Ora Pro Nobis: This is not a film by Brocka (Oracafe, Quezon City, 1997-2000)

Oracafe façade. All images courtesy of Khavn / Oracafe and circa 23 November 1998 unless otherwise noted.

“The Cultural Center of Quezon City.”
— Jim Ayson, Philmusic

Khavn performance.

Joey “Pepe” Smith and Nino Mendoza, c. 1999.

1. Who, when, and why did you start Oracafe? 

Ilyn Velez Sempio and I opened Oracafe. The soft launch was on November 5, 1997 but the grand opening was on November 23, 1997. The running gag was we wanted to be the Starbucks of the Philippines. (Starbucks opened its first branch here the month after.)


2. What were your backgrounds? 

My background is in the arts: literature, music, and film. In 1997, I just won my first Palanca award, got a short film award from Tokyo, and finished doing a rock opera for Tanghalang Ateneo. Ilyn was an oracle and was into New Age.


3. How did you meet?

We met via Tony Perez’s Spirit Questors. I became a part of that because I was Tony’s student in his Creative Writing and Psychic Powers and Shamanism classes at Ateneo. Ilyn — who was a Reiki practitioner — was one of the main psychics or channels of the Spirit Questors.

4. What were your motivations in opening Oracafe?

 Ilyn and I wanted to share our enthusiasm for the New Age and oracles. For me, I wanted a space for alternative/underground/outsider artists/arts. Two of my pegs were The Kitchen and Nuyorican Poets Café in New York.


5. Were you involved in other spaces, initiatives, or collectives before?

We opened Oracafe two years after I graduated. When I was in college, I was a member of the Galian ng Sining at Kultura (the Culture Club of Ateneo), the literary journal Heights, and Tanghalang Ateneo. I had staged a few concerts in Ateneo like “Koncetera” (instrumental music), “Nag-iisang Buwan” (love poetry and love songs on Valentine’s), and “Anuhan Sa Damuhan” (a multi-media event).


6. Were you both from the same school, neighbourhood, city, and/or country? 

My home was right beside Oracafe. Ilyn also lived in Quezon City (QC).


7. What is the meaning behind the name? Why was it chosen?

Oracle + café = Oracafe (equation courtesy of poet Vincenz Serrano). Our tagline was: “Where you can be free.” A variation of 70’s Bistro’s motto, “Where you can be who you are.”


8. Where was Oracafe located? 

21 Kamias Road, Barangay Pinyahan, Quezon City, Mondomanila, RIP.


9. How important was the location to Oracafe’s motivations and goals? 

It was a hole-in-the-wall. It wasn’t the typical spot where one would open that kind of space but people were coming from all over to check out the place. “If you build it, they will come.” If there’s a need that you fill, the location is secondary.


10. What was the dynamic between Oracafe and its surroundings? 

Aside from using the nearby roadside spaces for parking, nada.


11. Did Oracafe work with the community and its immediate neighbors? 

No. Aside from our immediate neighbors’ tolerance, they never reported us to the barangay for noise, etc.


12. What particular communities or audience did Oracafe address?

Aside from drinkers and those who wanted their fortunes told, we mainly sought to engage music and literary communities. The film community was just about to rise then so those who frequented Oracafe were mostly the cineastes who would attend Sineklab at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP).


13. What were Oracafe's goals, mission, and philosophy? What did it set out to achieve by starting? 

To become a venue or home for those with no venue or home, for all artforms, and for interactions or collaborations between these different forms.


14. What did Oracafe do to achieve its goals? Did it succeed or fail or both or neither?

 Nightly events. Succeeded.


15. How was Oracafe supported? How was it economically sustained? Were there membership contributions?

It was supported privately, mainly from the profit from the bar/café/restaurant. In a minor way, the percentage of ticket sales or cover charge and the oracle readings economically sustained the space. We had no membership contributions.

I remember during one of the plays staged by Paul Morales’ Dulaang Talyer, actor Roli Inocencio of the microcinema Cinema Centenario was very strict at the entrance, firmly demanding that each member of the audience pays — which is quite logical and basic — but apparently, some theater regulars felt entitled to a free show.


16. What was happening in the cultural scene at that time? How did Oracafe contribute to this scene?

During that time, there were mainly live music venues: 70’s Bistro, Mayric’s, Freedom Bar, etc. Club Dredd had closed by then. What I wanted was a popular public place for the other arts as well as music. As the creative director of Fête de la Musique 2000 in Bonifacio Global City (BGC), I featured the different artists I’ve collaborated with in Oracafe.


17. What were the main activities of Oracafe? 

If you look at the back of the Oracafe 1st year anniversary shirt “BATHALA NA!” (1998), you will see the format of the weekly/monthly calendar of events:

Crowd at Oracafe.

Ene S. Lagunzad and Mark Laccay.


“Poets Night” — poetry readings, 1st poetry slam in the Philippines

“Songwriters Night” — featuring the likes of Easy Fagela and Lilledeshan Bose

“Short Film Night” (before the proliferation of microcinemas) / CCP Sineklab — film showings of world cinema features

“Live Karaoke Band” (before Rockeoke)

“Da Pulis Stand Comedy Night” (before Gabe Mercado’s SPIT)

“Jazz Night” — MAJAM, J.R. Cobb Jazz Chamber

“Theatre Night” — Dulaang Talyer, Tagalog version of “Hair” 

“New Bands Night” — which featured acts like Radioactive Sago Project, Makiling Ensemble, Kamikazee, Slapshock, The Itchyworms, Stonefree, and The Purplechickens

“Bands Night” — Put3ska, Eraserheads, Rico Blanco, Parokya ni Edgar, Pepe Smith, Razorback, Joey Ayala, P.O.T., Elemento


Morgan Greer Tarot / Aleister Crowley Tarot / French Tarot / Osho Zen Tarot 

Astrology / Numerology / Palmistry / Palm Scanning / Dice Fortune Telling

Past Lives / Dreamwork / Relationship Counseling

Jess Santiago.

Crowd at Oracafe.

18. What were some of Oracafe's most important projects or events? 

 Every night was a happening.


19. Can you name some and how they affected the artists, local cultural community, or larger international context?

Nothing earth-shattering. Nothing international.

Here’s something I remember: between jazz sets by the J.R. Cobb Jazz Chamber, the novelist Miguel Syjuco was acting as a priest in a theater play when suddenly the police came in, grabbed the mic, and said it’s Oplan Bakal before proceeding to look around for guns. The jazz trumpeter Butch Silverio thought the policeman was another theater actor who was part of the show and he almost heckled him.

Also, during the set-up for the Razorback concert, visual artist Kawayan de Guia almost fell through the emergency exit door, which could have been fatal.

20. How did the social and cultural scene change in Oracafe’s home city or base of operations over the years? How did Oracafe and its members address these changes?

No idea.

21. What were the most important challenges that Oracafe faced during the time it was operating? How did Oracafe address these challenges? 

Floods. The bulk of our audience were young college students a.k.a. small-spenders. We tried changing the name of Oracafe a few times to give it a new feel or look (e.g. Korova Milkbar, D’Pleygrawnd, Klap, etc.).


22. When and why did Oracafe close? 

It closed on November 23, 2000. I treated the space as a concept/happening, a three-year art project. All good things come to an end.


23. What were the important events and decisions that led to its closure? 

It was just on a whim. Financially, we were just breaking even. I had a toddler. I wanted to focus more on filmmaking; I had just finished my feature film “The Twelve”. I thought I needed more time for myself. When I came to my senses, it was too late. It is a lot easier to close than to open.


24. What happened after the closure?

The young and new bands that started or were playing at Oracafe suddenly became official rockstars famous nationwide. In 2001, I tried to revive my dad’s car business and in 2002, we started .MOV Fest, the first digital film festival in the country (three years before Cinemalaya).


25. What are the other members, friends, colleagues, or close associates doing now after Oracafe closed? 

I’m still doing film, music, and literature. I now have five kids. Ilyn became a writer at ABS-CBN and opened another oracle café called House of Runes. She passed away in 2012 from cancer.


26. Looking back now, what were Oracafe's contributions to the local and larger cultural landscape? 

Spaces like Oracafe are important for artists to stage, feature, or share their art with a live physical audience. It is at spaces like these that they get to refine their craft. Oracafe gave artists a chance to see, converse, and connect with other cultural workers and participants in person, all in an informal context. So, for three years (from November 1997 to 2000), that was what Oracafe fulfilled.


27. What is the legacy of Oracafe? 

The musicians, bands, and various artists that got their start at Oracafe.


28. What are some of the important lessons we can learn from Oracafe?

Follow your bliss. 

Know thy self.

If you build it, they will come.

Just do/create it now.

When it comes to destroying/closing, don’t do it on a whim — take your time.



Khavn is a prolific, eclectic filmmaker, writer, and composer. He has directed 52 features and 151 short films including “Orphea” (2020), “Happy Lamento” (2018), “Alipato” (2017), “Ruined Heart” (2015), and “Balangiga: Howling Wilderness” (2017). Khavn has written eight books of poetry, two short story collections, a novel, and a book about the Philippine No Wave film movement. He has won twice in the Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature, edited the poetry anthology “Under The Storm,” and published Roxlee’s “Planet Of The Noses” and Norman Wilwayco’s “Mondomanila.” Khavn has recorded 40 albums and has been awarded Best Music at the Urian and Best Original Song at the FAMAS. Like his films and books, his music is characterized by ferocious artistic restlessness expressed through the blurring of conventions, resisting labels while also invoking them, making his whole body of work wildly divergent but also singular in vision.



Right People, Wrong Timing (RPWT) is a series of texts on defunct or inactive independent Asian arts initiatives that had crossed paths or ran parallel to Papaya’s own 20-year history. With new posts every Friday from August to December 2020, RPWT is kindly supported through a local grant by the Japan Foundation Manila.