With hardly a bang or the usual sounds of revelry that accompany a milestone celebration, and neither klieg nor spotlights focusing on its founder, socialite-businessman Amando Nieva “Wopsy” Zamora, Amigo Entertainment Technologies Inc. recently celebrated its 40th or ruby founding anniversary in a most sedate way, barely reflecting the bygone era of discos when the company and its founder shared stellar spots in the Manila social scene.
While much has been said and read of Wopsy through the years, he remains to be enigmatic.
As I did not belong to that era and milieu when he and his friends were at the top of the social scene among the younger set, I could only imagine the kind of man he was, and surmise if he was indeed the man that they said he was. To be sure, I did ask him straight if he was one of country’s playboys, at least before he settled down in the company of the woman who, at first sight, he knew he would marry — Agile Abastillas — and his response was a categorical, “No.” That title, he said, belonged to the likes of his friends whose names I shall, out of propriety and constraint, not mention. For if Wopsy would deny the appellation, I can probably expect the same denial from such noteworthy and high-profile gentlemen.
“We were all from Manila, most of us,” said Wopsy of his antecedents. “There were six siblings who became our grandfathers, so we have such a large clan. My cousins include Manny, Buddy and Ronnie.” The last, we all know, was executive secretary, presidential assistant, assemblyman and House representative during various political regimes. On his mother’s side, Wopsy is a Nieva and related to a number of equally distinguished families including the Lichaucos and Trinidads.
Wopsy’s father was Arturo or Art, a producer at ABS-CBN. To this fact I could relate because Art was the producer of Nine Teeners, which I always watched as a child. He was also a dancer and choreographer, and was a mainstay in the television show, Dance Time with Chito.
It was Art who named his son Wopsy because when his wife was in the delivery room getting ready for their son’s arrival, he was reading a book about Italian immigrants in the USA who had no papers and were called “WOPS.” It is a unique name that would bring the baby so much good luck, although the family’s happiness would be short-lived when his mother, Mila, died, when he was still a child. Although orphaned, he was well taken care of and he went to Ateneo de Manila from elementary to college. He even took his Master in Business Management, which was the predecessor of the MBA offering of what would eventually be known as the Asian Institute of Management.
His father, Art, Wopsy explained, owned a disco in Makati called Another World. “Not satisfied with the kind of music that his men played and neither with the lighting in the disco, both supplied by a contractor, he asked if I could instead take over their contract, and that’s how it all started.”
Art had seen his young son tinker with gadgets. He played beautiful music in the family stereo and created equally impressive light effects. No wonder the father would turn to his son to help enliven his disco.
Wopsy, in his late 20s, had worked for his uncle. At various times, though, he owned a furniture company called Matchsticks, became active in the stock market with his cousin Bombing Trinidad, and worked as marketing director of Johnson Wax, produced by Johnson & Son, Inc. “Johnson yata yan was my line,” he recalls of his first encounter with success.
A daring entrepreneur, he financed Ronny Pasola who invented the Game of the Generals. It was another brush with success. This was, interestingly, 1972.
The year 1979 was groundbreaking for him. “That was when my father asked me to help him in his disco, Another World. I trained DJs so the club would have good music. But while training them, I got the hang of it, and I began to enjoy being a DJ myself. So, I ended up being a DJ, too,” he recalls.
It was a skill and an art that he first learned from his father’s DJs. “I learned from them while I was hanging around the club,” Wopsy recounts.
But he would not be contented. Getting more ambitious, he was soon soliciting for other accounts. His first client was the Pirates, the disco at the Admiral Hotel.
“I provided the sounds and lights, my contract was P80,000 which, at that time, was not big,” he narrates. “But because of the limited budget I became more creative and resourceful.
I put aluminum wrap on the ceiling so the light would reflect. I just crumpled it. Then, I installed a mirror ball in the middle part of the ceiling, which eventually became the rage.”
Wopsy did not limit himself to just fixing the lights and sounds. He also did DJ work, “which I truly enjoyed. So, that was part of the contract.”
The young man, though, was not contented. On his way home at night, he would stare at the Silahis Hotel and he would see Stargazer. That was the big time, and he dreamt of the big time.
“I approached them cold. I met Biboy Enriquez,” he shares. “They first tried me out at the smaller Playboy Club. And they liked what I did, so they gave me Stargazer. It was my first big dream come true. It was nonstop from there. My business would flourish.”
In the 1980s, he would crisscross Manila and the rest of the country — Louie Y’s, Isis, Circus, Faces, Mars, Gold Mine in Baguio, Bartolina in Fort Ilocandia, Tertulia in Cavite, Volare in Bacolod and Bai in Cebu.
The rest of the world beckoned — Japan, Guam, Maldives, Indonesia and the West Coast. “My international engagements happened because my clients first came to the Philippines and when they saw what I had done, they asked me to help them in their respective countries,” recalls Wopsy, who serviced the needs of no less than 200 clubs.
Along the way, he would have several business partners. “With Bobong Velez, he took care of the real estate aspect of the business, while mine was the technical side,” he explains.
“Joaqui Trillo was in charge of promotions. We had a triumvirate of sorts. In Stargazer, Biboy Enriquez was my landlord while Louie Ysmael handled the PR side because he brought in Manila’s 400. Another business partner of mine was Elizabeth Chang, with whom I put up Mars Disco. It was the peak of my career.”
All the time that his father was serving the older crowd, Wopsy and his partners focused on the younger set. Thus, there was no competiton. Besides, at the time that the old man Zamora was active in the club scene, he concentrated on the Makati area while Wopsy was in Roxas Boulevard. Only later would he move his operations to Makati.
To source good music for the discos and clubs, he went to Paris at Champs Elysees and in San Francisco, at Castro St.
“I’d go from one record bar to another. I was also a subscriber of uncharted music. I didn’t like the charted ones. I preferred more those that came from Europe. So, I would bring to the Philippines 12-inch vinyl records. They were so heavy, and I would carry them all the way to the hotel and pack them. Those were exciting times,” he recounts.
When his businesses snowballed, he partnered with and eventually acquired the franchise of SEMCO Electronics of England, Ltd., a UK-based company which made it possible for Wopsy to introduce to the Philippines technological and design innovations in audio, video and lighting equipment. “That was when we started manufacturing their amplifiers here,” he says.
Originally, the name of his company was the First Audio Resources & Management Corporation, which he would later rename as Amigo Club Entertainment, Inc. “because I used to call everyone my Amigo.”
Another distinction that many may not know of Wopsy is his helping popularize club ballroom dancing in the Philippines. This he did in partnership with the late Rey Bautista who founded the Kuya/Pare Tito Clubs. This was, of course, different from the private clubs of matriarchs and grandes dames at the Manila Polo Club.
I asked Wopsy how he became successful. As he looks back, he attributes his accomplishments to the fact that he is a dreamer. “So my first factor of success is dreaming.
I always dream, although I’m not a visionary like Henry Sy was. They could see the big picture, while I only dream small dreams.
“But I just don’t dream. Instead, I chase my dream. I’m very persistent and when I finally catch the dream, I work hard. Until now, at my age, I’m still hands on.
“I usually sleep only four hours. That is from 12 midnight to four in the morning. Early in the day, I do my email chores.”
In the early days, when he was involved in all those discos, he was awake up to four in the morning and slept for four hours, and then woke up to play golf. Not surprisingly, he has a low handicap.
To fast forward, the disco scene eventually lost its luster, so Wopsy ended up exploring the other aspects of the light and sound industry, and found a lucrative possibility in audio systems.
The sound of SM
That was when he bumped into Harley Sy, son of Henry Sy Sr.. “All six Sy children had been my friends all these years, and Harley asked me what I was doing since all those discos no longer existed. I told him that I was putting up audio systems in malls. He then promised to help me, and so he connected me to his manager,” Wopsy relates.
The rest is history, with Wopsy receiving the contract for all SM malls. “Thus SM became my client and I have since installed the sound systems in their malls,” says Wopsy whose company has been taking care of the various SM malls, especially their sounds needs, including their public address systems or BGMPA, which means Background Music Public Address System.
At the average of five malls a year that SM opens, Wopsy has been kept very busy, and the SM Group is but one of his clients.
Wopsy’s only love
Finally, I couldn’t resist asking Wopsy what inspires him. He says it’s his wife, Agile “whom I met 23 years ago.”
“I don’t really have any love except my wife Agile. But of course, before, I have loved a couple of girls, some of them because being a disco operator, I met a lot of beautiful and interesting ladies. But I had not loved as much seriously, faithfully and dedicatedly as the one I married, Agile.
“One point in time, because she was an international model of Honda Asia, she was published all over Asia. So, when I first saw her, I told myself, this is the girl I would marry.
“I had an inkling I would be married to her because I dreamt about her, and in that dream, we became steady, so I told myself that was a good sign because I am a dream chaser. After a month, I met her at the lobby of a hotel. She was waiting for the replacement of their plane.
“That was at the Philippine Village Hotel. It was a coincidence because my office happened to be near the hotel, and one day, I had to return to my office to get my key which I earlier left.
When I went back to the parking lot, I saw her and that’s how it all started,” says Wopsy.
Wopsy found out what her contact details were and so he called her up. This led to a series of dates until they realized they liked each other. Both had just broken off with their respective steadies and were ripe for something serious. “I liked her a lot but more importantly, I respected her a lot so I pressed my suit. I flew to Bacolod every week to visit her.”
Wopsy and Agile have since been living happily together. “She is the secret of my success,” says Wopsy. “She knows how to entertain my clients. And she knows what would make me happy. I do my best to be a good husband because she is a good wife. I am a very fortunate man.”