Ramon Torralba – stage name Mon – was the Lionel Richie of the Philippines before he immigrated to Canada in 1981 to join his parents and five of his nine siblings who had moved to the country before him, settling in Windsor, Ont.
His band, the Hotdogs, had topped the charts with their invention of a new musical genre called the Manila Sound, a type of bubblegum music laced with Taglish, an English-Tagalog hybrid that is today the lingua franca of Filipino mass media.
Mon and the Hotdogs were major celebrities in the 1970s, appearing on national TV, radio, newspapers and magazines. Torralba’s hit single, Pers Lab, what Filipinos who have difficulties pronouncing the letters F and V understand to mean, First Love, was a best-seller that continues to yield royalties for its composer.
“So I was quite well known and established, I had something going on,” says Torralba, the former jingles maker for the Manila branch of the J. Walter Thompson advertising firm, who was 26 at the time he uprooted.
“I really didn’t want to come to Canada, but I tossed in an application to the Canadian consulate in Manila just to make my family happy.”
He didn’t take the process seriously, and then to his shock, one week after applying, he was selected to immigrate.
“I thought this was a sign or something from God that I had to go to Canada,” he continues. “It was going to be culture shock, for sure, but I justified it by saying to others who thought me crazy for wanting to leave, ‘Why have Hotdog when you can have steak?’”
Except the pickings in his new country were slim.
Despite there being more than 500,000 Filipinos said to be living in Canada, Torralba found that there wasn’t a huge demand for the Manila Sound. He was forced to diversify and, after seeking retraining, the guitar-playing singer eventually joined the Toronto police force where he worked for 29 years in the information technology department until taking early retirement in 2010.
But he hasn’t touch with his roots. Among other ventures, he helps his wife manage the annual Filipinos Making Waves Festival in Toronto to spread Filipino music.
His second wife suffers from lupus, and he left the force early to help her manage the annual Filipinos Making Waves Festival, which he had founded in 2007 as a way of disseminating Filipino music to a wider audience. Besides a stage, Torralba has given followers of his Manila Sound their own community newspaper called Waves, no doubt in reference to the good vibrations he is trying to spread.
As well as creative director of the event that takes places at Dundas Square in Toronto on July 13, the 57-year-old father of five grown children is also in charge of a consultancy company whose title, Mentor Productions, again speaks to his largesse. “I am a musician who wants to give other musicians exposure,” Torralba says. “It’s why I gave the festival an English name. I want to bring Filipino music mainstream.”