When someone says the word “karaoke,” undoubtedly images of Japanese businessmen come to mind. Think Maroon 5's popular music video for 'Sunday Morning' which opens with an off-key rendition of 'This Love' as performed by an elderly Japanese man at Karaoke Nikiri. As ingrained as karaoke is in contemporary Japanese business culture, there is another Asian culture with a passion for music as deep-seated as their love of faith and food.
“Music is a really huge part of Filipino culture – you know, pretty much everyone has a karaoke machine in their house and singing is just a part of life,” said Filipino-American Argel Isaguirre.
Isaguirre, the son of two Filipino immigrants describes his upbringing as filled with music. His dad, who came to Alaska in the late 80s, was a singer-songwriter, his mom a singer and his brother played piano. The 24-year-old, who recently made the decision to quit his 9-to-5 job to pursue music as a full-time gig, largely credits his Filipino upbringing for inspiring his love of music. Well, that and being required to pick up an instrument in elementary school.
“When I had to pick an instrument for band in elementary school my parents suggested I play sax, so I did for six years and it was cool and stuff but, there was just something more special about the guitar. I mean, my dad was a musician back in the Philippines and he played throughout my childhood so I grew up listening to him on the guitar. He actually taught me my first chords,” recalled Isaguirre.
In 2014, Isaguirre's dedication to music was put to the test when the sudden passing of his dad tarnished his relationship with music.
“It was definitely really painful because music was such a big part of my relationship with my dad. For a while, I honestly didn't know if I would be able to return to playing. But I think he'd be happy to know that I am following my passion and that I didn't give it up,” said Isaguirre who has played in a wide variety of bands including the Old Hounds, the Conway Seavey Band and Kalo.
Stylistically, Isaguirre's long locks best lend themselves to headbanging to metal, but the young guitarist is trying to stay as versatile as possible.
“When I started playing guitar it was for the church choir at Saint Anthony's but I always loved rock and metal. I've also played in the UAA Jazz Combos and now I am getting into R&B. The idea is to be able to play as many styles as I can, so I can go where I am needed,” explained Isaguirre.
Right now Isaguirre is a staple in two of Anchorage's hardest working bands – the Conway Seavey Band and Kalo. A cursory look at the performance schedules for both bands yields a staggering amount of back-to-back gigs all across the state. But you won't find Isaguirre complaining – in fact, he loves the hustle.
“Right now I am just grinding to the fullest and getting out there. You know, being a hired gun or a session musician is a really different ballpark to play in because it takes a lot to keep it going but I'm getting the experience I need to play outside of Alaska one day,” said Isaguirre with a smile.
But for now, Isaguirre is just relishing his new life as a full-time guitarist because as he puts it: “success in music means that you're doing it, you're doing what you love.”
To listen to O'Hara Shipe's full interview with Argel, check out the Anchorage Press podcast on SoundCloud .