Rappler Live Jam diaries: Our favorite shows of 2019

MANILA, Philippines – For a few hours once a week (more or less), the Rappler HQ transforms from a newsroom to a stage where some seriously magical music moments unfold.

On a Live Jam day, we sometimes get to the office with instruments sitting in the reception area, sent ahead by the artists.

The arrival of the artists – sometimes as early as 4 pm, like IV of Spades' Zild Benitez, sometimes closer to 9 pm because of Metro Manila traffic – kickstarts a rush of setting up, sound checking, prepping for the interviews, a rush that carries all the way through to the countdown before we go live, and only ends when the artist performs the last of their setlist.

Rapple Live Jam, is at once one of the most nervewracking and most exciting parts of the job. There are so many moving parts and a lot of things could go wrong. Thankfully though, hardly anything ever does, and most importantly, we get to have interesting conversations with people who make music – and a front row seat to their performances.

Here's a look back at some of our favorite Live Jam shows of 2019 (in no particular order):

Ben&Ben (again and again)

Ben&Ben had a landmark year in 2019, with the release of their debut album Limasawa Street in May and the premiere of their first film, LSS.

We were lucky enough that they decided to celebrate each of those milestones with us, visiting our office twice, bringing along an elaborate set-up – and so many feels – every time they dropped by.

Ruby Ibarra and the Balikbayans

Rapper Ruby Ibarra was only in the Philippines for a blink – she played a gig at Saguijo, performed two nights at the Malasimbo Festival, and then she was off to the United States again. It was almost a miracle that they got to come over, but they managed to squeeze in a Rappler visit – hours before they flew back to the States.

Ruby was on fire as she performed, as if it wasn't her Nth performance after a busy trip. The Balikbayans who accompanied her were no less vibrant. Having the ragtag band of Fil-Ams performing "7000 Miles" as their last song was a sweet bit of poetic justice – especially when Ruby rapped the refrain "Mama, I made it in America" at the end of their set, as if she was announcing it proudly not only to her own mother, but to the motherland she had just revisited and was about to say goodbye to again.

Ebe Dancel

It was our first ever outdoor Live Jam – and the performer was, fittingly, one of the artists who performed at the first ever Live Jam back in 2016: Ebe Dancel. The show was a great effort on the part of our production team, and took a lot of back-and-forth with Ebe's team and the people of Ortigas East, where the show was held.

The show was held to celebrate Ebe's 20 years in the music industry - and in between songs, we were able to hear the most interesting stories about Ebe's music firsts – the first time he fell in love with music (listening to his mom sing "Moon River" to herself while making merienda), the first song he ever wrote (a love song, of course, at 11 years old), the first gig he ever played (the band didn't even have their own instruments).

More than the stories, there were the songs – in my opinion, no 4 Ebe Dancel songs could have been better selected for an intimate surprise show. Ebe prioritizes the purity of his performance – it was apparent even during the soundcheck, and especially during the performance. When he sings, it's as if a song consumes him, which is perhaps why even with a rush of cars passing by, it was impossible to not lose oneself in the music – and the live crowd certainly did.

Gloc-9 and Noel Cabangon

Two words: legends only. It's not everyday you get a rap master and a folk music icon together in one show, so you can imagine how lucky we felt when we learned that they were coming over. Noel came to the newsroom straight from an out of town trip, so Gloc-9 graciously let him play first so he could go home and rest. It was an awkward transition from Noel's set to Gloc's but it did provide the perfect opportunity to drop the line "andito na si Gloc-9, wala siyang apelyido" – and if you don't get the reference, listen to "Bagsakan" for your own wellbeing.

During the interviews, Gloc-9 was self-effacing and rather soft-spoken as he told us about making the switch from being signed to music label to going completely independent for the first time in his career. By the time he launched into his first song, "Upuan," we were reminded why he is one of the most important rappers of our generation.

Himala: Isang Musikal cast

Whenever the cast of a musical comes over to perform on Live Jam, we always expect powerhouse vocal performances – and the cast members of Himala: Isang Musikal certainly delivered. It was quite a whirlwind setting up for the show – we experienced some technical difficulties with the minus ones, leaving us to start later than usual and having to do some adjustments to the set list. On top of that, Aicelle Santos, who played the main role of Elsa in the play, was feeling rather under the weather, and so could only sing part of her song, and only acapella.

I'm not going to lie - I was worried about how the show would go at the countdown, but the cast – Aicelle, Kakki Teodoro, David Ezra, and Sandino Martin – were fun interviewees, and, more importantly, amazing performers. As each of them sang their numbers, their vocals filled the newsroom – even under-the-weather Aicelle – so there was really nothing to worry about.

Jaya

When the country's reigning Queen of Soul comes to sing you 4 songs, it's definitely one for the books. It was a Tuesday afternoon when Jaya came over to perform and talk about her 30th anniversary in the music industry.

As expected, Jaya gave a jawdropping performance – leaving many of us to wonder how 30 years could have passed but her voice, and her presence has not faded one bit.

IV of Spades

OPM's wonder children returned to the Live Jam stage for the first time as a trio in February. Vocalist Zild arrived at 4 pm - possibly the earliest ever that a Live Jam artist arrived to the studio – and for the most charming reason: his dad dropped him off early. It was a stark reminder that this act – which can command a room of screaming fans on stage – are still just kids at the end of the day. Zild stayed in one of our meeting rooms throughout the afternoon, listening to recordings of their songs. I'd like to imagine one of their newer songs was finetuned that afternoon.

Blaster Silonga and Badjao de Castro arrived closer to the usual call time, and the group performed 3 songs from the debut album they had just then launched.

After the show, the band stayed behind to listen to their performance – going over (and laughing at) the part where Zild missed the high note. When they left, it was like the aftermath of a house party: slices of pizza left half-eaten, chairs moved from one end of the room to another. The next day they left one request: please don't excerpt Zild's vocal slip. It was a stark reminder that while they may still be kids, they're still an OPM sensation, on their way to building a legacy.

Live Jam Christmas Special

With husband-and-wife team Kean Cipriano and Chynna Ortaleza at the helm, and a roster of artists that collaborate frequently, O/C Records feels more like a family than a label, so they seemed like the perfect fit for a special Christmas show.

The artists trickled in one by one – and with each arrival, the newsroom felt more and more like a family reunion. Kean and Chynna even brought their two kids – and the artists took turns babysitting between sets.

Zsaris kicked off the show with a hypnotic live looping of "Last Christmas," giving way to Kean Cipriano and The Busking Community's take on the anthemic "Happy Christmas (War Is Over)." Frizzle Anne then came in with her acoustic version of Mariah Carey's Christmas classic "All I Want For Christmas Is You," and the brand new act The Busking Community PH closed the show with a Filipino Christmas medley, punctuated with some comedy.

We taped the show in the thick of the holiday rush and way before the Christmas spirit set in – but we did go home that night feeling all warm and fuzzy – not only from the especially talented bunch of carolers that came singing, but also from the warmth that overflowed from a group of people that you could tell genuinely liked and supported each other.

Honorable mention: Jesse McCartney

It was pure vindication for a girl whose date didn't ask her to dance at her high school prom to not only meet but have a conversation with the ultimate 2000s-era heartthrob 15 years later. On a wider scale, that's what this show – and Jesse's Manila visit – was about: our awkward pre-teen and teenage selves growing up and realizing that life isn't so bad after all.

There's a lot more in store for Live Jam in 2020. To those of you who regularly tune in: thank you for supporting Filipino artists. And to the musicians who come and guest: thank you for the music!

'Til next year (that's in a couple of hours!) – Rappler.com

Amanda T. Lago

After avoiding long-term jobs in favor of travelling the world, Amanda finally learned to commit when she joined Rappler in July 2017. As a lifestyle and entertainment reporter, she writes about music, culture, and the occasional showbiz drama. She also hosts Rappler Live Jam, where she sometimes tries her best not to fan-girl on camera.

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