Pinoy Rocks

Local teens are blues ambassadors to Singapore music fest

The Bleu Rascals (Contributed photo by Irene Gomez)The Bleu Rascals, composed of vocalist and guitarist Paul Leobrera, 17, bassist Spencer Rymonte, 18, and drummer Darwin John Quinto, are one of the youngest blues bands this side of the Pacific.  They will play the Timbre Rock & Roots Festival in Singapore on March 30 and 31, 2012. Yahoo! Southeast Asia is a partner of the fest.

The Bleu Rascals will share the Singapore festival stage with the likes of ska kings The Specials,  pop funkateers  Earth, Wind & Fire and bluesmen Buddy Guy and Keb' Mo, among others.

As blues ambassadors, the Rascals have already distinguished themselves when they played at the 28th edition of the annual International Blues Challenge held in Memphis early this month.

Listen to the Bleu Rascals.

Tears of joy in Memphis

They're only the second blues band from Southeast Asia to go onstage at the Youth Showcase of the Memphis international competition often described as "the Olympics of the blues." Witnessing their performance, Rascals mentor Tom Colvin, who once played harmonica for Lampano Alley, said he saw adults jumping up and down while cheering the band on. He added there were tears rolling down several faces from the sheer joy of watching the young Filipino tear it up onstage.

In a recent performance at the Roadhouse Manila Bay in the Mall Of Asia complex, the trio tore the house down song after song with their brand of blues. Opening with a triumphant version of Steve Ray Vaughan "Pride and Joy", their set moved from fine to magnificent adaptations of classic blues, from Jimi Hendrix's "Little Wing" to Eric Clapton's "Old Love" and Freddie King's "Pack It Up."

Throughout, the boys, especially Paul on lead guitars, weren't about proving themselves. Making blues music is what they're really about and it shows even when Leobrera sometimes imitated the pained grimace of a rock guitarist on the throes of release from a winding electric solo.

Watch the Bleu Rascals.

From Fall Out Boy to the blues

The trio were high school friends at the New Era College and they formed bands to compete in amateur Battle of the Bands just for fun. Back then, they were more into the electro-pop punk of Fall Out Boy and My Chemical Romance.

While looking for a new guitar, Paul, then 15, was befriended by a music store guy who introduced him to the blues and taught him the basics. Fascinated by the power of what three chords in 4/4 time can do, Paul persuaded his band mates to shift to the blues and the Bleu Rascals was born. (They initially called themselves the Blue Rascals but changed their name when they were informed that another band with the same moniker was playing in Baguio.)

The trio already has two original compositions "Rhythm and Blues" and "A Better Man" which they often include in their live set. Paul says he wrote "Rhythm and Blues" when he personally felt ready to make his own music. Being in love at that time became an added source of inspiration.

Bullied because of cleft palate

He describes "A Better Man" though to be the story of his young life. Treated for his cleft palate while still an infant, the operation left a scar that became an object of undue ridicule in school.

He says, "I know I have my shortcomings but there was a point when the sarcastic remarks got to me. There were times when I thought my whole life would be about enduring all that sarcasm."

Music saved him from spiraling into depression and the blues would point him to a better way to deal with life. He muses, "The blues is about life's hardships and heartbreaks. I guess people like our music because they can relate to it the same way me and my band mates relate to the message behind the blues.  Realizing that made me a batter man in the face of all the unfortunate remarks being thrown my way."

Where to catch Bleu Rascals

They're currently one of the busiest musical groups performing today. Aside from the Roadhouse, they also appear regularly at Skarlet Jazz Kitchen in Quezon City, Hobbit House in Ermita, Manila, and TheBar@1951 (formerly Penguin Café) in Malate, Manila, among others.

The band, while still working for a college education, nurtures ambitions of getting into music full-time. With the accolades coming not only from local scenesters but also from international fans, the Bleu Rascals are on track to make their dreams come true.

Tickets to Timbre Rock & Roots 2012 are on sale now from SISTIC.

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