Cooky Chua and Joaquin Ignacio on making music and the changing times

Cooky Chua and Joaquin Ignacio on making music and the changing times
Joaquin Ignacio and Cooky Chua —PHOTOS BY JUN BANDAYREL

For some time it was a familiar scene: Wherever the singer Cooky Chua and Color It Red performed, her young son Joaquin Ignacio would be doodling backstage. At one point, during a break, he strode onto the stage, strumming his small guitar.

Not surprisingly, Joaquin would heed the same calling years later: He picked up his guitar, composed songs, formed his own band and joined two others, and did his own gigs—despite his mother’s reservations.  

At 22, Joaquin (or “Waki”), Cooky’s son with comedian Earl Ignacio, is the vocalist and lead guitarist of his own band, Cutting Corners. He performs with two others, Suspiria Pink and Crashing Past Midnight.     

He plays personal compositions for his own band and set pieces for the other two. He’s into blues, punk, rock.

More than playing guitar

Joaquin played lead guitar for a band during high school at the Community of Learners in San Juan City, but felt something missing. Then, in college at the University of the Philippines, he got a kick from singing while doing gigs.  

“In high school, not everyone is on the same level of musicality or commitment. I had to do this, play more than just doing the guitar. So I started singing,” he told outside My Brother’s Mustache Bar in Quezon City, where Cooky performs every Friday.  

In college, he went from learning how to sing to writing his own songs. “My mom didn’t teach me,” he said.  

Cooky butted in and happily revealed that Joaquin’s songs are on Spotify. (One can look up “Make believe” and “Don’t you dare,” among others.)  

Joaquin has come a long way. 

“When I was young, my mom never wanted me to play because she knew that the life of a musician is hard. So while growing up, I didn’t want us to be doing the same thing. That’s why I took up fine arts in college,” he said.

More than clicking

Cooky had her reasons. She said that while Color It Red “clicked” with the Filipino audience from the 1990s onward, this did not translate to a steady flow of income for the band members, for one reason or another. 

In the end, she had to look for a day job to augment her income. 

Color It Red, an alternative rock band, was formed in 1989, a turbulent year marked by a coup attempt on the administration of President Corazon Aquino. Five years later, in 1994, the band released its debut album “Hand Painted Sky,” which carried the hit song “Paglisan.” The band was voted Best New Artist at the Awit Awards in 1995. 

Members came and went over the years, but Color It Red managed to pull through and release four more albums. It released its fifth album, “Silver,” in 2017.

Cooky is also part of the Tres Marias, with Lolita Carbon and Bayang Barrios, which was born out of the campaign for the reproductive health bill in 2012 during the presidency of Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III. 

In a career spanning more than three decades, Cooky has experienced the highs and lows of performing in the local music scene.  

Artists often get the raw end of the deal, she observed. They would be asked to perform in some fundraiser gratis and often made to feel this is par for the course. But there was an extreme case in which they were not only not paid for an out-of-town gig organized by local officials, but also roughed up.  

“During the pandemic, we were doing fundraising. Nobody helped us; we were not on the list of ayuda (government aid) beneficiaries,” she said. 

And there are times when certain artists experience blatant discrimination, such as in a concert in which a popular singer who played a recorded song received a bigger paycheck than an artist who played live with her instruments, Cooky recalled.

Her advice to Joaquin: “While you’re young, you can take another course, say digital arts, and earn income. It’s not sure that you’re going to click. If you really want to earn from performing, perform abroad.”

Gig figures

Cooky Chua
Cooky Chua performs at My Brother’s Mustache Bar in Quezon City.

How much does he bring home from a performance? Said Joaquin: “It depends on the gig; sometimes I earn as little as P300. It depends on the gate share of the venue, and sometimes I can get P5,000 to P8,000.”

He added: “The little pay actually comes from band gigs, and the most I have earned from a band gig was P1,o00. But that’s because we have to divide the talent fee among ourselves.”

Solo acoustic gigs could pay more, ranging from P5,000 to P8,000, he said.  

Times have changed. Unlike in Cooky’s time, musicians can now record songs without a label and market this on their own. Still, one needs to see to one’s best interests, Cooky said. 

“It’s better in a way because you can self-produce,” she said.

Cooky’s happy that she and Joaquin did gigs together during the pandemic. 

In 2020, when the health crisis set off a series of lockdowns in Metro Manila and the rest of the country, they did an online show together for BusinessMirror’s “SoundStrip Live & in Quarantine.” Joaquin played guitar as Cooky sang Gary Granada’s “Paano Mahalin ang Katulad Mo?” which she performed in “Lean: A Filipino Musical” in 1997.  

“My No. 1 challenge is with the way I carry myself. I am similar to my dad, introvert and quiet,” Joaquin said of Earl Ignacio, who is also a film director.  “And this job requires me to be chatty.”

He has made it clear he’s averse to doing short-form content on TikTok.  

“You wanna write songs, but three times a week you’re going to post some video that has nothing to do with your music. But at the same time, it’s unavoidable; it’s the trend and it will help you earn,” he said. 

But apart from gigs, Joaquin also paints in his free time. “It’s the artistry. If you like to create, why stick to one way of doing it?” he said.

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