Manila Music Festival: My Top 5 Highlights

At some point, I had to stop getting jealous of all those Coachella galleries online. I had to stop fantasizing that the Philippines would come up with its own version of Woodstock. I opened my eyes and realized that we do have spectacular music festivals.

From small-scale events such as the upcoming Luna Musikalawaig Full Moon Festival in Talakag, Bukidnon, to heavily marketed festivals such as the recent Malasimbo in Puerto Gallera, the festival culture in the Philippines is alive and growing.

On Tuesday I attended the first Manila Music Festival that was held at the Alphaland Bay City Grounds, a reclaimed area off the coast of Manila Bay, where hundreds gathered from 2 p.m. to the wee hours of the morning to celebrate art and good music.

For some kids it was a chance to unleash their inner hippies; for others it was an extension of the Malasimbo fever. Since I skipped Cebu’s Sinulog among other major festivals early this year, the Manila Music Festival was it—my summer festival getaway. Here, my top five highlights of the MMF:

(to see my photo gallery, scroll to the bottom of this post)

1. Ali Shaheed Muhammad

ATCQ’s 1990 album, “People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm”

He may label himself as a DJ/producer, but fans of ’90s hip-hop will forever know him as one-third of the legendary A Tribe Called Quest. He flew 18 hours from Brooklyn to Manila and was slated to spin for only about an hour that night, but the gracious Ali Shaheed treated his Manila fans to more than two hours of classic tracks from the good old days when hip-hop was more about lyrical poetry and less about shots and hoes. It’s too bad he didn’t play as many ATCQ tracks as I had hoped.

2. Afrika Bambaataa

Afrika’s 1982 album, “Planet Rock”

It still hasn’t sunk in that I was just a few feet away from music royalty, the man they call the godfather of hip-hop, Afrika Bambaataa. With the help of his group, Zulu Nation, Afrika turned the Manila Music Festival into one big block party. He threw in a few of his ’90s and ’80s singles into his DJ mix of pure, pop-free hip-hop, as the crowd danced on the dirt like there was no tomorrow.

3. June Marieezy

June’s single, “Summertime”

I have been following her music for months now, and I was ecstatic to finally see this talented Texan perform live with her Manila-based posse, Deeper Manila. As if sprinkled with a little bit of Erykah Badu, June’s soulful jazzy voice is a standout from the hordes of cover-obsessed and pretentious musicians that pollute the local music industry. She was about to end her set when fans such as myself screamed for more, and I was thrilled when she sang my favorite June Marieezy track, “Sometimes.”

4. Sarah Meier

Sarah Meier with Afrika Bambaataa. Photo from Sarah’s Instagram.

There’s a reason why she’s revered as one of the best TV presenters in the country. As a former MTV VJ, this girl knows her stuff. You can tell how good an event host is when she’s faced with dead air and the need to stretch the chatter while waiting for bands to set up or when the technical stuff is taking longer than expected. Without a dummy board or cliché catch phrases from a cue card, Sarah Meier-Albano engaged the audience with her knowledge of music history. I was impressed with how she introduced Afrika Bambaataa and Al Shaheed by taking us back to the era when hip-hop was a developing genre. Good job, Sarah. We badly need more VJs like you.

5. Parking Lot Party

When faced with overpriced drinks (P100 for a small plastic cup of beer and P200 for a can of Red Bull? No thanks!), you can count on frugal Pinoys to get buzzed in their own terms. Many of us would go back and forth to the parking area to finish stashes of liquor we bought from the convenience store. The result: an impromptu pick-up truck party!

Scroll down to see my photo gallery that hopefully captured enough of the festival’s uninhibited and fun vibe. This event deserves an annual repeat.

Please bring Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill, and India.Arie next year!

See more galleries here:
Joseph Villaroman
James Bringas
Status Magazine
Will Wilkins

If you have photo galleries to share, just put the link in the comments section below.

Vinyl album photos from Al Shaheed and Afrika Bambaataa’s official websites. Sarah Meier’s photo from Gallery photos by

May 14 update: One of the photos originally labeled as DJ Skratchmark has been edited. Turns out we were misinformed by the people at the event who told us that he was the guy on the mic during that hour. My apologies to DJ Skratchmark.


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