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Kulintronica is Radio Republic’s “Daily Track” for February 25, 2014!

25 Feb Kulintronica is Radio Republic's Daily Track for February 25th, 2014
Kulintronica is Radio Republic's Daily Track for February 25th, 2014

Kulintronica is Radio Republic’s Daily Track for February 25th, 2014

So excited to be a Daily Track in Radio Repbulic’s 2014 calendar (see the profile here)!  I am not the first Filipino artist from outside the Philippines to be listed here, and I’m not even the first artist from California to be listed here, but I do believe I am the first kulintang player to be featured here.  I’m so grateful to be mentioned in the same lineup with OPM artists 6Cyclemind, Sugarfree, Gloc-9, Denise Barbacena, Uela Basco (of the Chilitees), Mishka Adams, Indio I, and Nouvul.

As mentioned in the article, I am a huge OPM fan and when I am in the Philippines I spend quite a bit of time seeking out new music and enjoying the vibrante Pinoy Rock scene in Manila.  Eraserheads’ “Aloha Milkyway” was my first OPM album; and their “Natin99,” Up Dharma Down’s “Bipolar,” and Kjwan’s “2StepMarv” were very influential to me and I had these in heavy rotation when I was first developing the Kulintronica sound.

Kulintronica is Radio Republic's Daily Track for February 25th, 2014

Kulintronica is Radio Republic’s Daily Track for February 25th, 2014

Just minutes before the Daily Track was posted, I completed this video blog that gives what would have been all the latest Kulintronica updates had this latest development not taken place.

Next gig:

February 26th, 2014 – Hult International Business School

Video

“Calling My Name” Music Video featuring Kristine Sina

19 Feb

“Calling My Name” now available on iTunes

Video

“River Clouds” Music Video featuring Waway Saway

15 Jan

“River Clouds” now available on iTunes

Summer Kulintang Stories

31 Jul Mix & Match kulintang sets
Mix & Match kulintang sets

Mix & Match kulintang sets

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.

Matching Dabakans

Matching Dabakans

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.

Lineup for the Filipino Jazz Fest of 2011

Lineup for the Filipino Jazz Fest of 2011

Springing Into Action–Kulintang Action!

30 Apr
Shakuhachi and Kulintang

Shakuhachi by Alcvin Ramos and Kulintang by Ron Quesada

April was a busy month for Kulintronica, setting the tone for what will no doubt be an exciting summer season full of festivals, collaborations, and kulintang playing.  Above is a picture from a collaboration with Filipino-Canadian virtuoso Alcvin Ramos.  The instrument he is accompanying the kulintang with is a digeridoo made from an Agave stalk.  Alcvin has studied digeridoo in Australia from indigenous musicians, and has also studied the Japanese shakuhachi from three different master artists from different disciplines!  This travelling musician connected with me and Lizae Reyes (of Kulintang Dance Theater) for a collaborative performance in Historic Filipino South of Market district called, “Shakulintang.”

Taglish feat. Karl Evangelista

Taglish feat. Karl Evangelista

Another collaboration in April was with another virtuoso musician, the amazing Fil-Am guitar player Karl Evangelista and his Grex ensemble.  It was a meeting of two musicians pushing their respective instruments into new territory.  I was personally challenged to find ways to bring the kulintang into his eclectic and sometimes manic sound fuelled by intense improvisational sections.

It was my pleasure to once again take the stage with Asian Crisis for yet another fundraiser to benefit tsunami victims in Japan.  After opening with an Asian Crisis version of “Ditagaonan” I switched instruments and finished the set playing electric bass wearing a malong.

Asian Crisis with Ron on Bass

Asian Crisis with Ron on Bass

Kulintang of Haranistas de Manila

Kulintang of Haranistas de Manila

Spring is also a very active and transformative time of year for California’s abundant population of Filipino college students as Filipino student groups across the state and the country made preparations for their respective “Pilipino Culture Nights” aka PCN.   I was a tender young bar musician when I had my first Filipino Cultural Music experience sitting in with the Haranistas de Manila for a PCN over ten years ago.  Like other Fil-Ams like myself, I was so intensely drawn toward Filipino culture after the PCN experience that I had to immerse myself as much as possible to learn as much as I could as fast as I could, gaining experience presenting the culture to different audiences in different contexts.

Pictured on the left is a snapshot of some of the percussion used for the “Southern Suite” portion of the Bayanihan-inspired repertoire.  Notice their hybrid kulintang set.  The older gongs with the darker metal are more vintage, and years of travelling and performing from Seattle to San Diego to Las Vegas serving traditional music to Filipino audiences throughout the west coast has damaged all of the gongs on this old set except for the two on the low side of this set.  Gongs from a newer hybrid alloy set fill in where the vintage gongs are missing.

Bayani Tan's Oktavina

Bayani Tan's Oktavina

Here is a close-up picture of the road-worn Oktavina owned by Celestino “Bayani” Tan of the prolific Tan Brothers.  Perhaps in a future blog a more complete telling of the Tan Brothers story will be posted that explains the tremendous contributions this family of musicians has made on the Filipino American musical landscape.

Cebuano Tortoise Shell Guitar Pick

Cebuano Tortoise Shell Guitar Pick

On the right is a traditional guitar pick, made a long time ago from the shell of a Visayan tortoise.  The tortoise is cooked and eaten, and afterwards the shell is fashioned into jumbo guitar picks.  The texture is not unlike the plastic polyurethane guitar picks that are mass produced, and has a thickness and flexibility comparable to a medium gauge pick.

And finally, here is a picture of Skyline College of San Mateo’s Kulintang group performing at the grand opening of the new Multi-Cultural Building on campus.  Skyline College is a community college south of San Francisco in an area that is one of the areas most densely populated by Filipinos.  This community college boasts an accredited Filipino ethnic studies cohort and also kulintang class taught by my teacher, Master Artist Danongan Kalanduyan.

Skyline College of San Mateo Kulintang Ensemble

Skyline College of San Mateo Kulintang Ensemble

Kulintang in Asian America

30 Mar
Kulintang with Asian Crisis

Kulintang with Asian Crisis at the San Jose Museum of Modern Art photo by Jay Jao

I had the pleasure of performing with one of the groups that inspired me to dare to try new things with the kulintang at the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival’s San Jose Gala.  The melodic percussive instrument from the Southern Philippines was featured on their self-titled album “Asian Crisis,” which was recommended to me at Clarion Music store of San Francisco Chinatown while I was buying my second kulintang set.

Formed by a group of Asian musicians from different countries, each one proficient in the traditional music of their heritage, coming together to create a truly Asian-American musical space where traditional songs from different cultures could be showcased while individual musicians could stretch their limits through long improvisational sections.

Bringing traditional melodies and rhythms together in a jazz-inspired context brings the Asian diaspora into the jazz continuum, something pioneered in the Bay Area and kept alive in the bustling multi-cultural arts scene even today.

The main Filipino staple in the Asian Crisis repertoire is “Ditagaonan,” a tune that is commonly known among Bay Area kulintang players.  Traditional versions of it can be found on CDs like “Traditional Music of the Southern Philippines” by Palabuniyan Kulintang Ensemble, “Manta Gowani” by Mindanao Kulintang ensemble, and “Kulintang: Ancient Gong-Drum Music of the Southern Philippines” by World Kulintang Institute.  Excellent contemporary versions have previously been recorded by the Noh Buddies, Goldar, and Asian Crisis, who produced two separate arrangements of it on the “Asian Crisis” album.

At the San Jose SFIAAFF Gala reception we set up our astonishing collection of instruments and I performed with Jason Jong, Masaru Koga, Van-Anh Vo, and Frances Martin.  Van-Anh Vo is an amazing performer who’s pushing the limits of Vietnamese music on her instrument the dan tranh.  Her new album “She’s Not She” is highly recommended.

Check out the Asian Crisis CD at Eastwind Books of Berkeley.

Check out Van-Anh Vo’s CD “She’s Not She” at her website.

Photos by Jason New.

This is the exciting artistic melting pot environment that Kulintronica is stewing in, and I am so excited as the light at the end of the tunnel of the album recording process almost comes into view.  As a preview, it is highly likely that the Kulintronica full-length album also has a new rendition of “Ditagaonan,” adding to the continuing vision of a new Asian music coming from America.

Asian Crisis SFIAAFF at San Jose SFIAAFF Gala

Asian Crisis SFIAAFF at San Jose SFIAAFF Gala

The Red, White, and Drums (and gongs)

13 Sep

Performing once again with Sambasia at the Yerba Buena Garden Neighborhood Fair in San Francisco is the perfect way to spend an afternoon.

Kulintang Electronica with Sambasia at Yerba Buena Gardens

Crossing musical borders with Sambasia SF.

I love Sambasia’s approach to music, treating it as something that is accessible to all people. As director Maseru Koga said to the crowd, “…this [music] is for everyone.”

This echoes something that Master K would often say to the audience.  “Kulintang music is for everyone,” announced into the mic with a warm smile to an open-minded audience entranced by the sound of the gongs from Mindanao.  It is this welcoming sentiment that empowered a few audience members (like myself six years ago) to feel like kulintang music is approachable and accessible.

Sambasia has grappled with this issue as an Asian-led Brazilian Samba Ensemble with a multi-cultural lineup based in Japantown of San Francisco.  What does it mean for Asians, or any other non-Brazilian people, to undertake the serious study of a traditional music?

According to their website, “SambAsia’s theme of One World Awareness, Building Cultural Bridges was born out of Jimmy Biala’s (SambAsia’s founder) observations of the separation that continues to exist between different areas of San Francisco despite the diversity of our city. We hope to convey a spirit of our own individual cultural pride while expressing the need for more communication and contact with each other as human beings, the acknowledgment of all possibilities.”

I was honored to be invited to attempt to build a cultural bridge from Cotabato to Rio de Janeiro with on-ramps coming from San Francisco.  Bringing these two percussive traditions together was both a challenge and a joy, and we showcased the result at the 2010 SF Carnaval parade!

Parangal tries the Kulintronica gongs

You've heard of carshare... what about gong-share?

The Yerba Buena Gardens Neighborhood Fair is a great gathering showcasing the diversity of San Francisco.  Kulintronica and Sambasia were representing for the Filipino-American contingent, joined also by old friends from Parangal.

In an interesting turn of events, we found it easier to share kulintang, and it was nice to hear my unique hybrid kulintang set in the hands of the Parangal musicians.

Beautiful pose during Pangalay dance by Parangal

Pangalay in San Francisco

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