(UPDATE) At the end of the month, singer, songwriter and bass player extraordinaire Cynthia Alexander is leaving the Philippines.
Cynthia is uprooting herself and her family and migrating to Seattle, Washington.
Career-wise, she has had very limited support.
Or, in her own words: “I think I'm ready for change, and new challenges.”
The best there is
Cynthia’s departure is going to be a big loss to local music. As a bassist, she can out-funk and out-slap a lot of male virtuosos. She was, in fact, honored in the 90s by Japan as one of the best there is.
Armed with Joni Mitchell-inspired open tunings, she has written pop melodies for her poems, and gave us beautiful songs that sound deceptively simple in her lilting voice. But when you try to decipher her complex guitar lines, you wonder if plays with more than 10 fingers.
In fact, Cynthia is a multi-instrumentalist. Hand her a paper bag and she’ll probably find a way to extract jewels of melodies from it.
A pop-rock stint
In the mid-90s, Cynthia and I played for pop rocker Lou Bonnevie. Cynthia was skinny but played her trademark muscular bass lines. She sang sweet vocal harmonies (as she did in her former band HAYP, which included guitar virtuoso Noel Mendez). Along with drummer Rene Tengasantos and keyboardist Edgar Mendoza, we had fun on and offstage.
One time, Cynthia and I scarfed down TGIF’s humongous mocha mud pies an hour before a gig. We were so full that we couldn’t even walk upright. Lou was rightfully pissed. “Guys! Why aren’t you moving?? Come on!!!”
When Cynthia got pregnant with her daughter Tala while we were gigging for Lou, she played well into her third trimester. To cope with her growing belly, she simply re-positioned the bass to her right side. She also showed us a few songs that she was writing.
Virtuoso like brother Joey Ayala
Like big brother Joey Ayala, Cynthia is a virtuoso at arranging songs…her way. It was another facet of Cynthia’s musicality that surprised me.
Also, she is just as adept at Western harmony as she is at Eastern music, spread among many instruments.
When she gave up the idea of re-forming her old band and going for broke as a solo artist, the result was her 1997 debut “Insomnia and Other Lullabyes.” It incorporated Eastern and Western sensibilities very naturally. Truly world-class stuff.
Listen to Cynthia here.
The Jessica Sanchez connection
With Cynthia leaving, I can’t help but think about the hysteria surrounding American Idol also-ran Jessica Sanchez, a Filipino-Mexican American.
Her lineage had us all waving the flag of Pinoy pride. We lionized her as “our own.” Like the half-Pinoy contestants before her whose names we’ve forgotten, we want Jessica to come “home” so we can bask in her glory.
Meanwhile, homegrown geniuses like Cynthia Alexander are leaving home.
Who’s waving the flag?
Will Cynthia continue to wave the Philippine flag for us when she settles and works elsewhere?
But then, the other question is: does Cynthia need to go abroad and “make it” before WE wave the flag for HER?
Catch Cynthia Alexander’s send-off gigs on June 14 (RadioRepublic), June 15 (19 East, with Humanfolk), June 16 (Conspiracy), June 22 (70s Bistro), and June 23 (Conspiracy).
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