(Clockwise, from front right) Irine Ali Bong Alfonso Soliano, Isabella, Rachel, Diosdado and Chanelle.
Tristano Soliano with his niece, Diane Guerzo.
Alfonso Soliano jamming with the band.

They are one of the most talented musical families in Malaysia. Stuart Danker gets up close and personal with the Solianos

MOST people would have heard of the Solianos, and many will relate the family’s name to music. Some say that they are the most talented musical family in the country.

But how many of us are actually aware of the real grind and effort behind the collective musical genius of the family? The Solianos, with family members spread all over Malaysia and Singapore, are a testament to what can be achieved when you mix inborn talent with the more conventional endeavours of hard work.

The history of the Solianos’ music tradition goes back a long way. A good starting point would be the period of British rule. During that time, 64 musicians from the Philippines were brought here to play in troupes. They included Rufiano Soliano.

The pivotal event of his arrival has created a musical tradition that spans almost a century and counting. Rufiano’s son, Alfonso Soliano, would eventually build upon this and become a jazz legend.

ALFONSO’S

PASSION

His passion for music was so strong that Alfonso took to coaching orchestra members in his own time, as many musicians during that period played by ear or learnt music informally. He was truly generous with his knowledge and was constantly at the forefront of efforts to better the music scene.

Some of his earlier productions can still be found on 33rpm records, but in general, Alfonso’s music has stood the test of time. His numerous works include Gadis Idaman Ku and musical scores that he did for the late P. Ramlee’s first movie Chinta. He also shouldered other big musical responsibilities, which included conducting and arranging for the-then Orkes RTM (Radio Television Malaysia), which he founded and won many awards and recognition for the country.

Alfonso used to bring his children along to expose them to the world of music. His daughter, Isabella Alfonso recalls: “Back then, you took things for granted. As a child, you followed where your father went. Once, he brought the family and parked up a hill as he conducted an orchestra at the venue down below. Now, when I look back, I can appreciate how immense the scale of his work was.”

Alfonso’s desire for perfection translated into the results of his labour, and he was sought after wherever he went. Even upon his migration to Thailand, his contributions to the Land Of Smiles did not go unnoticed and he was awarded by the King of Thailand for his work in his band. Due to unfortunate circumstances however, one of the awards was stolen by a visitor to the house. Both prize and person were never to be seen again.

Another bout of bad luck hit again when Alfonso suffered a stroke but he recovered and bounced back into the music industry with the same fervour as before.

The next time fate would come knocking was the day of his passing, leaving a legacy and the torch for the next generation to carry on.

UP CLOSE

The Solianos’ repertoire includes jazz numbers, popular tunes and standard music with vocal harmony being their forte. For the clan, early exposure to music is a given, shares members of the family during my recent meeting with them. Present on the day were (in relation to Alfonso): Daughters Isabella Soliano and Irene Soliano Guerzo, granddaughter Rachel Soliano Guerzo, grandson Diosdado Soliano Guerzo and great granddaughter Chanelle Soliano Guerzo.

“We used to have artistes come to our house, hang out with my father and jam together. I feel these experiences have boosted our love for music. Now, we also do the same with our children. It’s not something that needs coaxing because most of the Solianos love music anyway,” says Isabella.

To say that the heritage is continuing down the line of young bloods would be an understatement. Chanelle Soliano Guerzo is only 18 and already a piano teacher. While most of the Solianos can distinguish musical notes, Chanelle is one of the few born with a perfect pitch. She supplements these prodigal abilities by being able to play the guitar and the double bass as well.

But age is only one factor that counts in the family’s musical talent. Diversity is another. Diosdado, who frequently fills in for the band, says he loves rock and metal over the traditional genres like jazz. Carolling was his gateway to music when he was 8. Now he plays the drums and bass guitar.

The Solianos’ say that practising is key to success. “After all, music is like a muscle. You have to constantly give it a workout or else it wouldn’t be in the best condition,” says Rachel.

But surely, there’s a better way to break into the industry? Is it just putting your nose to the grindstone when it comes to excelling in music? On advice for budding musicians, Rachel laughs and says: “Run. Get as far away as you can. Don’t get into music.”

She adds that serious musicians should consider starting from scratch and learn proper musical theories. She adds that while there are musicians that play by ear, they’ll still need to break it down to its principles to really excel in the field.

This even extends to production knowledge. Shares Rachel: “When it comes to giving a show or recording an album, we are self-sufficient enough to handle all these aspects. There are so many things that encompass the industry which are not related to the actual music, so you learn something new every day, and it’s a great experience.”

Outside of music, the Soliano family brings a true meaning to racial harmony. Along with their Filipino heritage, the Solianos have relatives from all races and religions. The rest of us can certainly take a page out of their books when it comes to unity.

They say music brings people together. By infusing the social, cultural and musical heritage of the country together, the Solianos are indeed a case in point.