Banda Zamora: Pandacan’s century-long love affair with music

Mari-An C. Santos
Banda Zamora: Pandacan’s century-long love affair with music

BANDA ZAMORA. The musician group's 40-50 active members are mostly of school age.

Courtesy of Banda Zamora

While the sounds of industry now reign during daytime, Manila's Pandacan district still holds on to its musical soul

MANILA, Philippines – If you take a shortcut through the gritty side streets of Manila’s Pandacan district to avoid rush hour traffic, you may hear faint sounds of brass and percussion instruments amid the dull roar of jeepneys, tricycles, and trucks.

The sound grows louder as one approaches the end of Industria street. There, more than a dozen youth, their maestro, and their trainer literally breathe life into the phrase “street musicians.”

Residents out on errands amble and kids on bicycles whiz by, sometimes keeping time to the rhythm as 20-something maestro Mikee Agoncillo conducts the practice session of the brass marching band.

Banda Zamora is named after priest and hero Jacinto Zamora. One of the Gomburza – a trio of priests executed by the Spaniards in the 19th century on false charges of mutiny – he was born and raised just a stone’s throw away from the band’s headquarters at the corner of Industria and Hilum streets.

Current Banda Zamora Group. Photo courtesy of Banda Zamora

The band has a lot of incentive to practice these days. Ever since a video of their cover of Mayonnaise’s “Jopay” went viral, there has been an uptake in invitations for Banda Zamora to perform at various venues across Luzon. 

Melodious past

Banda Zamora was established in 1928 by Santos Daramidam, a member of the acclaimed Philippine Constabulary Band and the founder of the SADA Orchestra in 1925.  

Pandacan these days is a working-class, industrial community. But a century ago, according to assistant conductor Rodel Resurreccion, the community was famed for its art and music aficionados.

Banda Zamora’s students in 1957. Photo courtesy of Banda Zamora

“Many people had pianos in their homes. They knew how to play different instruments and to sing. They were well-to-do, and music became a pastime for them,” said the 47-year-old Resurreccion.

Whether it was due to its many little tributaries headed for the Pasig River or to this affinity with music-making, Pandacan was dubbed the “Little Italy of the Philippines” around the 19th century. 

Banda Zamora in the 1960s. Photo courtesy of Banda Zamora

The streets echoed with music by Father of Philippine Opera Ladislao Bonus, Soprano Teodora San Luis, the country’s first all-female orchestra, and zarzuelistas Eliseo Mendoza, Miguel Mansilungan, Pantaleon Lopez, and Florentino Ballecer.

While the sounds of industry now reign during daytime, Pandacan still holds on to its musical soul. Aside from Banda Zamora, there are other thriving marching bands: the Pandacan Community Band, the Sto. Nino de Pandacan Drum and Bugle Corps, and the Drum and Lyre Band.

Music in their blood

Banza Zamora’s 40 to 50 active members are mostly of school age. Agoncillo, who is just a few years older than some members, is the arranger of most of the pieces they play. 

Resurreccion is the hands-on guru, walking around, advising individual musicians on breathing – a crucial skill for marching band members. He also conducts one-on-one lessons with younger members.

Santos Daramidam (R) teaching a musician. Photo courtesy of Banda Zamora

They practice at least once a week on the street corner just outside the house where the descendants of Daramidam still live. 

“Many of the current members are descendants of the original band members,” according to Resurreccion. “We are part of the sixth or seventh generation.”

The assistant conductor learned his craft from former Tourism Band member Ponching Briones, who liked to gather student musicians at his house for lessons. “He was very strict about time, he wanted us to be prompt or even early for lessons,” recalled Resurreccion.

“I was 16 years old when I started learning – that was already late, actually,” he told Rappler. “My older brother was only 6 years old when he started learning to play the clarinet. He was a member of the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra and was assistant conductor of the UST Symphony Orchestra. Our youngest was 7 when he learned to play, and he was a member of the San Miguel Philharmonic Orchestra and Manila Symphony Orchestra.”

Resurreccion himself is a member of the Manila City Band. Agoncillo’s father, who was also a member of Banda Zamora, was a major influence. As his father would get ready for a gig with the band, the 6-year-old Agoncillo would ask, “Could I just try?”

Ponching Briones (L) on trumpet. Photo courtesy of Banda Zamora

Then his father would let him blow the trumpet. 

Soon after, Agoncillo started basic lessons under Resurreccion, who has spent decades on the sidewalk teaching members the fundamentals and methods of playing their instruments. The band’s demographic is mostly teens, but its youngest member is 8 years old, and the oldest, 62.

For many of the young musicians, membership in the band provides not just a platform of expression. It is also the route to stability, beyond the pocket money they earn from performances.

“Many private universities offer scholarships for members of marching bands, so it is a very good proposition for the members to hone and develop their talents and experience,” said Agoncillo.

Pandemic setback

Like most performing artists, band members were hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. The last occasions they played in 2020 were at the Sto. Nino de Muntinlupa Serenata in February and the Concert at the Park in Luneta on March 8. 

Then the stages went dark. 

Lockdown meant silence and isolation for the band members. They could practice playing their instruments at home, but they missed the companionship of playing side by side with their fellow members and neighbors – so close but made inaccessible due to restrictions. 

A year into their hiatus, Agoncillo organized a virtual orchestra, which rolled out its first song, “Ikaw,” popularized by Jonalyn Viray. 

“I felt disappointed for the time that passed when we had to completely stop activities, especially for the children I was teaching,” Resurreccion admitted. They only performed once during the pandemic though, during the Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League at SM MOA.

“But it was just a small group, we all had to be swabbed prior to the event, and apart from the players, there were very few people in the arena,” Resurreccion recalled.

Proud legacy

Playing in a brass and concert band is not a lucrative job. It is passion that fuels their drive. For Resurreccion, too, it is an advocacy to “help the younger generation [improve their craft and benefit from it].”

An annual gig is their participation at the Pandacan town fiesta in honor of the patron Sto. Nino. Residents have a traditional street dance called buling-buling in January, originally performed by young women. In beautiful dresses, folk sing and dance to the music of an orchestra or band in a procession leading to the church. Bystanders would throw coins, flowers, and confetti their way. 

In June 2005, buling-buling was adopted as the official cultural dance of Manila through City Council Resolution No. 65. The band also holds fundraising concerts like their anniversary concert in May and Christmas concert in December, both held at the Liwasang Balagtas, named after former Pandacan resident Francisco Balagtas.

Many members have come and gone, moving to another city or another country. Among their alumni are members of the police, accountants, engineers, nurses, chefs, and a flight attendant. 

But so strong is their camaraderie that when Agoncillo calls out for “inactive members” in town who would like to join a practice or participate in a gig, all they have to do is show up with their instruments.

Some nights, the sound of their instruments are overpowered by the blare of videoke machines. Pandacan’s canals no longer flow with fresh water. The times may call for different music genres. 

What remains constant in Banda Zamora and its peers is the love for music that flows through the veins of these keepers of a proud legacy. –

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