Winnipeg’s home-grown musicians



Jojo Yso: Rocking Winnipeg

Levy Abad

First of a series

September 6, 2016

Jojo Yso arrived in Winnipeg in 1987 and right away he looked for a band to join, the name of which he cannot recall anymore. In the following year, he joined the Off Limits Band.

The year that Jojo left the Philippines, the country was full of hope. The dictatorship was just ousted, but in the midst of this change, the music scene was shifting too.

The curse of the karaoke was slowly creeping and killing the livelihood of folk singers and rock bands.

The peasants were massacred at the bridge leading to Malacañang (President’s Palace) for singing the song “Dapat Bawiin” (Retake the Land). It was during this time when I was beginning to delve into peoples’ art and studying the songs of activist songwriters including Gary Granada’s Bahay, Joey Ayala’s Santa Filomena while halfway across the world, Jojo, whom I will meet later in 2010, was singing to ease the pain of our people in the diaspora. This is the context and the time of Jojo’s journey as a musician. Jojo is fortunate to have crossed over to a country that is still insulated from the wave of change in the music industries ever changing terrain..

Jojo Yso (submitted)
Jojo Yso (submitted)

Off Limits
As a newly arrived migrant and artist endowed with a restless soul, Jojo cannot wait to join a band and take on the stage to satisfy his thirst for music while earning something on the side or to hit Nashville or Hollywood by storm. Thus the Off Limits Band was formed with Jojo as guitar player/vocalist, Ardie Sarao (a guitar legend in the Filipino community), Willy Liwanag who plays the bass guitar and Lito Balmes.

They performed Pinoy Rock songs and also Glam Rock. Glam Rock is like the music of Poison, Motley Crue, The Cult, Def Leppard and Cinderella. Glam Rock is short for Glamorous Rock because of the way the bands dressed-up. According to Jojo, the Off Limits Band was around for two to three years. He added that after some time, Ardie Sarao left the group, went solo and ventured into the mainstream community. (Text messages of Jojo Yso- September 2, 2016). With Ardie bidding adieu to the group to go solo and other pressures affecting the lives of the rest of the band members, they decided to part ways for a time and regroup with new artists to form a group known as One Band.

ONE band (1989-90)

Sometime in 1989, Jojo joined another group called the One Band. The crew of this band were Jojo Yso (Lead Guitar/ Vocals), Willy Liwanag (Bass), Noel Marana (Drummer) and Bernard Mercado (Lead Guitar). Jojo told me that they used to perform Hard Rock songs or music. They used to cover Iron Maiden, Scorpions, Bad Company, Pink Floyd (Text messages of Jojo Yso, September 2, 2016). From the Glam Rock genre, Jojo, together with his bandmates, transitioned to another style. This shift in style and musical pieces entailed changes in influences. The moment a guitar player studies musical pieces of new musicians, he is changed too and has to absorb and really master the new arrangement. This is tough for band leaders because they have to lead in terms of arrangement, aside from being the admin of the band. After a couple of years and economic pressures, some members of the band left the group to find greener pastures and those who decided to stay on licked the pain of losing buddies, raised the banner of rock and roll and go on with the march to guitartopia with a new group called Exodus.

Between 1991 and 1993, while the world was still fresh from the fall of the Berlin Wall, another local transformation occurred with the founding of a group called Exodus. Exodus was comprised of Jojo Yso (rhythm guitar), Ricky Natoc (drums), Willy Liwanag (bassist), Janjan Natoc (keyboard) and Jun Magnaye (lead vocals/guitar/second keyboard). Jojo shared that Exodus was more geared toward 80s and 90s song and classic rock, the likes of ToTo, Europe, Duran Duran, Santana, REO Speed Wagon, Journey and Eagles(Jojo Yso’s text message, September 6,2016).

This group was kind of transitional since by 1993, it metamorphosed into After Touch due to pressures of migration. One of its members had to look for better opportunity somewhere. Qualitatively, there will be a shift in approach as most of the eventual members of After Touch are musicians who read notes like Frank Urbano.

After Touch

Came 1993, the group, After Touch, was born. After Touch was known as the community’s sessionistas and was also a show band. The members of this group were Joso Yso (acoustic and lead guitars), Frank Urbano (bass player/band leader/arranger), Jun Urbano (2nd keys), Jonjon Natoc (1st keys), Darius Dandan (saxophone), Maui Zamora (percussionist). Most of the performances of After Touch were with bands that visited from the Philippines.

Known as a band that reads notes, they can right away gel with fellow musicians from the old country. I had the chance to listen to the album of After Touch, which, by the way, was mixed by Paul Morrow, and it sounded awesome. Unfortunately, their album was not released. I am still hoping that this album will be launched one day as it is a part of the Filipino community’s spirit of the 1990s.

Jojo Yso recalled the places where After Touch performed. The band gigged twice at the Concert Hall, four times at the Pantages, five or more at the Burton Cummings Theatre. They also played as sessionists for Rachel Alejandro, Ogie Alcasid, Raymong Lauchenco, Ariel Rivera, Rey Valera, Erick Santos and Allan K. as well as the opening act for Basil Valdez, Jaya and Sarah Geronimo. They also did back-up for Maan Dionisio of Miss Saigon, a major PCCM event held at the Concert Hall.

With all these achievements, I think After Touch was Winnipeg’s premiere band of the 90s and early 2000s.However, in 2011, the band parted ways. The good news is members of the After Touchh will be playing again as a group in this year’s Octoberfest to back-up local artist (Jojo Yso’s text message, September 2, 2016).

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