They’ve enraptured millions with their brand of wholehearted, full-bodied folk pop, and have quickly ranked among the new torchbearers of Filipino music. Now, as Ben&Ben approaches the completion of their first album, they look back with satisfaction at everything it took to get here.
MANILA, Philippines — The studio is small and high up in an old building in Mandaluyong, behind one of many identical doors along a poorly-lit hallway. Its receiving area is bright and comfortable in the way that a dentist’s office tends to be: a little unexpected, but charming still. At just a glance, you might not guess that this is the womb of Ben&Ben’s new album — their first album — which is also almost certainly the culmination of their swift rise to prominence over the past two years.
In between all the concerts, gigs, endorsement duties and press engagements that have come with the scale of their success, the band has been recording here for weeks now, and a little whiteboard in a corner says that the album is about 58.14 percent complete. The band says it’s really at about 68 percent, which is heartening, because it will no doubt mark another tipping point, another big moment for a group of artists whose time has come. And after everything they’ve been through, it really couldn’t have come sooner.
There are nine of them in the band — Paolo, Miguel, Poch, Jam, Agnes, Patricia, Toni, Andrew and Keifer — but the origin story is simple enough. A little over two years ago, Paolo Benjamin Guico and Miguel Benjamin Guico (twin brothers, musicians, and at the time, an act called The Benjamins) recruited a bunch of talented musicians to record some songs together. Naturally, when the brothers found an opportunity to play these songs live, they asked the very same bunch to join them. Miguel Guico says it’s a little like The Avengers, in that way: Ben&Ben started with “an idea, to bring together a group of remarkable people.”
But the band’s percussionist, Andrew De Pano, thinks it’s a little more like something out of a rom-com. “Collectively, para siyang ’yung feeling na, when you’re at a party and you meet someone and you end up talking to them for a long time,” he says, thinking back to that first gig they played together live. “Tapos after that, never na ulit kayo magkikita, and that makes you feel so sad. But then you realize you want to see them again.”
In the spirit of a rom-com meet-cute, some pining and bashful coaxing followed, until they eventually decided to play another show together. That began a four-month courtship among the members of the group, carried out through long nights at gigs and on afternoons as a barkada, hanging out and chowing down at a local Yellow Cab. The relationship only came to be defined at a food court, where they gathered and had what they call “the talk.” It ended in a mutual decision to commit to making music together, and the rest, to put it succinctly, is history.
Hunger and hustle
Naturally, there were some growing pains. “It didn’t come easy, especially in those first few months,” says Miguel. “Talagang, literally, friendship, hunger, passion ’yung nag-drive sa ’min.” The band recalls playing gigs and taking home P500 a night — a paycheck they had to divide among all nine.
“This is something you really have to fight for with all your being,” says De Pano, recounting the uphill battle of those first few months. For every member of the band, taking up this line of work was a risk; a leap of faith. “Everyone will tell you not to go for it, kasi, grabe, paano nga naman siya mangyayari,” De Pano says. “It’s a 0.001 percent chance. So you have to make all these difficult calls.”
But difficult as they were, those calls were made. “We just had a feeling na kailangan lang namin siyang ituloy, kahit na minsan, logic would tell us otherwise,” says Paolo Guico. “It’s like jumping off a cliff and building your wings on the way down.” Thankfully, it was a risk that paid off. “We built our wings naman.”
Today, Ben&Ben are among the most streamed Filipino artists on Spotify. They play across the country and to crowds in the thousands. They’ve even gotten their music into hit movies like Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral, Exes Baggage, The Write Moment and Siargao. All of this has made it easy for big brands like Coca-Cola and Globe and Yellow Cab to chip in and give them an even bigger platform. They were the little nine-piece that could — and now that they actually have, they get to look back in satisfaction.
Each of the nine recalls a different moment when they started to feel that the trudge was worth it. They have memories of their performance at the University of Santo Tomas’s 2017 Paskuhan, which was the first time they asked a crowd to put up phone lights. (The crowd obliged, of course, and the grounds lit up like a starry night.) They have memories of a rabid fan screaming an en masse wedding proposal to all nine members of the band as they performed onstage. They also have memories of a fan who told them that one of their songs helped reunite his brother with their family.
The common thread among these moments is a meaningful connection with the listeners — something the band values deeply. Every sacrifice, every blind leap of faith, every act of defiance feels rewarded when they get to see their music resonating with people in profound ways. “We always go back to the reason why we’re doing this,” says Miguel. “It’s because of the songs, it’s because of the music, and it’s our connection to our audiences.”
That connection is palpable at Ben&Ben’s live performances, where people sway and cry and lose themselves in the songs and their heartfelt lyrics. You can feel it in the comments section of their YouTube videos, which tend to be littered with curse words — sometimes addressed to the band, for knowing so well how to tug at the heartstrings; but often addressed to an ex, to the one that got away, or to love itself. Ben&Ben’s music has proven potent in exorcizing these feelings from their audiences, and they seem to be most fulfilled by that.
With the new album on the way and no shortage of shows to play, Ben&Ben remain hitched to the back of a boundless rising star. The risks, the sacrifices, the hustle — all of it has been worthwhile because now, they’re holding up the torch for Filipino music
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