by Rene Villaroman/AJPress
In 1991, on the eve of his historic concert at the Universal Amphitheater, I met Gary Valenciano while he was doing one of those promotional appearances at the couture shop of fashion designer Boy Lizaso. Lizaso’s shop was then located on Vermont St., in a strip mall that was also the location of several FilAm establishments, including a Filipino supermarket and a Goldilocks Restaurant.
Already a sensation in Manila, Gary was almost an unknown in the US when he performed a sold-out concert at the Scottish Rite Auditorium in Los Angeles in 1985. Gary’s Universal Amphitheater gig was shaping up to be another milestone for a Filipino artist about to hold a concert in an important mainstream venue. Just three years prior, another Filipino superstar, actress-singer Sharon Cuneta, had made history as the first Filipino artist to perform in and completely sell out the 7,000-seat Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles.
“Sharon is the first Filipina artist to sell out at the Los Angeles Shrine Auditorium first in 1988 and her latest June 11th, 2005 concert. Her poster is enshrined in The Shrine’s Hall of Fame next to stars Michael Jackson, Barbra Streisand and the Ballet Folklorico de Mexico. She created a traffic jam in the 90’s and puzzled the former Mayor of Los Angeles Tom Bradley. After hearing of her success, the mayor attended the concert and awarded Sharon with an Honorary Key to the City of Los Angeles,” says Artistopia.com
Although Gary V’s concert established another milestone for a Filipino performer in Los Angeles, the highly successful concerts that the Apo Hiking Society had done in New York City’s prestigious Carnegie Hall and the Massey Hall in Toronto, Canada in 1987 had predated it by four years. Not only were they the first Filipino pop artists to have performed in those venues, both shows were also officially sold out. Those Apo concerts came in the heels of the Apo’s international recognition for Jim Paredes’ anthem on the 1986 People Power Revolution, Handog Ng Pilipino sa Mundo, which was performed by 15 Filipino artists in April 1986.
There would be a succession of Apo concerts in the United States and all over the world where there are concentrations of Filipinos. The trio had performed in 50 key cities in the US and Canada, in Singapore, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Bahrain, Hong Kong, Guam, Australia, England, Spain, France, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and Japan.
During the waning years of the 80s, just a couple of years after the Filipino nation’s delirious celebration of the People Power revolution had waned, a 7-year-old Filipino musical prodigy — Banig — joined the amateur singing contest, Ang Bagong Kampeon and became champion for seven consecutive weeks. Two years later, Banig, born Josephine Roberto, broke into the US entertainment scene, competing in the International Star Search talent competition at the age of 10, and reportedly beat Christina Aguilera, becoming the only Filipino champion to date.
Banig’s Star Search victory led to numerous guest appearances in the day’s popular television and radio shows, including the Arsenio Hall Show, Maury Povich Show, Into The Night with Rick Dees, then the pre-eminent radio DJ of KIIS radio, Super Osborne Show, Good Day LA, Am Los Angeles and more.
“She’s got the vocal range of Whitney Houston and Patty Labelle combined. Watch out Whitney, careful Janet. We got a 13-year-old singing sensation!” exclaimed DJ and host Rick Dees in his show after watching Banig’s performance. “What a voice! We want to come back as the next Whitney Houston, the next Mariah Carey, and better than that, the next Banig Roberto,” said Maury Povich. More shows followed suit in 1989. A concert in Manila, which was attended by a half-million people; sold out shows in the Atlantic City Trump Taj Majal; solo concerts in the Wiltern Theater, the Roxy and the Palladium in Los Angeles’ Cow Palace in San Francisco, City Center in New York, San Diego Convention Center and Copley Symphony Hall and many more. In 1994, Banig finally released her first US album, entitled Can You Feel My Heart? Perhaps still unknown to many, Banig doesn’t only dance and sing, she also plays musical instruments and collaborates with her younger sister, Jhoanna, in writing songs.
In 1998, I attended the APO Hiking Society’s concert at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium. Back then I had a column in a magazine where I described the trio of Jim Paredes, Danny Javier and Boboy Garovillo: “As funnymen, they have a gift of gab and sense of perfect timing. They have the sharp wit of an experienced debater and the confidence of a tightrope walker. The only changes I noted were the graying hair and the receding hairlines. Perhaps, the Apo is good for another thirty years, and we sure hope so. For the Apo is unique in our history — not only for their longevity — but also for their extraordinary intelligence, artistic sensibility and patriotism.”
In the same magazine, entertainment writer Jackie Regala had this to say about them: “Any Filipino music enthusiast would tell you that they grew up listening to the music of the Apo Hiking Society. And why not? This very popular and successful trio, who has been in the entertainment biz for almost 30 years now, is considered a pioneering exponent of Original Pilipino Music. Nothing can compare to their music, original compositions, with and humor — which is the best representative of the Filipino lifestyle.” (www.asianjournal.com)