Dakila

“Dakila was pretty much ahead of its time back in 1971,” David Bustamante says. He might have a bias, but he isn’t totally wrong either — Over 40 years ago, Bustamante was one of the original members of Dakila, a Filipino Latin jazz rock band emerging on the heels of Carlos Santana. There was a slew of a la carte Santana groups emerging at the time, but what set Dakila slightly off course and into an record deal with Clive Davis' Epic/Columbia (now Sony) was this adherence to who they were as Filipinos. Despite only releasing one record, the group has sustained a somewhat global following decades after their prime. Blog Pinoygrooves literally could not have described this group any better:

“The music on this album presents a flavor that Latin freaks will not immediately recognize. They’ll hear the congas and timbales, the organ and guitars they know and love. But a subtle spice has been added to the pot, and it’s a whole new stew. The new flavor is Tagalog; it’s the Philippines. Just a taste more jungle than you’re used to, but then, who wants the same old dish all the time?”

On August 18, Dakila returns to SOMA in part with Undiscovered SF’s Sunday Streets event. Having already kicked off the season with an appearance from Jocelyn Enriquez, Undiscovered hopes to expand its music programming to include Filipino acts across the diaspora and generations. We spoke to Bustamente on how Dakila’s short-lived spotlight created a lasting legacy and what it could mean for the next generation of artists to come.

The Bay Bridged: In your mind, how do you remember Dakila during its heyday?

David Bustamante: We didn’t want to be lumped in with one of those Latin rock bands that came out of the Mission, we were a little different. At the time, after the success of Santana, recording camps were looking for bands that were similar. Then Malo came out and then they found us. But we were a little different, we wanted to keep our culture. We weren’t just Latinos from the Mission, we were Filipinos.

We changed our name (from Soul Sacrifice) to Dakila, which means ‘great’ and ‘noble’ — and some of the songs we did had Tagalog lyrics. So flash forward to nowadays, we’re very proud of what we did, we stuck to who we were and didn’t wash out with these recording companies. And part of the reason why we broke up, we didn’t go any further than that because of the times. No recording company wanted a Filipino band, even worse, no one wanted a band that spoke a foreign language.

TBB: The original Dakila band was largely a family band based in the Mission. How did those two identities — having Filipino ancestry and growing up in the Mission — shape your guys' sound?

DB: We were kind of two families — well, really one family — that came together and formed this band. And all of them had some kind of Filipino ties, either by marriage or they actually had Filipino ancestry: Our second guitar and bass player were cousins; Romeo, my brother, was our keyboard and organ player; my nephew was the drummer and our brother-in-law played timbre and percussions.

A lot of us were from the same community, played in the parks and developed a similar sense of guitar playing. So it was a sort of melting pot of music in the Mission district at that time. The whole Bustamante family actually came from a musical family — The name of Dakila came from our father, who was a musician himself, he was a career musician in the Air Force. I have three older brothers in different bands of music since the '50s. It was my older brother, Romeo, who’s 10 years older than me, he already found a band in San Francisco as soon as he got out of the Army, which was in 1969. And he had quite a following, he had a Santana cover band called Soul Sacrifice. And they were one of the first Santana cover bands and he developed a big following in the Asian [and] Filipino community and with a lot of the local clubs in San Francisco.

The most common thing we all said was that we couldn’t be like Santana, we can’t be like Malo, we can’t be like Azteca or whoever were those bands that were coming out at the time. We had to be a little different. And the only thing that we had different about us was a little bit of our culture and our ties to the Philippines. So instead of staying in the Mission district and box ourselves in, let’s go out toward the Pacific a little bit. Unfortunately the band broke up before we could really expand on that. But we did try to get some of that essence in the first album by using Tagalog lyrics and identifying with what was going on at the time.

TBB: That first record has been lauded as a cult classic, especially among OPM (Original Pilipino Music) fans. How did you find out about this and what was your reaction?

DB: So I had no idea the album was out there circulating all these years until the internet start becoming more accessible. I found out the album was bootlegged in Asia somewhere, copying it and reselling it. I think around seven or eight years ago, I had no idea that the album was being sold on eBay, that people were collecting it, auctioning it, reproductions of the album you could buy. There was a record company in Germany that was reproducing it and selling it. I’m questioning myself like, who is controlling all of this, where is all the money going to? So I started doing some research — our original publishing company broke up and just went defunct. So, who’s tracking all of this, BMI, was it ASCAP, things like that? Where is this leading to, YouTube? Someone must be making money or something.

I’m doing all this research and I’m finding people who are doing tribute bands, people collecting the album and trading them and I go, wow. The album just continued circulating out there in the world. And after I consulted with my music attorney, she says, you know you might as well just let that go. Because it’s going to be hard to track and of that; It’s everywhere. And I said, the good thing about it is it keeps the band popular, it keeps our name out there. And she says you should focus on new music and just get it out there on the internet because that’s what everyone is doing now. And that’s what I’ve been focusing on.

TBB: What triggered a comeback to the stage? Your performances feature a lot of new material, what can Dakila fans, old and new, expect at your show today?

DB: There was this book, Voices of Latin Rock, it’s like a textbook for Music Appreciation classes in college. I got a call from one of the promoters of Latin Rock Inc., Dr. Bernie Gonzalez, asking me if I knew anything about the book. Apparently, we are all over this book and I find out one of our ex-roadie turned promoter had interviewed representing the band. So everything in that book was through a third person and I was kind of bothered by that. But Dr. Bernie Gonzalez does this annual Latin Rock Inc. performance at Bimbo's 365 raising money for autism and we’re so much in this book, he tried to get us to perform. The first time I said I couldn’t do it, I don’t have a band. So I think in its 10th year, I think 2013, I said OK, I’ll put a band together for a tribute performance for the Voices of Latin Rock performance at Bimbo’s. And from there on, we’ve been sought after. We do fundraiser events, we’ve done Pistahan in San Francisco and Vallejo, festivals in Japantown.

A lot of our shows is new material because this is stuff that’s been sitting for a long time and it needs to come out. These are a lot of original songs that I wrote with the original Dakila, but we didn’t have a band to do it. And also, now that we’re free from the recording contracts, we can do whatever we want, wherever it goes. We have more creative freedom and creative say as to where it goes. The original album was totally done by our producers, we had no control over how it was played, how it was mixed, how fast it was played and where it went. So, now this is a different time where we have more control over it. The musicians surrounding me now are good musicians and they’re supporting with new ideas and any ideas I have.

TBB: As a Filipino-American myself, what I really appreciate about Undiscovered on the music front is that they've consistently been able to showcase the spectrum of Filipino and Fil-Am artists across generations. As part of the first Filipino band to get signed, what is it like for you to see more Filipinos finding success in both mainstream and independent industries?

DB: I think it’s great to see more of us out there in the forefront. I just hope to see more in venues and programs like the American Music Awards and Grammys. Seeing someone like Bruno Mars, who has Filipino ancestry, is great. He comes from a family like me — they all played covers, they struggled playing all throughout Waikiki, playing these small places and has really great talent in writing and arrangements.

With younger artists, I’m proud to see that happening and in what we were trying to do and not hide behind the Latino people or hide between the white people or rockers and things like that and keeping who we are at the front. So I’m proud to see more Filipino artists coming out, more and more polished and getting attention and deservedly so. Because for so many years, the Filipinos who were artists and had talent and something to contribute to the community were sort of oppressed. And it’s kind of part of our culture too. We weren’t troublemakers — we were okay, we got along with everybody but sometimes you have to speak up to get anywhere and to be proud.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Undiscovered with Native Elements, Dakila, Astig DJ crew, DJ Don Don
Folsom Street between 6th St & 7th
August 18, 2019
11am, all ages

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