Jerby Santo, lead singer and front man for the 80s indie-pop outfit Jaworski 7, can’t quite remember if it was the music that drove him into politics or the politics that thrust him into music.
Coming of age in Leyta, the Philippines, in the 1980s, the young Jerby couldn’t help but succumb to the politics of the time. Born in 1971, Jerby was an impressionable teenager in 1983 when protests against the Ferdinand Marcos government began.
“I started making songs when I was 13,” says Jerby, whose band plays The FCC in Phnom Penh on Sept. 28. “At the start, I had real a political edge.”
As he grew older, music and activism became intertwined. He joined the Filipino League of Students and became a cultural worker.
“I had my share of marching in the streets in the 90s,” he says, adding, “We would protect slums from being taken over by the government. I had my share of sleeping in safe house of NPAs. But eventually, I just understood how things worked and I veered toward the arts.”
The politics behind him, Jerby moved to Cambodia a year and a half ago. He soon fell in with other Filipino musicians, and then Australian drummer Marcus Tudehope, who had also spent time in the Philippines with men of questionable character.
“He got hooked up with some of the Communists in the Philippines,” Jerby says. “They really exposed him to the worst things that Manila can offer. These guys are like, they’re Communists; they have an armed resistance.”
Marcus tries to explain: “I met them in India. I didn’t know who they were. They didn’t tell me they were communists and they invited me over and then tried to indoctrinate me.”
Their communist plot failed. But the anecdote never fails to elicit howls from his band mates, who are all Filipino, and the experience meshes smoothly with the group’s larger narrative.
“If you trace this music that we are doing, its roots came from the time of EDSA and the revolution, the time that the People’s Power happened,” Jerby says.
Most of Jaworski 7’s music Jerby likes to call “indie, post-punk.” He rattles off a dozen band names for comparison, some familiar, others less so: Joy Division, The Smiths, The Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Gang of Four, The Pixies, Killers, Two Door Cinema Club, Vampire Weekend, Block Party.
“We’re a high-octane band,” he says, “so much energy.”
Jaworski 7 is among the growing number of Phnom Penh bands that play original music, too, and there is talk about making an EP before the evitable happens.
A tune called “Phnom Penh,” written by Jerby, is a number they plan to include.
“The song is about how ephemeral relationships are here among expats,” Jerby says. “People come and go. After that the moment is done. You try to make connections on Facebook but it doesn’t work. You’re starting relationships and you know it’s going to be doomed. That guy is going to be gone. That girl is going to be gone. These moments of temporal stability, you hold onto it while it’s there. Make the best out of it.”