Photos by Gian Nicdao
There are songs, and there are songs by Ebe Dancel. From the almost-reckless euphoria of youth in Prom to the care that goes with love in Tulog Na, it’s his songs that make up the soundtrack of our lives — and aptly so. There’s a certain cinematic quality to Ebe’s songs, sometimes literally since his discography lives on as actual movie theme songs, and it has the power of magnifying emotions: the longing, the pain, and the joy that Ebe writes about is so palpable that there’s no way, absolutely no way, you can’t feel anything when you listen to his music.
“There’ll be more songs tonight than talking. I hope that’s okay,” Ebe tells the crowd of his sold-out concert, one that marked his 20 years in the music scene. The crowd, knowing fully well that Ebe’s songs were more than enough conversation, wholeheartedly cheered — and that’s how “Ebe Dancel with the Manila String Machine” was: hit after hit, both his songs and how they made us feel. The way the audience listened to Ebe, it’s safe to assume that, as he was reliving the songs onstage, people were recounting their own memories of his songs — myself included.
In the 20 years that Ebe Dancel has been writing and singing songs, the comfort that he brings to listeners always stands out.
Sugarfree was one of the bands I listened to growing up: their songs were the stuff of the Top Ten countdown I used to watch before heading to school, Makita Kang Muli was the theme song of the TV adaptation of Panday. Kung Ayaw Mo Na Sa Akin and Hari ng Sablay demanded to be sung at the top of my lungs, much to my parents’ annoyance, and I quietly hummed Tulog Na when I couldn’t sleep. Kwarto, Sugarfree’s ode to moving on, was the song I listened to on repeat after breakups. In 2013, I got myself a ticket to Sa Wakas, a musical featuring the songs of Sugarfree, and that’s where I first heard Ebe’s Bawat Daan: I knew, instantly, this would be a movie theme song someday. A year later, it was the song that capped Dan Villegas’ MMFF hit English Only, Please, and as a montage played on the big screen, I tried my best not to tear up. Two years later, Bawat Daan would cap the best first date I’d ever been on: we were driving aimlessly, so we could be with each other a bit longer, and it was my playlist playing on the radio. I had to go down, and when the car slowed to a stop, the last note was in sync with the motion — back, and forward with the last strum. We looked at each other, and we didn’t have to say anything at all.
But Bawat Daan wasn’t my favorite Ebe Dancel song: that would be Wala Nang Hihilingin, a track from their album “Mornings and Airports.” Imagine you just woke up next to someone you love, still sleeping, and the sun slowly makes its way to the bed — it’s quiet, and you realize you would do anything just to wake up to this every single day: that’s what Wala Nang Hihilingin is about. It’s one of his lesser-known songs — it wasn’t even on Spotify until late last year — and onstage, when he started his intro to his next song saying songwriters should love all their songs equally, I thought Bawat Daan or Burnout (popularized in the JP Habac 2017 feature film I’m Drunk, I Love You) was next.
Performing a sold-out show with the Manila String Machine, Ebe brought out his classic hits that brought out many memories.
“They say songwriters should love all their songs equally, but two songs stand out,“ Ebe shares. “It’s not Hari ng Sablay or Burnout,” he adds quickly. “Love is one concept I’ll never understand. That’s why I write love songs, so I’ll be one step closer to understanding it. I’m one step closer today, and tomorrow, another.” He cues the musicians, and he starts singing the opening lines to Wala Nang Hihilingin.
As I sang along, I looked around. Most of the people I see are couples, friend groups, and people like me who were watching the show on their own. Ebe Dancel’s songs proved to be a refuge of sorts, music to contain our emotions when we’re at a peak, or when we’re most vulnerable. In the 20 years that he’s been in the scene, from his Sugarfree days to now as a solo artist, we found comfort in his earnest lyrics and sound. With each passing song up to his closing song Bawat Daan, Ebe made us feel that his music will always welcome us in — and that it’ll always be the case, in all the years to come.