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Super Bowl XLVIII -- let’s cut the crap -- Super Bowl 2014, was a dismal bust. The game blew, the commercials blew (except the grotesque Dobie-uaua), but what didn’t blow was Bruno Mars, the first Fil-Am ever, in my knowledge, to headline the Super Bowl Halftime Show. It was still a milestone for the advancement of Fil-Am professional influence over the American scene, in this case, popular arts. Bravo, Bruno.
In late Spring, 2013, I was filming a musical performance for the West End Theatre in Quincy, CA, a gem of a community theater in the Northern California Sierras, owned by Earl Thompson, a former lifelong Oakland businessman-turned-actor and theater impresario. I didn’t know the band’s name. I didn’t know what they played. I knew nothing about them, because it didn’t matter. All I had to do was to show up 15 minutes before doors opened, so I could ensure my batteries were charged, that the camera was good, and to find out where the musicians hit their marks onstage, in that order.
I’m talking about GREX, a duo, and frequently, a trio, hailing from Berkeley, California, led by 27-year-old Karl Evangelista, joined by his wife, Margaret Rei Scampavia Evangelista, and regularly joined by Robert Lopez on drums. Karl writes the music, fronts vocals and plays guitar, with Margaret sharing lead vocals, backup vocals, and keyboard. They’ve been playing together for about six years. They gig nationwide.
Karl was good enough to grant me an interview, in which he shared the following:
Karl’s aunt is Philippine senator and judge Miriam Defensor Santiago, which follows that his uncle is Benjamin P. Defensor, retired Chief of Staff of the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines). Karl was born and raised in Los Angeles, then attended U.C. Berkeley, then to Oakland’s Mills College for a Master’s Degree in Fine Arts (MFA), where he met his wife, who is now getting her PhD. in Entymology, in the UC system. In the midst of all that, Karl tripped back to the PI to work in his aunt’s election.
I grew up around rock, jazz and pop musicians, including one of my oldest close friends, and I’ve interviewed my share. I’ll tell you this -- Karl Evangelista is the most intellectual musician I’ve ever spoken to. He sees himself more as a composer than instrumentalist. The word “Grex” refers to a dictyostelid, a mass of amoeba-like cells that move together like a slime-monster. Think The Blob (1958), but small. And not red. My old-timer ears would call their music rock-jazz-progressive fusion. To my ears, he evokes John Cage, Thelonius Monk, and Frank Zappa, but Karl feels more comfortable calling it “experimental...art rock...chamber pop,” evoking Clapton, Cream, Hendrix, Zeppelin, Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, and the Art Ensemble of Chicago.
I’ve never heard anything like it. I could say it’s not for the conventionally faint of heart, but it’s one of those sounds that seems to sync with your brain waves and thought-maps, and in the end comes out more melodious than you first think. Karl is cognizant of the loss of marketablilty in remaining true to his musical vision. “We’re not there to challenge people,” Karl said. “We don’t want to just play ‘noise music.’ We are conscious of trying to make music for everyone.” Added Karl: “The parameters of Fil-Am music are still being defined. We have to assess what defines us as Fil-Ams, as opposed to what defines us as Filipinos. It’s my job in my generation to define what that difference is.” Grex is debuting their new album, “Monster Music,” when they play a benefit for the Filipino victims of Typhoon Haiyan. Remember Haiyan? The cameras may be gone, but the suffering and recover efforts continue. Grex gets that, and on Saturday, February 15, at 8:00 p.m., Grex will donate their performance at Berkeley Arts, 2133 University Avenue, Berkeley, sponsored by the Asian Pacific Islander Cultural Center (APICC). Grex is selling their new album and donating all proceeds from the event’s album sales to Haiyan relief. Other groups will also appear.
Please attend this event. As you open your wallets to the ongoing needs of the victims of Haiyan, you can open your ears and fill your cranial bowl with original, cutting-edge music worth hearing, created by two promising Fil-Ams who are consciously a part of an emerging generation of promising Fil-Ams.
Check out Grex at http://www.grexsounds.com/ .