For over a decade, Ebe Dancel was known as part of Sugarfree. The past six years saw him venturing on a solo career, and in that amount of time, he has built a strong following, some fans of his previous band, some drawn to his new releases. The voice and decidedly more restrained lyrics, however, are still unmistakably his. He can often be seen doing the bar route, with some larger performances such as fairs and concerts peppering the more intimate gatherings. Attending one of his gigs at Conspiracy Bar is like going to a friend’s birthday party, the grounds are overcrowded with people standing or sitting shoulder-to-shoulder. The atmosphere is tinged with familiarity, everyone seeming to know everyone else. There is a silence as each song is played, where everyone sings along, but no one voice overpowers that of Ebe’s. There will be sporadic bursts of laughter and conversation, but just like the songs that serve as background music to the movies his work perfectly complements, they simply add character to his music. In this interview, Ebe talks about his career and where he wants his music to take him next, with all roads always leading to love.
What stories inspire your songwriting?
Sometime I hear a word I really like and the idea is stuck in my head for a few days. Love and compassion always inspire me to write. Most of my songs are autobiographical. In my 40 years in this crazy planet, I’ve experienced love, loss, pain, and hope. I try to document everything, so that someday when I have kids, I can explain myself through music. I also enjoy observing more than talking. There are stories unfolding around you every day. All you have to do is shut up and just listen. Sometimes, the most interesting stories are the ones you stumble upon accidentally and you just happen to be there to witness everything.
How does it feel to see your songs staged in Sa Wakas?
When I saw it, I kept saying, “did I really write all of these songs?” I’m just a guy who was happy to write songs in my bedroom. For them to come this far still amazes me. Also, people asking me for tickets, I do not, I repeat, I DO NOT own the show. I simply said yes to them borrowing my songs.
I believe the greatest compliment a musician can ever receive is when people take your songs and make them their own. To the people behind Sa Wakas, thank you for making your versions better than mine.
Watching the musical (I haven’t seen it in its entirety because there are always gigs and my management has to drag me to the show in the middle of the play) also brought me back to the good old days. I had so much fun writing all those songs and playing them in front of my countrymen. It’s nice to be reminded of my history. I’d be nowhere near where I am now without Sugarfree and all those fans who cheered us on through the years.
Your songs are very relatable. Why do you think they have stood the test of time?
I guess it’s because I’m just an ordinary guy with ordinary life experiences. I don’t write so people can relate to my songs. I do it because I want to capture a moment and put it into words and music. It’s really like talking to myself, which I do so often that people think I’m crazy. And maybe people go through the same experiences and say, “ay oo dinaanan ko din yan. Shet ka, Ebe.” As to why they stand the test of time, I have no answer to that. I am truly grateful, though. 20 years from now, I don’t care if people forget my name, my face. What matters is that they keep the songs close to their hearts.
Among the songs you have made, which one is most memorable to you and why?
There are a few. Hangover, where I try to explain the connection between love and addiction. I believe falling in love is easy. Staying on course is the challenging part. I think that in order for the fire to keep burning, there must always be a sense of urgency, an imaginary drug you need to take to stay on track. If you can’t love passionately on a daily basis, then why love at all?
Bawat Daan, because I honestly thought I was done making hits. Yet it has found its way into the hearts of a lot of Pinoys. It also speaks of my journey, that no matter how many times I try to quit music, God always leads me back to music. It is my only path, I know that now.
Lakambini, an ode to Andres Bonifacio’s love for his wife Oryang. It is a promise of love in this lifetime and the next. It is a sense of hope that when darkness overcomes us, there is nothing to fear because we are each other’s light.
How has your own music changed through the years?
I think I’m more careful now when I choose the words and message I try to convey. I’m a lot older, and my perspective of the world has changed. I try to write songs about hope and compassion. I think the world needs a lot of it right now, given the political landscape we find ourselves in, and I’m not just talking about the Philippines.
We are writing an issue on “Humor and Hugot”. Why do you think hugot has become a big thing here in the Philippines?
First of all, I wish people would stop using the word hugot. It’s such a beautiful word and I feel that sometimes, it has been reduced to an expression, a punchline. That being said, Pinoys are suckers for love. It’s a good thing. We like celebrating the idea of love, also another good thing.
Would you describe your songs as hugot? How do you define hugot?
My songs are my own. They are photographs in words and music. I’d rather not box them into rock or pop or hugot (which isn’t a genre, by the way). Now, hugot is the act of digging deep, right? “Bat ganyan ka magsalita? San mo hinugot yan?” But people who know me well will tell you that I write the way I speak during normal conversations.
How would you describe yourself in three words?
Probinsyanong Musikerong Pilipino.
Text- Jenette Vizcocho
Photography – M Espeña