Tag Archives: Masaru Koga

May the Kulintang be with you…

30 May
Kulintang with Sambasia SF at Carnaval parade

Kulintang with Sambasia SF at Carnaval parade

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

Filipino FIesta of Honolulu

Filipino FIesta of Honolulu

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

Asian Heritage Street Celebration Filipino Jazz Fest Stage

Asian Heritage Street Celebration Filipino Jazz Fest Stage

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

the view from the parade float

the view from the parade float

with Wesley Uenten and Sambasia SF

with Wesley Uenten and Sambasia SF

John-Carlos Perea on Bass

John-Carlos Perea on Bass

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

Here a gong, there a gong, everywhere a gong-gong…

28 Feb
Sambasia SF plays Binalig

Sambasia SF plays Binalig

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.

Kitchen Agung

Kitchen Agung

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.

Gong Greeting at Restaurant

Gong Greeting at Restaurant

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.

Wooden Railing Gongs

Wooden Railing Gongs

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.

Gong at Viet Villa, Puerto Princesa

Gong at Viet Villa, Puerto Princesa

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.

Bughaw Folkloric gongs

Bughaw Folkloric gongs

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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