The Presidents

The Presidents

 Houston, Texas, USA
BandWorldReggae

A Filipino revolutionary reggae/world beat band from Texas? No way, right?

Biography

From the late '80's to the early '90's, we toured extensively, wrote songs voraciously in six different languages, inspired by revolutionary musicians, leaders and movements around the world, gigged constantly throughout Texas and beyond, released an album and a single on vinyl, charted in the most unexpected college radio markets around the country.

In retrospect, it was difficult to imagine the kind of schedule we had. For four and a half years straight, we were constantly on the road - gigging every weekend in different cities back-to-back, rehearsing at least twice a week. When we weren't rehearsing or gigging, we were recording. After four and a half years of this, with hardly a break, something had to give.

Several college degrees, careers and kids later, we have a deeper appreciation for the music we composed and shared some two decades ago, the social consciousness of our lyrics more relevant than ever, performing them with an intensity and depth that only maturity can produce.

In the spring of 1985, I was a senior at the University of Texas in Austin. It was the height of the anti-Marcos movement in the Philippines. Two decades of brutal dictatorship was about to come to an end through a peaceful non-violent popular uprising. My brother, a high school teacher, had just been arrested while taking photos at a protest, placed in solitary confinement by the Marcos government and charged with inciting rebellion, which the judge summarily dismissed. A member of the Students Christian Movement, one of the key youth organizations leading the opposition against Marcos, was touring US campuses speaking about the resistance. This lecture was where Rommel and I met.

Our friendship took root that semester when we went on to establish the first Filipino students organization in the history of Texas' flagship university. With our fellow co-founders, we organized meetings, hosted discussions, staged protests, hung out, and listened to music - a LOT of music.

Through my friendship with Rommel, I met his younger brother Oliver and the Jaceldo brothers - Ray, Ted, and Caesar - with whom Rommel had been performing as members of a professional Filipino traditional dance troupe based in San Antonio. Since high school, they had been performing the diverse repertoire of classical Filipino dances - from the festive rural waltzes to the courtship rituals of Muslim tribal royalty. Many of these numbers involved playing classical Filipino rhythm passages on traditional percussion instruments, such as the gangsa and the kulintang, which would later become integral elements in Presidents' compositions.

Besides the deep appreciation and consciousness of our own cultural heritage, I discovered something else I had in common with my new community of friends - reggae music. Like me, they embraced the power and message of reggae, getting together to jam on Wailers, Steel Pulse, UB40, English Beat, General Public and the Cure at parties in each other's living rooms. They referred to their band as "The Spliffs" and sort of adopted me as their melodica-player.

After college, I was back in Houston, and both Rommel and Ray ended up moving here too for job-related reasons. So, we did what seemed like the natural thing to do - we moved into a house together. In The Spliffs, Ray played drums and Rommel was the guitarist and singer. All we needed now was bass, and we could start jamming. I had dabbled in guitar since high school, but certainly did not possess enough talent to join a band. However, the prospect of switching to bass to complete a trio felt so very right for some reason. So, one night soon after we moved in to a house on Ridge Street in the Heights, eventually christened "The Palace," Rommel and I decided on an impulse to drive to San Antonio and pick up the Spliffs' equipment. When we got back in the wee hours of the morning, Ray got out of bed, we set up and started laying down endless streams of meditative rhythm. We s

Lyrics

LONG LONG TIME

Written By: music by Rommel, Ray, Kokoy; lyrics by Rommel

A long long time ago
We had our own tradition, culture, religion
Suddenly, the Spaniards came
They brought me Christianity, bureaucracy, feudal misery
They left me colonial mentality
Suddenly, the Americans came
They brought me democracy, dysentery, chocolate candy

I got colonial mentality

*Stiggs on other guitar
*from the album ...with guns and cannons and the Book, Montserrat Records 1991

ONE NIGHT

Written By: music by Rommel; lyrics by Rommel, Kokoy

One night, one summer night
I dream myself a dream
Never feel so all alone
Never feel so free
The kiss of death is gone
I do not have to run

But one night, one summer night
The soldiers came to town
As dusk began to fall
And the sun has just gone down
Trouble's coming 'round
Victims lying on the ground

We've got to run to the mountains
Fight for my people's rights to be free
We want our freedom now

Then one night, one summer night
I woke up from a dream
Now I know I'm not alone
I'm going to be free
My finest hour yet to come
To end in death or victory

*with Big Daddy Adam Temple on lead guitar
*recorded live at KISS-KTV, Houston, Texas

CIA

Written By: music and lyrics by Rommel

In the corner of your eyes you saw me
Looking at you
And you never ever have to worry
What is what and who is who
You got eyes in the sky to let you see
Yes, I'm the third world man
You're after me

CIA

In the middle of the room you beat me
Mercilessly
And you never really have to wonder
Who am I and what I stand for
I'm the victim of oppression, can't you see?
The struggle will go on
'Til we are free

In the middle of this country
You shot me looking at you
And you never really understand
Who am I and what I stand for
I'm the victim of oppression, can't you see?
The struggle will go on
My name is Che

*Mark Townes on other guitar
*recorded live at Fitzgerald's, Houston, Texas

COTABATO

Written By: music by Rommel, Ray, Oliver, Kokoy; lyrics by Rommel

Ang mamatay sa Cotabato
Kapatid mo, kapatid ko
Ang dugo mo, ang dugo ko

Anim na taon ang lumipas
Nang kita'y huling nakilala
Kahit na iba ang mukha ng iyong bathala
Iisa ang mahal nating ina

(The dying in Cotabato
Your brother, my brother
Your blood, my blood

It's been six years
Since the last time I recognized you
Even though the face of your God is different
We have the same mother)

*Mark Townes on other guitar
*recorded live at Fitzgerald's, Houston, Texas

JOHNNY AND ALICIA

Written By: music and lyrics by Rommel

It's almost midnight
You've been working so hard
You're such a sight
Hide that sadness in your eyes
The life that you have
Couldn't it be different somehow
Maybe tomorrow
This is life for now

Keep dancing Alicia
Johnny might take you to America
Keep smiling Alicia
Johnny might love you forever

Johnny killed a man today
It doesn't really matter anyway
He says he's from the east coast
He'll never be tried in this third world post
The life that he took
Couldn't it be worth more somehow
Maybe tomorrow
Life is cheap for now

Johnny sailed away tonight
Alicia don't cry so hard
You're still a sight
A new Johnny might come just right
The life that you have
Couldn't it be better somehow
Maybe tomorrow
This is life for now

*Mark Townes on lead guitar
*recorded live at Fitzgerald's, Houston, Texas

EL SALVADOR

Written By: music by Rommel; lyrics by Kokoy, Rommel

You ask me
Is the army marching on the horizon?
Does the river still flow towards the west?
Is this country heading for revolution?
Are my people ready to take test?
Is my brother in prison in pain?
Will my mother be the same?

To all the questions you ask
There is only one answer
Freedom forever

Welcome to El Salvador

*Guillermo Canizales on zamponas
*Mark Townes on other guitar
*recorded live at Fitzgerald's, Houston, Texas

OHIO

Written By: music and lyrics by Neil Young

Tin soldiers and Nixon coming
We're finally on our own
This summer I hear the drumming
Four dead in Ohio

Gotta get down to it
Soldiers are cutting us down
Should have been done long ago
What if you knew her
And found her dead on the ground?
How can you run when you know?

*Mark Townes on lead guitar
*recorded live at Fitzgerald's, Houston, Texas

UN

Written By: music by Rommel, Ray; lyrics by Kokoy, Caesar

In the United Nations,
(x) nations in representation
All the wealthy countries got the power in their hands
All the wealthy countries want to hold on to the land

There were so many languages

But I speak English
Do you speak English?

Didto, waray na tao didto bukid
Yan na, waray na tao dinhi

*Mark Townes on lead guitar
*recorded live at Fitzgerald's, Houston, Texas

HALIKA NA

Written By: music by Rommel; lyrics by Rommel, Kokoy

O, halika na
Bago pa magumaga
O, sabik na ako
Sa iyong pagbabalik

Nararamdaman ko ang tibok ng iyong puso
Naririnig ko rin ang himig ng isip mo
Sa layo layo nang iyong narating
Bukas nama'y ikaw ay babalik din
Ang bayang iyong iniwan
Ninanakawan nila ng kulay
Talino mong bagong nagampanan
Dito sa bayan mo gamitin yan

(Come before the morning breaks
I am counting on your return

I feel the beating of your heart
I hear the sound of your thoughts
You have travelled far
But tomorrow you will return still
The country you left
They are stealing its color
The experience you have gathered
Use it here in your own country)

*Mark Townes on lead guitar
*recorded live at Fitzgerald's, Houston, Texas

BANAWE

Written By: music by Rommel, Ray, Kokoy; lyrics by Rommel, Kokoy

You came dancing across the ocean
With guns and cannons and the Book
You came to civilize this land
Educate us at your command

You came dancing, sailing across the ocean
With swords and words and the Lord
You came to Christianize this land
So why are you running around killing, burning my people down?

We have come to a realization
Dancing across the ocean
Sailing across the sea
Not your situation
This is no civilization

Banawe!

*Stiggs on other guitar
*from the album ...with guns and cannons and the Book, Montserrat Records 1991

Discography

...with guns and cannons and the Book (Montserrat Records 1991, album)

Dancehall Killing (Rastaman Work Ethic 1992, 12" single)