Cover Story

The National Bards: Parokya Ni Edgar On Wrecking Havoc And Having Fun

Three decades into their career, Parokya Ni Edgar have outlasted shifting trends and life-threatening illness, and are about to get their own musical.

When Gab Chee Kee, guitarist of OPM elder statesmen Parokya Ni Edgar, was diagnosed with lymphoma in late 2022, old gods and living legends pitched in to curb the blight. January 2023 saw an outpouring of support in the form of Gracenote, Kamikazee, Ebe Dancel, Moira Dela Torre, Shanti Dope, and many others holding fundraising performances. The boys of PNE auctioned off a bundle of precious items, including an Eraserheads-signed guitar that sold for about P1.3 million. After two months in the hospital and several procedures, Chee Kee was discharged from the hospital in March 2023, and cleared to perform with the band once again.

Ask the band what it was like to go through such a harrowing experience though, and they’ve got bits.

Parokya Ni Edgar

Parokya Ni Edgar photographed by Carina Altomonte.

Chee Kee: “It was overwhelming. Hindi ako makapaniwala na ganon ka-grabe yung support na binigay. At salamat sa mga kabanda ko at sa girlfriend ko. (I still can’t believe the amount of support everyone gave. And thanks to my bandmates and my girlfriend.) They arranged and handled everything. Nakaka-ano. It…”

Chito Miranda: “Na-touch ka? (Were you touched?)”
Chee Kee: “Na-touch ako, oo. (Yes, I was touched.)”
Miranda: “Na-touch mo ‘yung bird mo? (Did you touch your bird?)”
Chee Kee: “Na-touch ko ‘yung bird ko. Kanina, na-touch ko rin ‘yung bird ko. (I touched my bird. I did it a while ago, too.)”
Miranda: “Uy naka-record tayo! (Hey, we’re on record!)”

Jokes aside, a chilling reminder that even the greatest rockstars are mortal throws into sharp perspective how long-lived Parokya Ni Edgar really are. Formed by a motley crew of jokers during the ‘90s rock boom, Chee Kee, Miranda, Darius Semaña, Dindin Moreno, Buwi Meneses, and Vinci Montaner would go on to shape a very special chapter of the OPM zeitgeist. Back when MTV and Myx were king and Clubb Dredd was building its mythos, the band’s first album Khangkhungkherrnitz made waves and established the band as the country’s premier bards of parody. Who thought spinning dad rock jams into a laughtrip track about getting your wallet filched would help Parokya carve a path towards commercial success? It was Buruguduystunstugudunstuy however that rocked the landscape with pioneering green-minded anthem “Don’t Touch My Birdie,” and of course “Harana” (Serenade), the quintessential harana song. With two records named after the onomatopoeic ruckus of messing around in the band room, Parokya let the people know that OPM shined when it didn’t take stuff too seriously.

Parokya came up in the nexus of a specific, pre-meme cultural moment that captured era-defining resonances of Philippine kanto (street) humor. Kiko Machine rakenrol punchlines, Erap jokes and editorial cartoons, Studio 23 Barkada Trip hijinks, and the very Filipino concept of the spoof were spokes on a well-greased wheel, and Parokya were the lynchpin. And like many acts well-situated in the mainstream, Parokya were a golden goose for fun ads. Man alive, there will never be a coffee song like “Nescafe.”

It’s easy to stay in that novelty niche, but with each release, Parokya came into their own as canon-makers in the Great Filipino Songbook, whether it was “Inuman Na” (Let’s Drink) from Gulong Itlog Gulong (Roll Egg Roll), “This Guy’s In Love With You, Pare” (which aged surprisingly well) from Edgar Edgar Musikahan, and the front-to-back banger compendium that was Bigotilyo (Man With A Mustache) — low-key the Sgt. Pepper of the band’s discography. And of course, “Bagsakan” (Breakdown) the national clarion call. There’s just something about Semaña’s Slash-esque guitar work and Miranda’s San Miguel bucket lyricism that gets at the heart of the Pinoy condition. It’s no wonder they’ve been hailed, deservedly, as the “Pambansang Banda ng Pilipinas” (National Band of the Philippines).

On the ground level though, Parokya were more than their hits. They were the material of every ‘90s-born class clown. For a whole generation of totoy musikeros (young, naive musicians), Parokya was one’s first exposure to the very concept of cracking open a cold one with the boys. They were the band that made you want to form a band, rent an hour at a dinky old rehearsal space with banged up amps and saliva-glazed mics, and jam it out.

But what is Parokya to Parokya? A barkada (tight-knit group of friends) in the truest, most platonically ideal sense of the word. They were high school students who shared the same dream, and rode that dream for years, putting on show after show. On Chee Kee’s recovery, Miranda recalls, “Sabi sa akin ni Gab (Gab told me), ‘I want you to continue playing kasi I don’t want to be the reason why hindi na tutugtog sina [Dindin] and [Darius], kayo (I don’t want to be the reason why Dindin, Darius, and the rest won’t be able to play). So we continued playing. It made us realize kung gaano kami ka-tight (how tight we were), not just as friends pero, on stage when we play, not tight na sobrang galing, sobrang… (as in really good, really…) we really enjoy playing together on stage.” A band in Parokya’s position could easily get another friend or sessionist, but nothing can take the place of a homie. “As a band, it just made us realize how blessed we are to be playing together.” The group’s most recent record after all, Borbolen, is named after the Kapampangan word which roughly translates to the band’s brand of camaraderie — ”troublemaker.”

There are few better ways to edify a band’s legacy, and celebrate a barkada’s long life, than with a musical. If you think about it, it’s high time that a band like Parokya gets their own musical, and Newport Worlds Resort agrees — enter Buruguduystunstugudunstuy, the Parokya Ni Edgar musical, set to rock the stage in 2024. Despite his reservations about putting on large-scale shows, Miranda was taken by the idea of a PNE musical, having seen the stage adaptation of Ang Huling El Bimbo. Moreover, to re-experience the band’s prolific body of work in this specific form of media makes more apparent some of the band’s greatest strengths.

“Sa akin it’s an honor. I’m really flattered that they think Parokya is worthy of a musical. It’s gonna be fun!”

First off: the band’s suite of characters. “Sobrang interesting kasi through the years, sobrang daming characters na lumabas sa mga kanta, which is, pagka intindi ko, doon mag-re-revolve ‘yung istorya, eh (It’s interesting because the way I understand it, the story will revolve around the many characters in our songs through the years),” says Semaña. It’s pretty crazy to think about — that a whole Batman-level rogue’s gallery of characters have organically come up from Parokya’s unique style of storytelling, whether it’s Mr. Suave, The Ordertaker, or Mang Jose, the superhero with a service charge.

More importantly, we might expect Buruguduystunstugudunstuy to cast the band’s penchant for genre versatility in a new light. Says Miranda: “Sa akin (For me) it’s an honor. I’m really flattered that they think Parokya is worthy of a musical. And they keep saying, ‘Hindi! Ang ganda nga kasi iba-iba ‘yung kanta (No, it’s great because the songs are so different). It’s so diverse — ‘di lahat love song, so ang dali gumawa ng musical na ganyan! (Not everything is a love song, so it’s easy to make a musical with them!) It’s gonna be fun!’” It’s funny to think of Parokya’s body of work as the kind of colossus that could rival even Sondheim, but it’s true. Be it alternative rock, metal, funk, disco, rap, or senti acoustic jams, Parokya were consistently in their stylistic wheelhouse, no matter what they were doing. Translating that to the stage seems like the next logical step.

There will never be another Parokya Ni Edgar. One is tempted to think of the band, living legends that they are, as an entourage of old gods in the Philippine pantheon of ‘90s rock deities, but the band would probably be the first to shy away from such exaltations. Still, some praise is in order. Maybe they’re trickster gods–troublemakers who forever changed the OPM natural order.

This cover story is part of Billboard Philippines’ Pinoy Rock series, where we define the sound the Filipino rock scene through 10 of the most influential bands in the country. Read more of the series below.

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