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“At 14, I had my own band and my mom got us our first gig playing an ‘open house’ in one of the wards at Riverview Mental Hospital where she worked as a dietician. The patients went crazy — actually, I guess they already were crazy, but suffice to say they were really digging my little band. …. That was quite an experience.”
HE has the aura of a man who seems to celebrate success in secret. A kind of a private but creative individual exhibited like a celestial goldfish in an atrociously public fish tank – the music business.
In an industry notorious for its quirks and weirdness, he is simply known as Joe – a refreshing counterpoint. At least, he is totally unlike other artists who are known by some other queer handle.
Filipino-Canadian composer, songwriter and artist Jose Maria Cruz never forgot his beginnings. His musicality seems to have links to the past starting with a prolific great grandfather who wrote his own classical pieces.
“My great grandfather was a composer who played piano and violin in Manila. My mother and all her sisters played piano as a hobby and I used to hear my mother play my great grandfather’s piano etudes and sonatas growing up. I took piano lessons when I was 6-years-old but quickly lost interest, I regret that now though.”
“On a summer trip to visit my aunt in the Virgin Islands, I had opened her piano bench and discovered a handful of my great grandfather’s handwritten manuscripts. Some were for piano and violin duets, string quartets, and solo piano pieces. I was intrigued and awed by what I had discovered, although it didn’t really sink in until a few years later. I was about 12 years old then.”
“That summer changed my life,” Joe said. “I had discovered everything from Aerosmith, Eric Clapton, and the Beatles, to Steely Dan, the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin through my uncle and my cousin Ike’s record collection. It was 1978 and I was diggin on music from the 60’s and 70 s.”
“At 14, I had my own band and my mom got us our first gig playing an ‘open house’ in one of the wards at Riverview Mental Hospital where she worked as a dietician.”
“We played Rolling Stones tunes, Led Zeppelin, the Beatles and other covers. The patients went crazy — actually, I guess they already were crazy, but suffice to say they were really digging my little band. Dancing, arms flailing in the air. It was as if they hadn’t seen live music at all, or at least for a very long time. That was quite an experience. Playing to sane people after that was a bit of a letdown.”
Shortly after graduating from the University of British Columbia (UBC) in 1990, Joe did a two-year tour of Canada and US with alternative rock band Emily Stop. He later joined folk-rock artist Tammi Greer in various gigs. He had performed with various groups in Taiwan, Dubai, Thailand and Indonesia.
He also collaborated with famous mixer Mike Fraser (AC/DC) on the Warehouse Studio recording sessions for Justine Bennett’s “Invisible”.
Joe did a lot of TV appearances and was a guest artist in Sarah McLachlan’s original 1997 Lilith Tour. He later did Sarah McLachlan’s Wintersong tour as guitarist to promote her Christmas album. He appeared in Jay Leno’s show, Good Morning America, the Ellen DeGeneres Show and at the Rockefeller Center with Sarah and other artists such as Sting. He had since taken on other challenging projects.
Joe believes in breaking stereotypes and debunking urban myths. He feels that one does not have to be a music graduate to succeed in the industry.
“By no means though do I believe that having a post secondary education is a prerequisite for success in the music industry. Nowadays one’s definition of success supersedes previous notions and models of success in this industry. Technology has leveled the playing field. All you really need is passion, a commitment to the craft, and a lot of hard work,” he explained.
Plain hard work and an exceedingly huge dose of creativity had earned him nominations to the prestigious Leo Award, an annual set of awards given each May, which honor the best in British Columbia’s television and film production. The Leos were founded in 1999.
Oscar winning director John Zaritsky who filmed the CBC documentary “College Days & College Nights” had commissioned Joe in 2008 to do an original score. This earned him his first nomination to the prestigious Leo Award.
He was again nominated for best ‘Musical Score in a Dramatic Series’ for the TV series “Flash Gordon” (Reunion Pictures). It was his second nomination.
He did extensive music scoring for the movie “Protecting the King,” a film about the last few years of Elvis Presley’s life narrated by his stepbrother D.Edward Stanley starring Tom Sizemore, Mark Rolston, Peter Dobson and Matt Barr (Echo Bridge Entertainment)
Joe also did the music overlay and scoring for the TV vampire series “Blood Ties”, a Reunion Pictures production for Space Channel and City TV, “Making It Big”, for Life Network Canada and Oxygen Network USA, “A Makeover Wish” for HGTV, Gemini-award winning mini-series “Human Cargo”, CTV’s “Cold Squad”, “Just Cause “on WTN, and even the risqué Showtime series “Show Me Yours” on Showcase channel.
Joe’s knack for composing was developed possibly during his college days being the only music student enrolled in an advanced orchestration course that had nobody else in it.
“I remember taking the advanced orchestration course, and I was the only student who signed up for it. I remember basically going to the prof’s office and he going over different orchestral pieces and making me do orchestration exercises based on the pieces we had looked at. It was really just a private lesson.”
He said he also enrolled in a jazz-arranging course that finally set his musical direction. A local big band leader and jazz composer – Fred Stride — taught it. “He’s not only a great mentor, teacher and composer himself, but a great guy as well.”
“We listened to a lot of jazz and did big band arrangements at the end of the year which was very grueling. I remember being up for days doing that. Little did I know that it would foreshadow my future composing jobs,” he revealed.
Joe was again nominated for a best score in the Action on Film Awards in Pasadena for the movie “Disarmed”. A Los Angeles-based movie production company shot the movie in the Philippines. He spent sleepless nights trying to finish scoring a two and a half hour action movie — that normally takes six weeks to finish — in just three weeks time.
The movie had been sent to a film festival and was accepted.
“Disarmed” starred Filipino actor Rez Cortes. The shot was done in Cebu although the storyline was about an armed group in Mindanao.
“Fortunately, in this situation, the director Tom Shell, and I were on the same page. Tom was very open to my ideas and concept. It was an action film with a very ‘Bourne Identity’ type feel, and I had suggested incorporating instrumental ethnic elements.”
“Since it was shot in the Philippines, I had incorporated two key instruments such as kulintang and octavina. Thanks to my friendship with Bob Aves and Grace Nono who are seminal composers and performers of indigenous Philippine music, I was well prepared for the task at hand,” Joe said.
He is also currently composing the musical score for a short movie “Somebody’s Gonna Pay” which is being filmed in LA.
“Aside from composing, I have also written and produced songs with other artists that have ended up on TV shows and films. I like the idea of artist development and it’s an evolving business model,” he said.
“I have an indie label called Wundertone Recordings which was formed out of my love for producing and song writing.”
He said his company is now putting final touches to a debut album by a Vancouver artist Stephen Hedley who, he describes, as an amazing singer/songwriter.
Another project in the horizon is a CD for Tina Zambrano. It is a catalogue of songs recorded over the years. “My wife Tina is an amazing vocalist. We have solidified a musical direction. It is a harmonic & rhythmic blend of bossa nova, jazz, folk and blues with maybe some kundiman melodies thrown in.”
“Her vocal style is very original and emotional and not your typical soprano-diva-type delivery. She has powerful bluesy alto range. Kind of like Lizz Wright or Diana King,” he said.
“Along with doing freelance recording work as a guitarist in Vancouver, there are other performance ensemble projects too. I have a trio with drummer/percussionist Elliot Polsky, myself and Dan Kearly from ‘Sekoya’ on laptop.”
“We are called the Aclectic Trio and it’s a performance project, although we will be coming out with a disc. It’s Acoustic, Electric & Eclectic…hence the name ‘Aclectic Trio’,” he said
“It’s really something to see because Elliot plays a hybrid kit of djembe, Udu, cajon, congas and traditional drumset and I play acoustic and electric guitars. We all go through Dan’s laptop and he manipulates our sounds in real-time. He makes chords go backwards after I have played them, looping Udu & cajon parts. It’s pretty wild, “Joe adds.
Joe is now based in LA recording with great musicians. He recently produced the Carly Rae Jepsen’s Emotion.
THE Okanagan Lake was simply stunning while Skaha Lake offered all sorts of activities from “see-doing” to water boarding, canoeing, water toy rentals and several other adrenaline-inducing sports activities. It was our second summer and we were “all fresh off the boat” as our Vietnamese Canadian friends would say. Driving from Vancouver, it was traditional to stop at a look out just before entering Penticton in what I thought was another bucolic one-street town.
After entering Penticton and passing by its small airport, we headed straight for Wall Mart when lo and behold — a Manila Jeepney — complete with its peculiar gaudy regalia came honking by from out of nowhere. I was completely floored. Some bloody Filipino chap must have imported it straight from Manila.
A Manila Jeepney is traditionally an old World War II vintage military jeep transformed to become a transport workhorse. In the Philippines, it can usually accommodate up to 13 people including the driver. We asked around and it turned out the enterprising Filipino owner was using the Jeepney to transport revelers to a small beer house he owns fronting Skaha beach.
Filipinos are indeed everywhere. According to a book “A Brief History of Asia in North America (published by Vancouver Asian Heritage Month, 2001), when the Spanish colonized the Philippines and began their lucrative trade between China, Hawaii, the Philippines and Mexico, (it was called the ‘Manila – Acapulco Trade), both Chinese and Filipinos were sought out for their skills as sailors and navigators aboard Spanish galleons and other colonial ships. This was back in 1565.
By the mid 1700’s, Filipinos began to colonize the area now known as Louisiana (specifically, the bayou of Barataria Bay, thirty miles south of New Orleans). They were referred to as ‘The Manilamen’. The descendants of the Asian sailors of the Spanish galleons became the oldest living colony of Asians in North America.
In Canada, the first reported presence of Filipinos was in 1931. There are no other available extant records. Sometime in 1950, 10 Filipinos were supposed to have been in Manitoba. According to author Eleanor Laquian, a handful of doctors and nurses under the United States Exchange Visitors Program, came to Manitoba to have their visas renewed from outside the US as required. Both retired Vancouver couple Aprodicio and Eleanor Laquian wrote a book about 50 years of Filipino migration to Canada.
From 1946 to 1964, the decade when Filipinos were formally recognized as a distinct ethnic minority, there were only 770 Filipinos in all of Canada, the couple’s research showed.
But the numbers slowly changed in the later part of the 60s as more and more Filipino workers immigrated to Winnipeg to work in the budding garment industry there. They were mostly from Baguio City, in northern Philippines. A wave of other Filipino immigrants followed.
Statistics Canada projects that in 2017, when Canada celebrates its 150th anniversary, there would be at least 540,000 Filipinos settled in various provinces with Canada’s expected total population hitting 34.5 million.
The study, entitled Population Projections of Visible Minority Groups, Canada, Provinces and Regions, used as its basis the 2001 census figure of a total population of 30.6 million, of which at least 315,000 are Filipinos. The same study projected that from the at least 65,000 Filipinos in B.C. in 2001, the Filipino population in the province will grow to more than 123,000 in 2017, with Vancouver’s share at more than 112,000.
The Greater Toronto Area (GTA) remains home to the largest Filipino community in Canada. It receives an average of 9,000 new immigrants every year. The Filipino community in the Toronto area numbered about 131, 680 in 2001 rising to 181, 330 or an increase of 35 percent in five years.
Fifteen Filipino newspapers service the GTA with several radio programs and TV shows anchored by Filipinos. Tagalog is the 7th most spoken language in the city of Toronto. There are smaller Filipino populations in other municipalities such as Mississauga, Scarborough, Markham, Newmarket, and Vaughan.
The integration of Filipinos into the Canadian milieu are sometimes so complete that second generation Filipino Canadians can often hide their cultural roots so effectively even in open media having lost the language and the accent.
Remember the Lexa Doig (Alexandra in real life), she was the artificial intelligence and avatar named Rommie in Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda, a television sci-fi series. She’s the daughter of Gloria, a Filipina and David Doig of Irish-Scottish descent. She was born in Toronto.
Sisters Cassie and Alex Steele of Digrassi, the Next Generation are also second generation Filipino Canadians. Cassie is a Filipino/British-Canadian songwriter, singer and actress. She often acts the character Manny Santos in Digrassi. She had appeared in the MTV movie “Super Sweet 16: The Movie,” “Relic Hunter”, and even released a debut album “How Much for Happy”.
Zuraidah Alman, formerly a CityTV news anchor and general assignment reporter and now national news anchor for Ontario Global TV is also a Filipino Canadian.
Tobias C. Enverga Jr., the only Filipino-Canadian appointed as senator by the Conservatives, was a project manager at the Bank of Montreal, where he has worked for more than 30 years. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in Economics from Letran College in the Philippines, a Masters Certificate in Project Management from the Schulich School of Business at York University, and a Computer Studies Certificate from Centennial College.
Senator Enverga has been involved in various organizations and a number of charitable projects. He is the first Filipino-Canadian elected in the City of Toronto, and served as Trustee to the Toronto Catholic District School Board. He is Co-Chair of the Asian Heritage Month Celebration for the Greater Toronto Area and was previously a Director of the Canadian Multicultural Council – Asians in Ontario. He is also the founder of the Philippine Canadian Charitable Foundation. In 2012, Senator Enverga was a recipient of the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal.
In politics, aside from Vancouver MLA Mable Elmore, other Filipino Canadian politicians had slowly captured key leadership roles like Rey Pagtakhan of Manitoba who was the first Filipino-Canadian Member of Parliament, and first Cabinet Minister (2001-2004), Rey Aglugub, Manitoba’s former NDP MLA (1999), Conrad Santos, first Filipino Canadian elected to a public office in Manitoba legislature (1981), Mike Pagtakhan, Winnipeg city councilor, Point Douglas Ward (2002), Flor Marcelino, first woman elected MLA in Manitoba, Art Viola, former deputy mayor and now councilor of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario.
The saga is still unfolding but essentially these are the Filipinos in Canada.