The Hotdog with its leaders Rene Garcia (leftmost) and brother Dennis, second to the last person on the right. Photograph from the Hotdog Facebook page
Culture Music

The making of “Manila”: How Hotdog created an anthem, according to Dennis Garcia

In what is probably one of his final interviews, song and jingle-writer Dennis Garcia, talked about the elements that made “Manila” the song that will rouse anyone’s Filipino-ness when heard anywhere in the world.​
Edwin P. Sallan | Jan 21 2020

Pop culture references often characterize the popular songs of iconic OPM band Hotdog. They elevate the ditties from being “mere” classics to bordering on the anthemic. For starters, it’s a no-brainer that “Ikaw ang Miss Universe ng Buhay Ko” will forever be identified with the most prestigious beauty pageant on the planet.

That Baby Boomers and Gen Xers who find themselves in San Francisco del Monte in Quezon City—the place commonly referred to as Frisco—are forever likely to recall “Annie Batungbakal.” 

The recording for “Manila” was a typical recording session, recalled Dennis, with a lot of laughter and food breaks every hour.

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“Bongga Ka, Day” immortalizes the once popular segunda mano clothing store Eloy’s—forerunner of the ukay-ukay. For the society-conscious of that time, the line “buhok mo’y Budji” easily refers to hair by Budji Layug, and “suot mo’y gawa ni Pitoy” to a dress by fashion czar Jose Moreno. Guys can’t sing along with “Langit Na Naman” without thinking of actress Rio Locsin, and La Sallistas and Assumptionistas will always be associated  with the juvenile class-conscious boy-girl quarrel in “Beh Buti Nga.”

Most of these songs’ lyrics were crafted by Hotdog bass player and bandleader Dennis Garcia — who composed the would-be hits in tandem with brother Rene who in turn came up with their hook-laden melodies.

But as anthemic tunes go, perhaps Hotdog’s greatest triumph is their 1976 classic, “Manila.” A bouncy pop ditty, it has far extended its original shelf life when it became the unofficial theme song of the nation’s capital that inspired it. In fact, “Manila” was still making headlines as recently as last year when it was used in the parade of athletes during the opening ceremonies of the Southeast Asian Games and was more than warmly received (the largely Pinoy crowd at the Philippine Arena was proudly singing it while waving the flag and cheering our very own) despite some post-event controversy.

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Dennis, who recently passed away at the age of 69, had always been proud of “Manila.”  He considers it “irreplaceable and a source of pride for all Filipinos.”

In an interview with this writer last December, Dennis recalled how the song was created two years after Hotdog’s one-year stint in Hawaii in 1974.

“Rene and I were reminiscing about our stay in Hawaii one lazy afternoon in 1976. Our stint there was extremely memorable for us because we were only in our very early 20s. It was our first time to be away from home, our first time abroad, our first time to be mobbed by pretty ladies from all over the world, night after night after night,” he recalled.

Despite the dreamy experience, Dennis said there were also many lonely nights when he and Rene missed being home in the Philippines.

“We were from BF Parañaque, not from Manila. But Manila was the top-of-mind term then and even now to connote home or the Philippines,” he pointed out.

Contrary to the song’s Wikipedia entry that suggests that the song may have also been inspired by the Mabuhay Singers’ “Tayo Na sa Antipolo,” Dennis said he had no idea how that story came about as “the song is 100 percent original and organic—borrowing from zero influences.”

The brothers composed the song in about an hour. Dennis said he wrote all the lyrics while Rene created the melody and the rhythm section.

“Manila” starts slow and in its first 34 seconds has a similar vibe as “Dying To Tell You,” one of Hotdog’s early hit ballads. That’s when we start to hear the sound of a jeepney barker in Quiapo calling for passengers. Dennis said that was actually the real thing and not an impersonation.

“I take pride in the fact that the barker was ‘sampled,’ way before ‘sampling’ was a word or recording process. What happened was I sent my production assistant Julian Diego to Quiapo with my Walkman to record the sounds of jeepney stops. We got lucky, very lucky,” he recalled.   

As for the way Rene sang the song with what became regarded as his signature twang, Dennis said “Manila” was recorded at the time when Rene was still in his “Leon Russell phase.” Leon Russell was a celebrated singer-songwriter who sang with an unmistakable twang, a style that fits the tone of “Manila.

“We reckon that since it's a balikbayan singing it, a twang would be most apt,” Dennis pointed out.

Entering the movies came with the band’s popularity.

As for the horns that serve as an apt embellishment to the tune, Dennis said it was consistent in keeping up with the “jeepney spirit” of the song. He said then Hotdog keyboards player Lorrie Ilustre, who co-wrote Hotdog’s hit ballad, “Panaginip” helped tremendously in arranging the horn section.

“Rene and I wanted it to be different from what was being aired on radio,” Dennis further revealed. “So we also had a backing orchestra that consisted of members of the Manila Symphony Orchestra.”

As for the rest of the analog recording sessions, it was a typical recording session for the band with a lot of laughter and food breaks every hour. He said Gina Montes, who was the band’s female singer at the time, “sounded like she was enjoying every minute of it and did all the female back-up vocal parts.”

Following the recording of “Manila” which was part of the album Inspiration, Dennis said the band did not have an inkling it will be a big hit. “That's us. Hardheaded but passionate with what we do best, we just record what we want—unmindful of what's hot or what the record company is begging us to do.”

In fact, the first time they performed “Manila” at an all-girl’s school, the song got “reluctant acceptance” which Dennis said was always the case whenever they perform new songs.

“But that changed when almost all radio stations were playing ‘Manila’ non-stop. Then it became a staple in our live repertoire and we never stopped performing it since,” he noted.

Garcia passed away Sunday, January 19, at 69. Photo courtesy of Toti Dalmacion.

Since it became a hit, “Manila” often became a staple for documentaries that promote Philippine tourism. Dennis said the song resonated more with Filipino audiences based abroad, especially Overseas Filipino Workers who had to be away for their families for years.

“When Hotdog performs ‘Manila’ abroad, tears would come streaming from the eyes of the audience once they hear the first few lines of the song that goes, ‘Maraming beses na kitang nilayasan…’ that was usually an emotional moment for them and even for us when we perform the song.”

As for the supposed backlash that surrounded the selection of “Manila” in the recently concluded SEA Games, Dennis said that while he preferred not to dwell on it, the band sees it as an “extreme honor that the organizers requested the use of the song.”

“We didn’t charge a single centavo for its use. Our love of country prevailed over our love for royalties,” he said. 

Long before Dennis Garcia’s untimely demise, Hotdog’s musical legacy has already been secured. Considered as a big part of what has been regarded as the golden age of Original Pilipino Music that began in the mid-1970s, Hotdog’s songs has and will continue to resonate with generations of music fans in the years to come.

“Manila” which he regarded as “the mother of all Hotdog hits” in one of his early interviews is something he hopes his future grandchildren and great grandchildren will be particularly proud of.

 

Photographs from the Hotdog Facebook page