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Manila, Manila, Manila, Manila Machiiiiiine!

We recorded the first-ever Los Angeles food truck jingle, for this region’s first-ever Filipino food truck! Here’s how it happened.

On the morning of Tuesday, August 17, after meeting with President Obama (no, really, it did happen) in Beverly Hills, I went over to my friend A.J. Calomay‘s place in West L.A. to return some video equipment I borrowed. After telling him about my unreal presidential motorcade experience, he told me he was working on a video project for The Manila Machine food truck. I had tried their Longganisa Slider and Ube Cupcake at the Downtown ArtWalk, and was instantly a fan of the first Filipino food truck in Los Angeles. I asked A.J., “What kind of music are you going to use?” He told me he wasn’t sure yet. I followed up with, “How about if my band recorded a song?”

Over the next week he relayed the idea to Manila Machine co-owner Marvin Gapultos, also known for his Burnt Lumpia Filipino food blog, who checked out the music on this site and gave the proposition his okay.

The idea sort of rested in my head along with a million other ideas (as usual), and occasionally Marvin and A.J. would send follow-up emails about how the song was going.

I really had no idea as to how this “Manila Machine” song would go, aside from the fact that it would be a funk tune and be inspired by The Jackson Five’s “Dancing Machine.” But I obviously didn’t want a parody or sound-alike song. So the idea continued to marinate.

At some point, I was either walking or driving or biking when the “Manila, Manila, Manila, Manila Machiiiiiine” hook entered my thought process. That was the “Dancing Machine” reference right there, without outright ripping it off. Every jingle needs a good hook, I thought, so I went with that.

Somewhere later on the main unison instrumental riff got in my head. A lot of the Soul Barkada tunes use syncopated musical lines, so the sound is definitely us.

Now to write the lyrics. I consulted the Manila Machine’s website and looked at their menu. I took down notes, trying to figure out what rhymes with what. The Longganisa Slider and the Ube Cupcake, my first taste of the Machine, was a must. I also thought it was imperative to work in “Chicken Adobo” and “Lumpia” into the lyrics, as they’re such icons to Filipino cuisine (Though, I’m not the first artist to work in “Chicken Adobo” into a song). The first verse dealt with choosing a food truck, the second verse was basically a litany of their menu items. Forget the third verse. I wanted to write a quick three-minute song, which was no easy feat since I’m known for composing songs in excess of five minutes long.

Speaking of rhymes, “(Manila) Machine” rhymed with “(Filipino) cuisine,” so that wrote itself.

On September 6, Labor Day, I dedicated it into this labor of love, recording a rough demo version of the song which I sent to A.J., Marvin and my bandmembers. A.J. dug it, but the entire project hinged on Marvin’s reaction. It was his business, after all.

When I woke up on Tuesday morning, the first thing I did was check the email on my phone and open his reply.

His reaction:

This is AWESOME! Thanks so much for your work on this. I love it!
Thank you thank you. Can’t wait to see the finished video too.

Phew! Alright then! Honestly I even had doubts about the catchiness of the song, but after recording the demo I started to grow to like it. It actually sounded a lot like a Jamiroquai song, which cracked me up, since I’m a huge fan of that band as well.

My band has been slowly plugging away at an album for the past six years now. Changing membership, people’s busy schedules (including mine) and plain procrastination are the main culprits, but originally there was supposed to be a deadline for this, that the music and promotional video would be done to coincide with the Festival of Philippine Arts and Culture the next weekend. By a stroke of serendipity, my band members were all available later that week to record.
On Wednesday, September 8, I went to drummer Jay Arbolario’s place to record his drum tracks. He already had a recording setup, so I recorded his drum tracks playing to the demo and saved the files to my external hard drive. Later that evening, I went back home and recorded percussionist Keith Dasalla, who played congas, tambourine and kulintang (the quarter-note rhythm in the song that sounded like a cowbell was actually an indigenous Philippine gong!) – I just had to throw in that Philippine music reference in there. When we were wrapping up the session, saxophonist Mike Bagasao sent me an MP3 of his saxophone tracks on my demo recording. He came up with a horn line using two saxes and a tenor sax solo. It was perfect. I was so inspired by how it all sounded so far that I re-recorded the bass guitar and keyboard tracks that night.

The next day I recorded guitarist August Schmid, doing wah-wah lines. We were going for a full ’70s sound so we had to go all the way with this! Later that evening I went to Louie and Lisa Ulanday’s place to record their background vocals.

On Friday, September 10 I re-did my vocal parts and later picked up a CD-R of Mike’s saxophone tracks that he recorded at his home studio.

We recorded the song in three days.

The next day was FPAC, where the truck was instantly one of the stars of the two-day festival. I gave burned CD copies to Marvin and co-owner Nastassia Johnson (who also writes the Let Me Eat Cake blog).

The song was done by the deadline, but the video would take longer. A.J. told me “This song is too good” for the footage he had, which was filmed at the L.A. Street Food Festival at the Rose Bowl. The actual truck wasn’t even in the footage! A.J. was working on other projects at the time so I volunteered to shoot some additional footage for him on my Mini DV cam. So I followed up with the Manila Machine at USC, at Downtown Los Angeles and at Glendale, shooting b-roll footage inside the truck, outside the truck, crowds forming and people eating. A professional cameraman I definitely am not, but common sense made it into a decent job I hope.

A.J. put rough cuts of the video on a private Vimeo site, and we all chimed in with feedback. Last week, Marvin was happy with one of the rough cuts, and after some minor final touches, we were to have the video go live by Monday. It was all so exciting.

Today, The Manila Machine website posted the video and talked about the video and song as examples of how friends of the ‘Machine all helped out their enterprise in various ways. My bandmates and myself had tons of fun doing this. I could identify with Marvin’s and Nastassia’s pioneering spirit of initiative.

I know A.J. and Marvin dig the song, but honestly, I have no idea how the general public will take it. If you dig it, I’ll post a link on this site where you can download it for free. In the meantime, if I ever hear someone sing, “Manila, Manila, Manila, Manila Machiiiiine!” anywhere, that would totally make my day.

Oh yeah, and if you come visit The Manila Machine, I highly recommend the Pork Belly Pineapple Adobo. It’s Double Rainbow All The Way Across The Sky good. My only regret was not working this into the song.

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