The Queen of Rock | January 25, 2011

MANILA, Philippines – Before Lizza Nakpil managed one of the Philippines’ best selling rock bands, Rivermaya, she had never worked in the music industry.

Nakpil started in music management saddled with what she called the double curse. She was an outsider, and she was a woman in a predominantly male industry.

Initially, industry professionals didn’t take Nakpil seriously. She still remembers her first meeting with many band managers. They tested her music knowledge with one question–where did The Police first perform? When she couldn’t answer, they stood up and walked out.

It was in the early nineties that Nakpil heard True Faith’s monster hit “Perfect.” She recognized an alternative to the usual pop sound and a future for Filipino music.

“We have to have a band just like that,” she told her director friend, Chito Roño.

They called for auditions using a script Nakpil wrote herself, ripping a line from then blockbuster Dracula. “Do you believe in destiny?” ran in a single radio station from midnight to three am. “I said perfect, that’s when all the serial killers are awake.”

She may have had little faith in the time slot that announced a hunt for guitar and vocals, but that one plug was enough to wake up a 20-year-old boy asleep in provincial Laguna. Rico Blanco became the keyboardist and songwriter for the band that would eventually become Rivermaya.

Nakpil and Roño formed a group and worked quickly to book gigs. Before they were able to perform though, Nakpil fired the vocalist. “Gorgeous kid, great vocals but didn’t do the work. I kicked him out on an impulse,” she said.

The impulse paid off.

Nakpil called in another kid she always saw hanging around  bassist Nathan Azarcon. The kid was Bamboo Mañalac, who would later be known nationwide as the Prince of Rock.

At the auditions, Bamboo was only through the first lines of ‘Man in the Mirror’ when Chito Roño called him an amateur and left.

Nakpil ran after the director. She told Roño they would get him singing lessons. Bamboo, she said, had a unique voice.

Nakpil relies on her instincts. She knows other managers who listen to everything on air. But, she says, “I really do not listen to music as a recreational thing because… then you’re training your ear, you’re acquiring certain tastes, you’re not like a blank slate.”

She believes, “If you don’t have that expertise you’re just going to go for what sounds good in an unforgiving way.”

Femininity may be one half of a double curse, but there’s also an advantage to being a woman. Nakpil says, “At the end of the day, every Pinoy is a mama’s boy. There’s something in there that responds to women. There’s something in there that when they go for the kill, they may just pause and not go for it.”

Nakpil recalls many rock concerts that have become violent. At one, a fan was forcing his way towards the stage in spite of angry security personnel.

Nakpil intervened, pushing concert security aside. She called her reaction an “alpha male move.” She knows any man would have been thrown out of the concert for it.

“You can expect that even if you are a bitch, they are not going to slug you,” says Nakpil. “In the Philippines they give that respect to women.” – 

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