s former lead vocalist, Ebe Dancel, met a longtime fan — a mother who brought her child along to watch him play.
“She attended the concert and said she had been listening to me since she was in high school. Then, she introduced me to her child, who’s now in high school. That made me feel old, but it’s good to see that music does transcend generations,” Ebe said at a recent video conference.
“I’m very honored. My songs are born out of honesty. I never had a target market in mind. Anything goes,” he added. “There’s no science to what I do, which is why I think people appreciate the songs.”
Ebe was reluctant about appraising his own body of work and its impact on the local scene. That’s subjective, he pointed out, and it’s not his place to determine what his musical contributions are. “History will be the judge of that,” he said.
But that’s just Ebe being modest. Sugarfree is easily one of the most important Filipino bands: Fans consider the group’s music as the soundtrack of their lives; younger artists look up to them as musical inspiration. In their initial run from 1999 to 2011, Sugarfree put out numerous hits and other well-loved anthems—a couple of them from “Sa Wakas” alone: “Burnout,” “Mariposa,” “Unang Araw,” “Mariposa,” etc.
Looking back at the band’s early years, success seemed almost unlikely. “When we released our first album back in 2003, it was the height of acoustic music and artists like Paolo Santos. On the other side, you had all these great, heavy rock bands like Slapshock and Greyhoundz.
The band’s former label, PolyEast Records, wasn’t quite sure where to place them. “We just said, ‘Put us in the middle—kami na ang bahala,’” Ebe told the Inquirer.
Later that year, the band’s brand of alternative pop confessional—delivered with Ebe’s powerful and emotive vocals—ended up winning multiple trophies at the NU Rock Awards and the Awit Awards. “It worked,” quipped Ebe, who now pursues music as a solo singer-songwriter.
Longer set list
Because a lot of fans missed out on the opportunity to see Ebe revisit Sugarfree classics in his concert last January, he and his team decided to restage it on March 31 at 123 Block, Mandala Park, Mandaluyong City. Presented by GNN Entertainment Productions and Backspacer Records, “Sa Wakas The Repeat: 20th Anniversary Celebration,” the show is expected to feature a longer set list.
“We had been getting messages from fans asking for another show. This time, the lineup is different. Last time, I performed about 17 songs, but the crowd still felt bitin. So, this time, we’re adding five more to the list,” Ebe related. “I don’t have any expectations. I just hope to enjoy every moment, because you will never know until when you will be able to do this.
Part of the show’s earnings will be donated to Parokya ni Edgar guitarist Gab Chee Kee, who recently had to spend two months in the hospital due to pneumonia and other health complications arising from lymphoma.
In his own way, Ebe hopes to reassure his good friend that he’s with him “every single step of the way.”
“This is just my way of helping him. I want him to be safe. He’s home now, so that’s a good thing. We want to keep him safe and comfortable,” he said. “When I escaped to La Union two years ago, he was there with me. We rode our bicycles together, sat by the sea and shared meals. And I just want to help this person who has been so good to me in whatever capacity.”
Gab is known in music circles as a supportive friend and colleague. “When you release new music, he will be there in your shows… he will tell others about it,” Ebe said.
And so, in Gab’s time of need, the community was quick to lend a hand, organizing and setting into motion various fundraising activities, like concerts and auctions. “Not many fans know, but we’re all friends… If someone needs help, everyone pitches in,” Ebe said. Meanwhile, Ebe couldn’t be more grateful that, after more than two decades in the industry, he still gets to do what he loves to do. “I learned from my mentors, like Ryan Cayabyab and Gary Valenciano, that talent alone will not sustain you—you need dedication, hard work and kindness,” he said.
And never does Ebe think that his success is his own doing. After all, he said, his talent is God-given and he’s an instrument. “You have to be grateful… While I may not look like it, I communicate with God, many times a day,” Ebe said. “He writes the songs. It’s not my hands, feet or voice, but God’s.”