April 5, 2018 Khumb Mela Band’s Questions Turns 30
Arguably one of the most underrated and poorly promoted Philippine bands that emerged in the much-loved ’80s New Wave explosion was Khumb Mela Band. Although the group began as a promotional gimmick of Widdie Saulo, the owner of the local boutique shop Khumb Mela, in Metro Manila—which sold sports gear, bags, and music records—Khumb Mela Band eventually took off and carved a name of its own in the Philippine music scene in the late 1980s.
Formed in 1986, in Metro Manila, Philippines, Khumb Mela Band was comprised by Andrew Jeffs (vocals), Randy Capawan (guitars), Isidore Fernandez (keyboards), Alan Dichoso (bass), and Gregorio Reyes (drums, backup vocals). The band’s major influences included the popular New Wave–associated bands/artists of the time such as The Alarm (“Absolute Reality”), Billy Idol (“Dancing with Myself”), The Bølshøi (“A Way”), and Philippines’ very own New Wave pioneers Identity Crisis (“My Sanctuary”), The Dawn (“Dreams”), and Ethnic Faces (“Golden Boy”). However, according to Drummer Reyes himself, “My own compositions [that I contributed to the band] originated farther back in the late ’70s when I was still a very young musician.”
Unfortunately, despite the band’s promising start, Khumb Mela Band got to release only one album; and then, like many other hopeful young bands full of energy and ideas, they faded away in obscurity, until nobody seemed to remember them and their music anymore.
So, now that Questions – the said Khumb Mela Band’s only album – has turned 30, to remind the band’s followers about it and to reintroduce the music especially to the current generation’s enthusiasts of New Wave is simply a respectable thing to do. Considering that the archives of Philippine New Wave music is relatively small, the 30-year-old Questions then becomes a truly rare gem from the pearly land of the orient seas – worthy of yet another chance and of one’s reassessment.
Released in 1988, via 108 Music Records, Questions opened with the spirited rush of the angular, Progressive stomper “Moving Away.” This was followed by the carrier single – the graceful New Wave mid-tempo title track. The mood further slowed down with the sparse, soulful Sophistipop pulse of “Mystery Man.” Another Progressive New Wave combo came next in the form of the piano-led and bass-driven “Cosmic Journey,” which was a reincarnation of an older song that Reyes wrote in 1979, but which the band updated, drawing inspirations from the likes of Cutting Crew (“Any Colour”) and Missing Persons (“Tears”).
The overall Hinduism-inspired lyrical concept of the album was in full swing in the ensuing “Limited Pleasure,” whose monotonal vocal styling and anthemic guitar ad-lib complemented the song’s vision. Then there was the melodic Pop Rock track “In the Holy Names,” pulsating its way onto the dance-floor.
“Planet of Death” was a marked change of style and pace – metallic, frenetic, progressive – whose keyboard-and-guitar interplay and breakneck drumbeats might have recalled the initiated of Yngwie Malmsteen (“Rising Force”). Khumb Mela Band then took the listener to the Psychedelia-infused Sophistipop/Ethereal lullaby of “Song of the Swanlike,” exuding crisp plucks and echoes of Identity Crisis’ “Sumigaw, Umawit Ka [You Shout and Sing].” The penultimate track, the syncopated “Govinda” predated the 1996 song of the same title by the Britpop band Kula Shaker.
Finally, Khumb Mela Band concluded Questions with the poppy, mellifluous, and calming New Wave tune “After the Storm.”
In 1991, the members of Khumb Mela Band silently ended their musical journey together. Afterwards, Jeffs embarked on a solo career, releasing the album Nasaan Ka? [Where Are You?] on Dyna Records. Capawan did sessions for Binky Lampano, the vocalist of another legendary New Wave band, Dean’s December (“It Doesn’t Snow in Manila”). Fernandez became the keyboardist of the enduring New Wave Rock band The Dawn (“I Stand with You”) for the stretch of the 1990s. Dichoso sessioned for bands that included Mariya (“Guess Who?”) and Mulatto (“Full Circle”). Reyes quit the music scene altogether, deciding to concentrate on his other career, as a full-time member of the Philippine National Police.
In 2010, amid a brewing interest in Khumb Mela Band’s reunion, Vocalist Jeffs succumbed to the illness that he was suffering from for quite some time. The plans and talks of a possible follow-up to Questions, sadly, went with Jeffs to the grave. Love lost! Death had torn them apart.
In lieu of flowers and candles, quietly pay remembrance to Jeffs and tribute to the rest of Khumb Mela Band by playing Questions one more time; this time, in a proper perspective and attention to sonic details. While doing this, close your eyes and do the Lotus position as you conjure in your mind an image of the band as they take you once again with them in their cosmic journey… in rhythm, in melodies, and in spirit.