Some are smitten by men in uniform, while some are enchanted by musicians. I belong to the latter group, a knowledge that came much later when I packed my bags for LA to change my routine and the scenery. It dawned on me when I arrived in LA from Arizona.
“Do you know Ric Junasa?” asked my Uncle Rowen, who is pretty good with the guitar himself, as we drove to Plate 38, a gastro pub in Pasadena, one July night.
“Can’t say I have.”
“He was with the band South Border. You know South Border, right? Anyway, we’re going to meet him at Urth Café, one of my favourite places in Pasadena.”
South Border? The floodgate of nostalgia opened and I was thrown back to the days of listening to the ballads of South Border while at work, and the solos of the saxophone player especially in “Kahit Kailan” that had me cresting imagined and real emotions of love.
Of course, I knew of South Border. To not know of South Border was bordering on it being a sacrilegious act! It was the quintessential local jazz-pop-R&B band that my generation and generations after me listened to. The band captured the attention of adults and adolescents alike – uniting the fragmented Filipino listeners divided by social class – and banished the general perception that Filipino love songs were kitsch, low-brow, and maudlin. South Border’s arrival in the music scene with their collage of English and Filipino love songs crooned by a vocalist, whose voice range remains unparalleled in the local scene, changed the music landscape of the youth who were now singing to local songs like South Border’s mega hit “Kahit Kailan” and the iconic “Love of my Life”. An appreciation for local ditties began to take hold – ditties that, naturally, were infused with elements of jazz, pop, and R&B a la South Border which elevated the banal to the sublime, the trite to something fresh.
South Border’s vocalist was one of the factors that drew admirers like moths to the fire. He made it seem effortless to hit those glass-shattering notes which didn’t make one cringe at the forethought that he might croak. He never did. The other is saxophone player Ric Junasa, whose name eclipsed me through the years until my Uncle Rowen dropped a bomb on me by saying they’re friends. The fan girl in me stirred from its deep slumber. Who would have thought my LA vacation would have me hobnobbing with one of Manila’s finest musicians?So, decades later, there is a name for the saxophone player – Ric Junasa. The first meeting was at Urth Café, shortly before it was closing for the night. Ric was cool as a cucumber as he strode, in jeans and shirt, to the table. He shook my hand, sat down, and pondered on what drink to have. Coffee with milk it was. Stories between him and my uncle filled the conversation, while I wondered how and where I could possibly hear him play. Like a wide-eyed school girl seeing her crush in the hall way, I sat across the table dumbfounded , watching him banter with my uncle about their tepid coffee. Meanwhile, I got to talking to Minnie, Ric’s wife, whom I immediately bonded with because of her knowledge and like for the famed caramel chiffon cake of Estrel’s. Ric and family migrated to LA a few years back. Minnie helms the household while Ric is at work (the occupation elided me being so focused on him as the sax player I listened to), and also manages his gig bookings in and out of LA. She also moonlights as a tour guide to relatives coming over for visits. Ric, I learnt, played at my Uncle Rowen’s wedding about two years ago. (Aside: He can definitely play at my wedding if and when I find a groom.)
I was still fixated with the thought of hearing him play when Christmas came in June. My Uncle Rowen invited him to play at the picnic of the Oriental Mindoro Association at Monterey Park. Fast forward to Monterey Park, Saturday: We greeted each other like long-lost friends. The day was going well, but not fast enough. My cousins, who drove all the way from Gendale, Arizona, and South Border enthusiasts, too, were likewise getting antsy of hearing him play. Finally, the host of the picnic introduced Ric. *applause*
Calm and collected, Ric sauntered to the side. He took a swig of water. He unlocked his saxophone case and, in seconds, the theme song of Titanic circled above the picnic shed of Monterey Park, silencing everyone until the last note.
Play it again, Ric. *applause*