Filipino band Ben&Ben will give Expo 2020 Dubai performance its all

Critically acclaimed Filipino band will be playing two unreleased songs exclusively for the world fair March 9 at the Jubilee Stage

Photos: Supplied
Photos: Supplied

Kirstin Bernabe

Published: Tue 8 Mar 2022, 5:23 PM

Last updated: Tue 8 Mar 2022, 6:11 PM

What Expo 2020 visitors are about to see on Wednesday, March 9, at the Jubilee Stage is the heart, grit and passion of a critically acclaimed Filipino band whose music has been streamed over a billion times on Spotify.

Ben&Ben, a nine-member folk-pop collective, is giving Dubai its best shot — after all, this will be the band's biggest live performance since the pandemic packed up gigs around the world. The band members have waited for this moment.

“(We’ve) been working nonstop for the past few weeks in preparation for the next few days. Can’t wait to play our hearts out to Dubai,” Miguel Benjamin, who is on vocals and acoustic guitar, wrote in a post ahead of their trip to the emirate. Snippets of their band life on social media gave fans a glimpse of how hard they had been rehearsing for the world’s greatest show.

And now they are here, just a few hours away from mending and melting hearts with their anthems that have made the Philippines proud.

“Leaves will soon grow from the bareness of trees, and all will be alright in time.…Oh, you never really love someone until you learn to forgive,” they said in the song Leaves, which topped even the charts in South Korea and impressed K-Pop stars.

Ben&Ben is ready to outdo itself at the world fair, playing two unreleased songs — titled Comets and Dear — exclusively for the Expo crowd. The lucky ones who will be able hear the singles live won’t be able to listen to it anywhere else after the show, as the songs might not be available on streaming hubs anytime soon.

“Both songs are really different from each other in terms of vibe, but we feel that they really brought out where we are so far in terms of our music, life experiences, and as a band,” said Paolo Benjamin, another vocalist who also plays the acoustic guitar.

The mega event, they said, would be the best platform to perform these songs for the first time ever.

“Expo 2020 Dubai is a step towards the new chapter we want to go into,” Paolo said, highlighting the band’s dream of travelling the world with their music.

“At the same time, (performing at the fair) hits home, as we will be playing not only for our fan community Liwanag (which means Light), but the rest of the Filipinos in Dubai, along with anyone else who would want to watch our show. We’re excited because this hits many things at once, so we’re giving it our all,” he added.

Ben&Ben’s set list for tomorrow is about an hour and a half long, so fans and spectators can expect a full-on show, complete with lights and striking visuals across the stage.

They will be playing a mix of new and iconic songs, including those from their latest album Pebble House Vol. 1 Kuwaderno.

“We’re proud of that set list as it represents us quite well. The songs represent the emotions and stories we have to share from the experiences we’ve been through over the past years,” said Poch Barretto, who is on electric guitar.

Get to know the ‘nine-piece nuggets’

Ben&Ben has come a long way in just around five years — from playing gigs that earned the band members just enough to buy a single order of chicken nuggets at a fast-food chain to being the most streamed Filipino artist on Spotify.

Combining folk and indie with pop sensibilities, they have redefined the Philippines’ mainstream music with a sound that bridges traditional beats and melodies with contemporary rhythms. Their songs also told stories that many found themselves in. While some explored love, heartbreak and unrequited feelings, others served as reminders to slow down and find time to breathe during the worst of days.

“As long as life keeps moving forward, there will always be new experiences to write about,” said Paolo, who, with his twin brother Miguel, has written many of the band’s songs.

Their latest album Pebble House Vol 1, for example, captured a number of social issues that plagued the Philippines amid the pandemic, from mental health challenges to injustices.

Pebble House touched on a lot of social issues because I think at a certain age, you really start to open your senses to what’s happening around you. And simply observing what’s happening can already spark something within,” Paolo said.

Every Ben&Ben song is born out of the passion and talent of each member of the band: Besides Paolo and Miguel, they have Poch Barretto on electric guitar, Jam Villanueva on drums, Agnes Reoma on bass, Patricia Lasaten on keyboards, Toni Muñoz and Andrew de Pano on percussions, and Keifer Cabugao on violin.

Everyone contributes to the arrangement and gets to share a piece of themselves for their music.

“What I love about my bandmates is that we haven’t really stuck to a certain genre. And that really gives us freedom to make music and arrange songs based on the feelings that they evoke and the feelings that we want to communicate,” said Andrew.

Did you know?

They lived in one house when Covid hit. At the peak of the pandemic, the band moved in together so they can keep making music and do virtual shows for their fans amid lockdowns. They have lived under one roof for over a year, and they made the most of it: They produced vlogs and even had a series called BBTV, which allowed their fans to get to know each of them better. They also managed to hold their first major online concert.

Ben&Ben’s Dubai bucket list

> Show Filipinos some love

(A meet-and-greet is coming up. Details will be shared on the band’s social media pages )

> Try new food (they love eating out)

> Create new moments as a band — in the great outdoors (since they have been cooped up at home for over a year)

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