Lockdown. Rumors were already going around, but I honestly didn’t know what to make of the whole thing. In the age of social media, it’s always wise to wait for the official word. And, boy, how the word arrived.
On the evening of March 13, life changed in an instant. The quarantine was announced and everything just stopped.
Even before that though, some of my shows were already either being cancelled or rescheduled because of the virus. In spite of the looming situation, my manager was already planning a repeat of my concert with the Manila String Machine. There were confirmed shows in Singapore, Laoag, La Union, as well as a few special mall shows. My new album had just been launched and I was looking forward to long days on the road to promote it. But yeah, everything just stopped.
“ Losing it all in one night was quite a bitter pill to take. During the first few days of the lockdown, I would wake up in the middle of the night worrying about everything and nothing. ”
Here's what life was like for me before the pandemic: I would wake up at 5:30 a.m. (yes, I’m a morning person and I love it), check my sports news, take a peek at my schedule, and spend as little time as I could on social media. After that, I would either have a run around the beautiful campus of University of the Philippines - Los Baños or a bike ride to a nearby town in Laguna.
If I didn't have any music-related commitments until the evening, I basically just watched TV until I had to go and check on Entablado, a really small restaurant that we built five years ago. After everything, it was finally time to make my way to Manila for a show.
“ One day, I woke up and decided to help myself. ”
Losing it all in one night was quite a bitter pill to take. During the first few days of the lockdown, I would wake up in the middle of the night worrying about everything and nothing. My struggle with depression and anxiety dates back to as early as 2015. This pandemic exposed wounds that left me weak, exhausted and vulnerable. Holding my guitar was very challenging because it reminded me of all the good times — the absolute joy of being able to share music with strangers. I felt like I was sinking a little more every day. So one day, I woke up and decided to help myself.
Since then, I would begin my mornings with a prayer and some quiet time. I had gained a few pounds because of stress eating, so I decided to change that, too. Nowadays, I'm happy eating veggies six times a week, then on Sundays, I order food I find online. I found an app that lets me workout at home so that I stay in shape until it's safe to run and bike again.
I asked JB Music for help, and they set up a home studio for me where I can write, record songs and do live online shows. Friends from Lumix have come to the rescue by giving me a camera for live guestings. I find myself struggling to try to figure out all the wires, buttons and knobs, but I try anyway. I always love a good challenge.
By accepting the temporary normal, I've found some peace. This has given me the opportunity to think about my next move. I know that on-ground concerts aren't coming back soon, so it's important for musicians like myself to adjust and do online concerts instead. Learning to be your own director, roadie, sound, video and lighting guy is insanely difficult, but the show must go on, as they say.
These are very strange, unprecedented times. The country is in turmoil and the virus has dictated the way we live our everyday lives. Fear and anxiety take over us every so often. My heart bleeds for my country.
There are still days when I think about putting performing on hold, but I know music is the only way I can make people feel better. By playing on, not only am I helping myself, but my songs become a friend to people in need of some shelter, a little time away from all the madness. So I keep trying to help, one song at a time.
To be honest, this pandemic has affected me just as much as it has affected every other person. There are still days when I wake up at 2 a.m. wondering what will happen next, and days when fear and exhaustion take over me. There are moments when my feet weigh 100 pounds and I can’t move because I really don’t know where to go from here. Lots of times, I still look back at everything I’ve lost. I worked so hard to get to where I am, and the virus has robbed me of the honor of being able to do live shows.
“ By playing on, not only am I helping myself, but my songs become a friend to people in need of some shelter, a little time away from all the madness. ”
I miss the fans. I miss the stage. Before every show, I always take five minutes backstage to pray and thank God for the gift of music, then my mind becomes a clear canvas. I’ve gotten so good at warding off distractions right before I hit the stage. I miss those five minutes of invincibility. I really believe that someday, a vaccine will be developed and we can go back to the life we once knew. However, I’ve come to terms with the fact that that day won’t be anytime soon. And so we hope, we pray, we wait.
When people ask me how I am, the easiest answer is “I’m okay, thank you.” But I know that a big part of me is hurting and longing for peace. Lately, I've been picking up my guitar more often than I usually do. It usually means a song is coming, or maybe lots of them. I really don’t know, and I have to be okay with the uncertainty of it all. I still stumble whenever I feel like I’m getting my groove back, but I make it a point to get up, however long it takes.
My spirit is down, but not defeated. God is with me, I know that. I will keep playing on.
Photos courtesy of @dancelmd and Ebe Dancel's Facebook page.
Edited by Nathalie Tomada