5 Top Spots for Live Music in Manila
From jumping jazz joints to hipster hangouts, DUNCAN FORGAN explores the chaotic capital’s music scene.
London had the Marquee, New York had CBGB’s and Manila has Saguijo. Put simply, if you are a fledging outfit with a nose for fame, a gig at Saguijo probably means you have already made it on the Pinoy music scene or are just about to. Opened in 2004 by cousins Angelo and Chris Carlos as a means of providing an outlet for bands and musicians playing original music, it has become the city’s most famous alternative music venue. Famed acts including Pedicab and Up Dharma Down built their reputation within its walls, while music industry A&R personnel are among the faces in the crowd on a regular basis. Artwork, murals and musical instruments bedeck the walls while the beer-swigging patrons rock a dressed-down look. T+L TIP Be sure to check out the upstairs Theo Gallery, which provides a showcase for up and coming Filipino artists. 7612 Guijo Street, Makati City; +63 2 897 8629; saguijo.com.
Achingly cool and imbued with a degree of kookiness—the cocktails are served Mad Hatter-style in white ceramic teapots for example—B-Side is currently the city’s hipster hangout of choice. International DJs such as Scottish deep funk font Keb Darge and Californian psychedelic hip-hop maestro Nobody have played here, and the venue often features Manila’s more questing electronic artists and turntablists. Celebrity patrons have been known to get their groove on here, but there’s nothing pretentious about the vibe. The homely interior—comfy sofas with plumped up cushions and tasteful low lighting—gives it the feel of an oversized living room, making it the perfect place for an intimate shindig. T+L TIP The venue hosts weekly reggae nights on Sundays where chilled Jamaican sounds are served up along Caribbean fare. 7274 Malugay Street, Makati City; +63 917 821 9761; bsidemanila.com.
It has undergone both a name change—it was the Penguin Café—and a change in ownership, but the left-field ethos of Blackbird squares with its former persona. There’s a hint of mystery about Blackbird, exemplified by its lack of obvious signage and location down a warren of narrow one-way streets. Inside it is mostly a case of “as you were” with the varied programming keeping a scattershot approach familiar to patrons of the much-loved Penguin. One aspect that has changed is the interior. Whereas the old Penguin was resplendent in bright colors, the new version favors a starker approach with white walls accented by photographs and paintings. Performances range in style from rock, reggae and world to folk and jazz, while the ebullient crowd comprises of both locals and visiting foreigners. Other attractions include poetry readings, one-act plays and film screenings. T+L TIP There’s an emphasis on live reggae at Blackbird so if you are a lover of Jamaican sounds this is the place to visit. 9815 Kamagong Street, Makati City; +63 917 897 0210.
So smitten is Wowee Posadas, the founder of 19 East, by the magic of amplified noise that he spared no expense in kitting his venue out with a state of the art sound system regarded by many as the finest in the Philippines. The results speak for themselves, with top Pinoy performers from across the musical spectrum flocking to the venue in the south of the city to strut their stuff. You’ll find performers from every conceivable genre here. Major Pinoy stars such as singer-songwriter Nyoy Volante and Bamboo have appeared, as have visiting artists including Oran Coltrane, the son of legendary jazz musician John Coltrane. The serious business takes place in the main hall, while an outdoor seafood restaurant overlooking the waters of Laguna de Bay provides respite, if required, from the wall of sound inside. T+L TIP The tiger prawns in lemon butter are a house speciality at the restaurant. Kilometer 19, East Service Road, Sucat, Paranaque City; +63 2 837 6903; 19east.com.
Skarlet Jazz Kitchen
The Filipino penchant for successfully appropriating Western music styles is legendary, but can often come at the expense of authenticity. That’s not the case at Skarlet Jazz Kitchen (formerly Ten 02), which successfully combines elements of a jazzy speakeasy, down-home blues den and underground rock and roll club. The décor draws on old-school influences too, with thick velvet curtains behind the stage and brassy red lighting framing the performers. The music policy is wildly eclectic—everything from ska and punk to Latin—but the main focus is on jazz, unsurprising given that the bar is the brainchild of acclaimed singer Skarlet. Monday night is big band night where a packed audience shake off the start-of the-week blues with some serious swing. T+L TIP Call ahead to make reservations as this joint tends to get pretty crammed. 43-B Scout Ybardaloza Street, Quezon City; +63 2 412 7572.