Obet Rivera: Life of a Pinoy musician in Singapore

We were sitting at the bar of the Hard Rock Café-Singapore with Obet Rivera, a Filipino musician who has called the island nation his home for the past two decades.

There were us, watching Singaporean show band, Jive Talkin’, eating nachos, and having some drinks. The first Hard Rock Café bar in Southeast Asia was buzzing and swinging on a Friday night as the habitues danced and sang along with the band (keyboardist Ed Ramoso is Filipino) that scatters pop gems from across the years.

The service crew and the members of Jive Talkin’ (arguably the best show band in Singapore that, at one time, was the house band for the Manila Hard Rock Café) know Rivera, whom they shake hands with and engage in conversation between sets.

Rivera was actually the first Filipino performer to play at the Hard Rock Café Singapore. “There was a vacancy,” explained Rivera. “Previously, only Singaporean, American or European bands performed there. One time, there was this open slot and they got my band and me. That sort of opened things up for expat Filipino bands.”

Trailblazer here, overseas

RIVERA’S bands have always been one of those trailblazers. With 1980s band Polityx, which played new wave, he was featured alongside The Dawn and After Image in those massive shows such as the Ultrastorm in Manila.

However, the singer-guitarist felt it more prudent to eke out a life and a living in Singapore. “I have performed in different countries but I chose to settle down in Singapore. Moving here has been good for my career and family.”

He had his band before going solo. Nowadays, aside from performing gigs, he makes his living as a guitar teacher. “It pays the bills and allows me to put my child through school here in Singapore,” he said in the vernacular. “I know others are struggling, so I am thankful that I am doing all right. Not great like a superstar artist, but I have long since adjusted my goals and contentment levels. I think initially performing in Manila prepared me for that. I have no illusions about fame or what. I get to perform, teach, and even release music. That’s great, right?”

When he performs as a solo artist, he mixes covers with originals from his debut solo album Flashes of Random Spaceship (that was featured in a previous article on ABS-CBN news) that will appeal to fans of Jackson Browne and Paul Westerberg, as well as his upcoming second album, which is in its finishing touches.

“When you capture your audience, then you can play them different things,” Rivera observed. However, there’s a catch. One time, he was performing at the Hard Rock Café when he sang Englishman in New York by Sting. Unfortunately that evening, it was mostly a younger crowd, and they didn’t know the song, or even know the ex-Police bassist/frontman. He immediately changed set lists for the next songs—Ed Sheeran stuff and the like— that had the kids jumping.

“That was a learning experience for me,” said Rivera. “I have a repertoire of about 400 songs to perform. Now, my set list will depend on the average age of the audience.”

The Pinoy musician has made a name for himself that even during the recent City65 Music Festival in Singapore, a concert for recording artists with only original repertoire, Rivera was the only non-Filipino who performed. “While cover songs help gain an audience, original compositions help establish you as a serious artist.”

Album out soon

THE guitarist will soon release his second solo album Battle Scarred in Singapore and the Philippines. The new recording will be out in the island nation next month. His new single Tattoo will first be played on Saturday, May 20, over Pinas FM 95.5 (Bagong Himig, Bagong Tinig, between 9 p.m. to 12 a.m.).

“This album is ‘me’ as a more mature and experienced artist,” described Rivera. The album cover in fact, depicts a well-used acoustic guitar, a metaphor for his grueling but fulfilling life as a Filipino musician abroad. Battle Scarred features some top-notch musicians in Joseph Concepcion of South Border, Butch Monserrat (formerly of the New Minstrels), Kettle Mata, Niño Salazar (who performs with Gloc 9 and Kitchie Nadal), and Ramoso.

The album will also be released independently in the Philippines this June.

“Hopefully, some of our countrymen will like our music, and that we’ll get to perform there too.”


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