Up until recently, ska was never one of my favorite genres in music. Perhaps due to my growing aversion to reggae — in particular Bob Marley — it was quite easy to dismiss it as well. (To digress a bit, if I don’t hear Buffalo Soldier or 3 Little Birds again in my life, it will be fine with me. Plus getting dreadlocks and a henna tattoo to match your “Legend” CD doesn’t make you a “rasta”— although it might just confirm that you are an idiot. Trenchtown is nothing like Boracay either, mon.) But good music can cut through these biases, even for the stubborn, obstinate ones like me. And there’s a lot of that to discover in ska, in particular the local scene.
The late, great Je Bautista explained it to me once that “ska is reggae on beer while reggae is ska on pot.” A man of impeccable musical tastes, he always tried his best to push me beyond my comfort zones and musical boundaries. A true punk, he was responsible for getting me into all sorts of things: The Stiff Little Fingers, Angelic Upstarts, Black Flag, MDC as well as Nick Drake, MC Solaar, The Orb… He never got stuck in the ‘70s punk of The Sex Pistols or The Ramones although he did love The Clash with a passion ‘til his death. But he did love ska and, among the bands playing the local scene, he loved Shuffle Union.
Recorded live last February at Cubao X during Trashradio Manila and Bisikleta Production’s “Louie Louie” — a tribute concert for drummer Luis “Weslu” Guiang — “Invincible” is a good starter for those who’ve yet to hear Shuffle Union’s music. Included in the album are live renditions of band staples such as Batty Boy, He’s Mine (this writer’s personal favorite) and Dance With Me. Also included is Thank You, their personal tribute to the legendary drummer who played with G.I. and the Idiots, Put3ska and Throw as well as Shuffle Union.
Truth be told, Shuffle Union’s music isn’t always ska but flirts with a modified kind of power pop. The gorgeous melodies as sung by the band’s two vocalists Mae Ilagan and January Bautista are pushed to greater heights by the band’s persistent rhythm section. More often than not, there is an obvious debt to Style Council-era Paul Weller but with the energy and immediacy of his Jam days. Even the technical glitches inherent in live performance don’t detract from the charm of the songs themselves (although it’s enough to make me giddy thinking what they could do in the studio).
As their press release on their blog says: “The release was officially announced May 23 during Shuffle Union’s live performance at Doobie Nights, where they also announced a tour dubbed ‘Shuffle Union Invincible-Live Album Tour.’ The ‘Invincible’ tour will (go through) Batangas, Baguio City, Laguna, Bulacan and Quezon City.” It also says “the tour will also be joined and supported by a rich collection of musical acts from each locale.” Copies of the album will be available during the gigs and through the band’s site (you can also check out trashradiomanila.blog-spot.com).