Defiant Beat

Published in Metro Society magazine, August 2014

Can you hear the sound, she sings, in a voice that soars. The enunciation and clarity of tone is reminiscent of a young Lea Salonga and the vocals are distinctly Filipina, with a delicate lilt that is the singer’s own. We dance to the beat of a different drum, she declares. From the rooftops hear the distant hum. This is the music video for the single “Different Drum” and it shows a woman dressed all in black with kohl-lined eyes, wearing a feathered fascinator and neckpiece inspired by Black Swan and1920s dark glam.

Get ready to meet Cherrie Anderson, fierce frontwoman for London-based electronica band Ooberfuse. They describe their songs as, “audio footprints left behind by people impelled towards invisible things.” Although not as well-known in the Philippines, the band has a sizeable following in London due to their spirited East-meets-West beats and fearlessness in tackling serious themes, from political oppression to sex trafficking. They were named as the most original band in a UK-wide competition out of 10,000 initial entrants, where the final play off was in London’s iconic O2 arena.

If that wasn’t enough, the band packs some serious credentials. Who else can say they opened for Pope Benedict during the World Youth Day 2011 in Spain (playing to a live audience of about 2 million), or that they once performed live in the House of Lords? The band has also toured and headlined concerts in Brazil, Canada, Portugal, the United Kingdom and the Vatican. They have released two albums so far, with their third album in the works.

Cherrie’s musical anointing is in her blood. “My mom loves to sing. She also taught me how to play the piano.  My mother is passionate about all kinds of music, folk pop in particular. In addition to la-la-la-la-ing along to Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘The Boxer’, I was rocked to sleep as a baby to Freddie Aguilar,” she said. At the age of six, Cherrie began singing and playing the piano in her local church, eventually singing in various churches and other venues in her teens. She amassed a repertoire of songs in her head and aside from folk songs and OPM, is familiar with jazz standards, gospel, R&B and British pop. If she’s in the mood, she might sing something from Oasis or the musical Grease as well.

Despite the early start and obvious talent, Cherrie didn’t set out to become a professional musician; instead, she wanted to become a lawyer. “My dad is a lawyer, so I was always interested in social justice.” She completed an LLM (Law) degree at the London School of Economics and Political Science. It’s one of the most prestigious universities in Europe, and their Law Department is the UK’s number one research institution.

Eventually, Cherrie realized that her interest in social issues and passion for music could be brought together – fused, as it were. When she met her current bandmate Hal St. John, she started writing music. Today, Cherrie, Hal and producer Kinky Roland make up Ooberfuse. True to their name, the band experiments with combining an assortment of musical traditions, melodies, and instruments.

“Music, for me, is one of the more effective ways of highlighting social justice issues. It is not a solitary occupation. Inspiration comes from engaging with others. Meeting people in London who share a common vision about the power of music to lift up those who have fallen down and to heal the hurts of a broken world provided the impetus to write and launch out into the shark-infested waters of the music industry,” Cherrie explained.

One of the challenges she faced when she started out was being a Filipina who was trying to break into the British music industry. “As with any industry, it is natural to want to protect local initiative from outside competition,” she said. “The lovely thing about London though, is that it is such a melting pot of cultures.”

“Initially, it was a challenge working out how my Filipino identity could be blended with other nationalities without compromising or offending either. But we found that it pays to be true to who you are. For example, we sometimes fuse Filipino instruments like the kulintang in our music and to our surprise, British people like it!” Ooberfuse has received support from Ministry of Sound, BBC Radio, Swedish House Mafia, London dance act Faithless and even 80s icon Boy George, who complimented their cover of “Turn 2 Dust”, calling it cool and quirky.

Cherrie shared, “We’ve also partnered with various charities where we use the power of music to give a voice to the voiceless – such as the Sophie Hayes Foundation, the British Pakistani Christian Association, Christian Solidarity Network, Aid to the Church in Need and others.”

This desire to engage their audience on a deeper level and call attention to a diverse number of issues can be heard in tracks such as “Free Asia Bibi” and “Blood Cries Out” on their album Seventh Wave, which both reference the persecution of Christians in Pakistan. “Rescue” is a song from the perspective of a sex trafficking survivor, and the more recent single “March of the Downtrodden” gives voice to victims of sexual abuse. They have also collaborated with North Korea’s only known death camp survivor in the song “Vanish the Night”. The weight of their musical subject matter is balanced by their catchy beats and rhythms.

Such depth and complexity is unusual in the current electronica/techno scene, making Ooberfuse a rebel of sincerity in a sea of synthetic, surface-level lyrics. Their focus is a result of Cherrie’s Filipino values and beliefs. “My faith, which was nurtured in the Philippines, infiltrates all aspects of my life.”

Even though she’s been in different places growing up (aside from Manila, she’s lived in San Francisco, Kuala Lumpur, and London), Cherrie still counts the Philippines as her home, and makes it a point to visit Manila or other parts of the country at least once a year. “I love Christmas in Manila. Filipinos are the best at showing the world how to celebrate Christmas. The tradition of Noche Buena, singing carols, and families coming together make up my favorite childhood memories.” Last year, Ooberfuse did a haunting rendition of “Oh Holy Night” featuring five children who survived Typhoon Yolanda for charity.

One interesting fact about Cherrie is that her palate has remained quite Pinoy, in spite of her travels and years spent abroad. “Whilst most people in London are happy with pasta, bread or potatoes, I have to eat rice once a day. I also love tortang talong, kesong puti, pandesal, ube cake and danggit,” she enumerated. She’s also familiar with some local restaurants. “I like Tapa King, Kimpura and Pancake House.”

Cherrie works tirelessly on developing new material inspired by her faith, current events and whatever topic, theme or issue captures her or her bandmates interest. A typical day for her and the rest of Ooberfuse starts with breakfast in Brixton, South London, where they discuss plans for their new album, music videos or upcoming events. Afterwards, they usually head over to the studio to work on a track for their album.

“We also make time for phone interviews, email interviews and radio shows. At night, if we have a gig somewhere, such as in Camden Town, we do the necessary preparations and soundcheck for a set. After the gig, we have dinner while dissecting how the show went. Then we all go home and do it all over again the next day,” she cheerfully added.

This year has been a busy one for Cherrie. Recently, Ooberfuse was selected to be part of a 20-date tour of UK universities as part of The Coffee House Sessions, curated by Huw Stephens of Radio 1. It’s a fun project that brings students and artists together for live performances on university grounds. Those interested can check out the band’s Facebook page, Soundcloud, Twitter or their official website www.ooberfuse.com.

The band released a couple of new songs earlier this year, and has just released their latest single, “Different Drum”, last July 28 via Peak Flow Records. It’s a bold encouragement to those who choose to declare their difference to the world. “We would like to keep making music that connects with people all around the world. We are currently working on an album which we are looking to release later within the year. It will include a couple of Filipino-inspired tracks.” It’s an album that long-time fans in the UK and other parts of Europe are anticipating, and could be the thing that reaches out to local Filipino audiences looking for something fresh, significant and cross-cultural.

For Cherrie, being a Filipino means acknowledging the greater things. “It means a love for God, family and community. Being Filipino means finding beauty and generosity in humanity.” This is exactly what Cherrie seeks to do with her music, as she challenges listeners to stand up, pay attention and dance to the defiant beat of a different drum.

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