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Chronology of the Batucada & Bong Peņera Band

by Johnny Alegre III
Manila, Philippines

The Batucada band sprung from a group called Bato-Balani (circa 1972), that played at the U.P. Los Baņos auditorium and the Thomas Jefferson Cultural Center. This germinal group featured singer-keyboardist Bong Peņera with bassist Sonny Nabong, drummer Cesar Yumping (aka "Kuba"), percussionist Nick Boogie and reedman/trumpeter Jun Salvame. Peņera disbanded this group to carry on as an acoustic guitarist, performing in television shows (such as "Ariel Con Tina" and "Student Canteen") with singer-percussionist Bing Villegas, and singers Vicki Gines and Vicki Gruet during the years 1973 until early 1975. (Show hosts Ariel Ureta and Tina Revilla jokingly referred to them as "Vicki/Vicki/Bing/Bong".) This group was called Batucada, the first in a long string of iterations.

In the later part of 1975, Peņera formed a trio called Batucada3 with himself back playing keyboards, with bassist Paul Candelaria and drummer Ding Poblete. They performed at the Extension Restaurant alternating with the Jazz Executives (featuring reedman Lito Molina, pianist Ely Saison, bassist Nicky Andico, drummer Bert Delfino and vocalist Annie Brazil). This stint was followed by the version of Batucada that won raves at the Pension Filipina.

The first commercial Batucada recording featured singer keyboardist Bong Peņera, bassist Sonny Nabong, drummer Ding Poblete, and vocalist Norma Ramirez. The addition of Nick Boogie on percussion and Pete Canzon on flute completed Peņera's definitive small ensemble, to the delight of their early yet growing clientele of bossa-nova aficionados. An independently produced album, "A Samba Song", under the Penny Rose label, was released in 1976 for distribution by Vicor Records to an enthusiastic record-buying crowd. The spare but inspired effort, featuring Peņera's compositions and arrangements, reflected the influences of Luis Bonfa, Joao Gilberto, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Walter Wanderley and other stalwarts of Samba. They performed regularly in a restaurant/inn called Pension Filipina, situated along the bohemian scene of Jorge Bocobo Street in Ermita, the gathering place for both the art crowd and the young social set. Its proprietor was Mrs. Telly Albert-Zulueta.

A second album with a heavier samba beat was produced in 1977 by Vicor Records under its Blackgold label, called "Batucada Sa Calesa", when the group moved on to the more lucrative hotel bar circuit with Jun Enriquez on guitar and with Mila Garcia (later Marite Aldecoa) on vocals.

Bong Peņera took a solo career in 1978 as a result of disagreements with his management; for a brief period, he found himself not owning the Batucada name. The first Bong Peņera Band had Bong singing and playing keyboards, with Paul Candelaria on bass, Fred Alidon (later briefly, Harry Tambuatco) on drums, Edgar Avenir on guitar, and Jacqui Magno (later, Pat Castillo) on vocals.

Second and third editions of the Bong Peņera Band saw Peņera returning to acoustic guitar atop his keyboard and vocal chores. The sidemen were guitarist Edgar Avenir, drummers Edmund Fortuno and Fred Alidon, bassists Sonny Tolentino and Sonny Nabong. Both editions of the band converged in the first "Bong Peņera" self-titled solo album for Blackgold Records. This large group also featured the horn section of Omeng Concepcion (trumpet), Fred Concepcion (flugelhorn) and Rudy Sucgang (tenor sax) along with vocalists Pat Castillo and Patrice Elaine Balquiedra.

The Bong Peņera Band put together a second solo album for Blackgold Records entitled, "Ode", featuring the following roster of musicians: Bong Peņera (keyboards and vocals), Edgar Avenir (guitar), Sonny Nabong (bass), Harry Tambuatco (drums), Uly Avante (percussion) and Pat Castillo (vocals). This edition of the band pursued the Calesa Bar stint with guest female vocalists such as Gina Montes, Maritoni Faconi and Vernie Varga. Tambuatco's later departure brought on Edmund Fortuno to return, until the stint expired in 1980.

The haven for the Bong Peņera Band away from the Calesa Bar was a pub known as The Windmill in the Magallanes Commercial Center in Makati. Peņera and vocalist Norma Ramirez reunited as a duo supported by French Canadian bassist Michel Cloutier and drummer Jun Viray. Guitarist Joey Puyat was a frequent guest (brought in by Cloutier) and bassist Bobot Barroga later replaced Cloutier upon the latter's departure.

Without Bong Peņera, the Batucada group also recorded its own album, entitled "Now Batukada" for A&W (Villar) Records. The featured personnel were Boy "Yob" Katindig (keyboards), "Papa" Jun Enriquez (guitar), Sonny "Chaba" Nabong (bass), Cesar "Bachu" Yumping (drums), Nick "Egub" Boogie (percussion) and Jun "Save Me" Salvame (flute and trumpet). This album became Boy Katindig's entry to pave his own series of solo albums for A&W.

Members from a band that had just disbanded at the time, the Don Quixote group, featuring guitarist Edgar Avenir, bassist Eddie Cariņo, drummer Jun Viray and vocalist Roro Wijanco formed an alliance with Bong Peņera. A new group was henceforth formed, called Bong Peņera & Batucada, the bandname that had not been used since Peņera's solo career began. The revived Batucada pursued the gig at The Ship, followed by stints at Birds Of The Same Feather from 1980 through 1981. And then, from 1981 until 1984, Peņera went to Hongkong to work as a solo pianist in the city's Royal Garden Hotel.

In 1984, Peņera returned to Manila and once again revived the Batucada group with bassist Paul Candelaria. The rest of the band consisted of guitarist Edgar Avenir, drummer Jun Viray, with vocalists Sandra Lim and Isay Alvarez. They performed at the Hotel InterContinental in Makati. After the hotel stint, Peņera and Candelaria moved on to perform in Bert Nievera's Music Lounge as a trio with alternating drummers Glenn Velarde and Al Iglesias.

This final incarnation of the Batucada featured many guest personalities (vocalists Ayeen Diaz, Menchu Lauchengco, Teresa Loyzaga, Louie Reyes) and musicians (guitarists Edgar Avenir and Menchu Apostol; and violinist Benny Reyes), after which Bong Peņera immigrated to the United States.

About the author: Johnny Alegree III met Joey Smith and the pre-"Himig Natin" Juan de la Cruz Band in 1972, and eventually played guitar alongside Edmund Fortuno years later in several bands (e.g. The Vanishing Tribe), jammed with the original Airwaves (Gary Perez, Jun Lopito, Gil Cruz and Joey Smith) and played with Sampaguita. He also played and sang in many of those DzRJ concerts in the J&T parking lot, with Hourglass and Phase-II, and was in the original 1975 National Battle Of The Bands, up to the finals and the promo tour. This, until he went back to school and embarked on his jazz career in 1977. He is no longer a "rock musician" in the lifestyle sense of the word, but it's in his veins, and once, way before he discovered John Coltrane and Miles Davis, he was a hard-core rocker with the best and raunchiest of 'em. He currently works with the Ayala Land, Inc. (ALI) in the Philippines.

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