September kulintangan up and down California.
Filipino Performing Arts & Culture (FPAC20) in San Pedro, California
Filipino Fest at Six Flags
Nieto Art Gallery
Time Out Bar & Grill, Concord, CA
After such a great result at last month’s Nightlife, I was eager to bring the kulintang to even more new places. The Time Out Bar & Grill in Concord is just such a place. The last time I brought kulintang to a Concord dive bar, an audience member very loudly exclaimed, “Let’s turn on the juke box!” in the middle of an exciting Binalig that I was playing. Granted, my beats were not as big as they are lately, so I kept an open mind for this new audience. I sure am glad I did, because the audience was really open to it, so open to it that they were jumping up and down with their drinks in the air! Lots of great conversations followed, and a few Concord-ites outed themselves to me as Filipinos; and no, they had never seen kulintang before that moment. Mission accomplished.
Pistahan at Yerba Buena Gardens, San Francisco, CA
It’s that time of year! Pistahan reclaims its title as one of the largest Filipino festivals in the Bay Area! The parade had never been so large. I would post pictures of the parade but I was a little busy playing kulintang music accompanied by big-calibre performers such as Lendl San Jose, Kristine Sinajon, and Melissa Martinez. With Melissa, an experienced kulintang music and dance performer, as the informal dance instructor, we had an impromptu community dance that saw indigenous Filipino dance movements coming from excited Filipinos and non-Filipinos who came to claim their seats early. There was definitely some magic in the air.
Nick’s Lounge in Berkeley, CA
Here is a picture where I am once again joined by Filipino-musician-extraordinaire Lendl San Jose. This particular dive bar is Nick’s Lounge in Berkeley, where a group of Filipino film enthusiasts gathered at the invitation from actress Esperanza Catubig in support of her new independent film (where Catubig also get’s a Producer’s credit) called Nico’s Sampaguita. The film, about a Filipino-American family set against the jazz music backdrop set in the Fillmore district of San Francisco. There is a lot of excitement around this project; so much that an unexpected guest arrived: fellow kulintang player Judith Ferrer! She did not expect to see a kulintang at the event, and I certainly did not expect another kulintang player to come in and drop two beautiful kulintang songs from memory. Ang galing!
Searching for Instruments
Here is a picture of a mix & match kulintang set from one of the largest collections of Filipino instruments in the Bay Area. Notice the different stages of oxidation the gongs have.
I took this picture while visiting the collector (who is also a very good kulintang player) so that I could borrow a set of gandingan for an upcoming July performance.
The design of the kulintang is the best clue as to who manufactured the gong. Artisans tend to stick to a favorite design. This kulintang set is of the no-nonsense style; no ornamental carvings or visible weldings, just a large set of gongs with a thick casting of metal alloys to give it that serious “I am a musical instrument” look.
The Dabakan is the Drum in the Kulintang Ensemble
Pictured here are two dabakan likely made by the same artist. The drum is fashioned into a goblet shape from a single piece of hardwood, preferably the base of the tree right above the root ball. Traditionally a bayawak (Filipino monitor lizard) hide would form the drum skin, but goat drum heads are the common material nowadays. The okkir (Southern Filipino design motif) is intricate and flashy, leading the educated collector to assume that the drums are Maranao in origin.
One of these two drums was the main touring dabakan for the Palabuniyan Kulintang Ensemble, the group directed by my kulintang teacher, Master Artist Danongan Kalanduyan, and it has been the instrument by which kulintang music was brought to places such as Juneau, Honolulu, Seattle, San Diego, Albuquerque, Houston, Washington D.C., Richmond (VA), Boston, New York, and even Toronto, and Acapulco. After many years of touring, this drum was finally retired from the PKE instrument list because of an accumulation of wear and tear from the road.
SF Pinoy Jazz Fest at Birdland in Berkeley
The gandingan (talking gongs) that I mentioned in the first picture that I needed to borrow was so that I could sit in with John Calloway at the SF Pinoy Jazz Fest. I sat in with John Calloway during his appearance at the 2010 Jazz Fest that was held at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts right in the middle of that year’s Pistahan. I appeared on the song he wrote for John Santos, “Itim,” meaning “black,” a song about being Afro-Filipino. This was my crash course for mixing kulintang with jazz music.
For this year’s performance, we were set to perform at this local venue that had quite a buzz around it. The Birdland Jazzista Social Club is located across the street from North Berkeley BART, inside of a garage converted into a legitimate jazz venue complete with stage, seating, mood lighting, and a community of music lovers. The venue had already appeared in FastCompany and Forbes, and the ambitious three-day lineup that SF Pinoy Jazz had lined up for a weekend in July was to be its biggest event to date; a virtual roll-call of Filipino musicians in the Bay Area jazz community.
I was so excited to bring my new gongs that would give me the flexibility required to sit in with serious jazz musicians. I had prepared an accompanying part for Calloway’s original tune “Diaspora.” When you listen to Diaspora, you can hear the influence of kulintang music on the main melody. The arc and movement of the main melody is really of the character of kulintang playing, with a few bars of latin jazz at the turnaround incorporated for a truly dynamic chart meant for live performance.
Unfortunately, none of it was to be.
Promptly, right at the three-day festivals kickoff downbeat, at 6:00pm exact, the event was cancelled after a visit by Berkeley Police Department. All of the music prepared by the many musicians including myself, was not allowed to be played. As this issue plays out in the realm of Berkeley politics, music at Birdland is indefinitely suspended, but it seems to me that the owner is intent on re-opening this young venue, so I will update this story as it develops.
Kulintang is good for all ages.
Vallejo Pista Sa Nayon
It was the 20th anniversary of this festival rooted in this Bay Area city on the waters edge that almost birthed a Filipinotown in the delta–Vallejo.
It was uncharacteristically rainy at this festival that hadn’t seen rain for all of the previous 19 years. This might have slowed things down a bit but the Filipino community of Vallejo showed up by the thousands before the day’s end.
Kulintang Dance Theater
I sat in with Kulintang Dance Theater for an educational performance at a Bay Area children’s school. These kids are so lucky to be exposed to such eclectic experiences.
Philippine Fiesta of Sonoma County
The Philippine Fiesta of Sonoma County was held in Santa Rosa on a beautiful sunny day in wine country. This festival has a lovely neighborhood feel. It seemed nearly everyone knew each other. FANHS had a great booth, the performances were inspiring (including another great show from Kariktan!), but there was one other thing that stood out at this festival: the food! Home cooked delights come from neighborhood chefs including a Sonoma specialty: kilawin kambing.
Nightlife at California Acadamy of Sciences Filipino Night
Meanwhile, at the California Acadamy of Sciences, which is also home to the amazing Philippine Reef Exhibit, prepared to share the results of a recent biological expedition to the Philippines that resulted in the documentation of over one hundred new species.
The occasion was marked by a Filipino takeover of the museum. Even Palabuniyan Kulintang Ensemble performed, warming up the crowd with authentic Maguindanaoan kulintang music and dance. They drew quite a large crowd with its unmatched tempos, colorful attire, and entrancing dancers. I couldn’t have asked for a better setup for my set.
I thank all who attended this great event, especially the gentleman who started the dance party (and got a free kulintang starter lesson after the show). It was so great to see a crowd of dancing bodies smiling and enjoying the sound of live kulintang playing. The more experienced kulintang fans recognized some of the pangalay influenced patterns and did the corresponding dance moves (thanks Diwa!). I loved seeing those fluid hand movements above the bouncing crowd. Perhaps one day we will be seeing oceans of pangalay hands at every Kulintronica show.
The month of May! This month I brought the gongs from San Francisco to Honolulu. It was my second time to participate in this well-attended festival in Waikiki. Thousands of Filipinos came to the festival despite some tropical rain to create a Filipino village in the park. After talking to a lot of Filipinos on the West side of the island, it seems that Waikiki is “too far” for a lot of Filipinos on that side of the island. I think this year there is a festival that will be bringing the party to that side of the island. Bay Area people compare those Filipinos in Daly City who refuse to go to Pistahan, but without the luxury of a BART train.
Honolulu Filipino Fiesta
Back in San Francisco I was welcomed into an amazing circle of Filipino musicians at the SF Pinoy Jazz Festival. I was inducted into this club of hard-working and hard-playing group of talented and experienced performers by Carlos Zialcita of Little Brown Brother, who played right after me.
Asian Heritage Street Celebration with SF Pinoy Jazz Fest
The month of May does not pass in San Francisco without one of the largest and most celebrated events in the festival season: CARNAVAL! It was so great to rejoin Sambasia once again for a high-energy march down Mission St. with a complete bateria plus dancers! Director Masaru Koga created an amazing cross-cultural arrangement that blends Okinawan, Brazilian, and Filipino (Maranao) traditional songs into one continuous piece of fun! Sambasia founder Jimmy Biala marched with us for the entire length of the parade before changing into another uniform and running all the way back to the beginning of the parade to do it again with another group!
SF Carnaval with Sambasia SF featuring Wesley Uenten