September kulintangan up and down California.
Filipino Performing Arts & Culture (FPAC20) in San Pedro, California
Filipino Fest at Six Flags
Nieto Art Gallery
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
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
As San Francisco celebrated the Rabbit with Lunar New Year, I reprised my role as guest artist with pan-Asian/Brazilian drum line Sambasia SF for an intimate performance in the Mission district at Eth-Noh-Tec’s “Salon You’re On!” It was truly a pleasure playing music with this open-minded crew of percussionists who are so eager to test the cross-cultural waters by bringing traditional Asian musics to Bahia via San Francisco Japantown. Also sharing their talent that night was Beth Grosman, Jenny Logico, Fay Chiang, and fellow live-looping-virtuoso-multi-instrumentalist Cello Joe.
This weekend show took place just days after I returned from a brief but beautiful trip to the Philippines where I encountered more kulintang paraphernalia such as this beautifully painted vintage (heavy) agung that lives suspended above a fruitbowl in a kitchen in Quezon City. Although the instrument is alone, it is played everyday at least three times a day before mealtime.
A side trip to the beautiful “City in a Forest,” aka Puerto Princesa in Palawan yielded many kulintang encounters on a large and lush limestone island. One highlight was a fresh Filipino seafood dinner suspended over the water next to a grove of mangrove trees called Badjao, a Sama-themed restaurant complete with a dining room on stilts and a wooden gong replica at the entrance.
At yet another dining establishment called Ka Lui’s I found these wooden painted gongs tucked away on the ends of some bamboo banisters. Ka Lui’s specializes in seasonal local faire with a daily menu and an art gallery atmosphere. The sizzling special was my favorite; it tasted like a spicy Filipino-Mexican collision far beyond your Bay Area sisig tacos.
Viet Villa is a village within Puerto Princesa where Vietnamese refugees made new lives for themselves after their rafts drifted on natural currents from Vietnam to Puerto Princesa via the famed Underground River in Sabang, Palawan. Displayed next to a beautiful temple were a drum and hanging flat gong.
Back on Luzon, the Bughaw Folkloric troup prepares for their weekly weekend lunchtime one-hour cultural program at the historic Taal Vista Hotel in Tagaytay. In front of the breathtaking backdrop of concentric volcano lakes the audience smiled as Bughaw expertly moved through the suite, with vivid narrations and professional-level execution including live gong instrumentation! I took a snaphsot of their gong setup just minutes before they took the stage. It was a wonder to witness.
While I wish I could share a Kulintronica story in the Philippines, sadly this short trip was not for that occasion. Still, a trip to the Philippines nourishes the Filipino American in a way that no other vacation can. The archipelago inspires me endlessly and I approach the coming festival season with these memories in my heart.
Here in the San Francisco Bay Area it is not uncommon to see cross-cultural collaborations. Mixed-race mash-ups sprout from the community like wildflowers in Spring. If you were in downtown Oakland in January 2011 you would have witnessed one such collision: kulintang electronica with Filipino vegan food at No Worries’ event, “Eat Now, Laugh Later.”
Diners were treated to a delicious and healthy Filipino dinner while listening to the sounds of traditional kulintang playing layered over live guitar loops and electronic dance beats before laughing uncontrollably to a heaping serving of comedy delivered by Filipino comedic talent such as Andrea Almario, Herb Diggs, and Kevin Camia.
Also, this month I performed with Diwa Kulintang Circle at a very exciting booklaunch for authors Virgil Apostol and Lane Wilcken for their respective books, “Way of the Ancient Healer: Sacred Teachings from the Philippine Ancestral Traditions,” and “Filipino Tattoos: From Ancient to Modern.”
For a kulintang enthusiast like myself, the only appropriate reaction to encountering kulintang paraphernalia during the course of day-to-day living is to photograph them where they are. Here’s a beautiful vintage set matched with a few orphan gongs for a truly unique playing experience. This set lives in West Contra Costa County.
Another encounter took place the same day in another part of the Bay Area, in Berkeley. These gongs keep the house warm, living in the retired fireplace of a sunny Berkeley home.
No Bay Area site-seeing excursion is complete without witnessing some Filipino culture and a walk on the beach to contemplate the elastic distance that separates San Francisco from Manila.
For Filipino cultural performers, the holidays are the last season of the performance cycle. It all starts in spring with Pilipino Culture Night (PCN) rehearsals. By the end of Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month in May, the busy festival-laden summer season gets into gear, with a heavy spike in activity around June 12th independence celebrations. The end of summer is just the end of the first half of the performance season, because something very interesting happens once you get into the “-ber” or “brrrr” months–the Filipino holiday season has begun.
That’s right, September 1st is officially the first day of the Filipino holiday season, which means Christmas music plays for Filipinos two and a half months before the American holiday music season, which traditionally starts the day after Thanksgiving. In September, most of us Filipino cultural performers in California are still doing summer festivals, and many independent dance troupes begin working on their Fall Recital programs.
October is Filipino-American Heritage Month, so it is jam-packed with celebrations, showcases, cultural events, and now, Fil-Am themed major sporting events too. In November the holiday motif becomes the main dish, with many Filipino Christmas themes present for Thanksgiving celebrations. December is the main event, “Pasko Na!” (It’s Christmas time!), with midnight masses, family gatherings, gift giving, gift-shipping (by the box), and non-stop singing until the big night, “Nochebuena.”
It doesn’t end there, folks. In the Philippines, Christmas doesn’t end after opening Santa’s presents. It continues until January 6th, until the Kings of Orient (all the way from the Pearl of the Orient?) get their chance to bring their gifts (pasalubong) to the manger in a foreign land. This is where I mark the end of the Filipino cultural performance season, but the break is brief, because not long after January 6th, Filipino student association officers will begin the heavy lifting involved in getting PCN ready for spring, and some independent dance troupes will be polishing their repertoire for to audition for a spot at the prestigious San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival.
Looking forward to a gong-tastic 2011! Mabuhay!