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Kulintang August Nights

31 Aug Pistahan 2011
Kulintang in Concord, CA

Kulintang in Concord, CA

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 2011

Pistahan 2011 (photo by Brian Snowden)

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

Kulintang Happy Hour in Berkeley

Kulintang Happy Hour in Berkeley (photo by Esperanza Catubig)

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!

Judith is a fellow local kulintang player

Judith is a fellow local kulintang player


‘Tis the Season to be Filipino

29 Dec

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.

Rondalla for Christmas

Rondalla (Filipino guitar ensemble) for Holiday cheer! With Albert Aumentado & Lendl San Jose

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.”

Island style holidays with guitar & 'ukulele.

Home-Style caroling with Lendl San Jose aka "'UkuLenny"

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!

Kulintang Top Gong Close-Up

A Typical Kulintang Sunday in the Bay

21 Nov
Performing Kulintang in the middle of Powell BART's Hallidie Plaza

Performing Kulintang in the middle of Powell BART's Hallidie Plaza

A Filipino-American artist would love the San Francisco Bay Area.  Today’s blog post is an account of how I spent my Sunday supporting Filipino events, crossing bridges, and taking pictures of gongs.

ACPA summons the dancers with music

ACPA summons the dancers with music

The day began with a new Filipino Festival, the American Center of Philippine Arts‘ “Fall Festival” held in Oakland Chinatown at the Oakland Asian Cultural Center.  This one is a little bit different than your summer-variety gathering, smartly held during the apex of the autumn season, indoors.  Vendors set up behind tables instead of canvas picnic tents, and the audience could watch dance performances in the round with musicians playing from the stage.

This festival is a welcome addition for the East Bay Fil-Am community that does not have the luxuries that exist in San Francisco. San Francisco boasts four separate venues dedicated to the Fil-Am  community, while East Bay Fil-Ams roam from venue to venue like sea nomads in an archipelago.  Kudos to the Fall Festival organizers, let’s do it every Fall!

jKulintronica at ACPA's Fall Festival 2010

Kulintronica at ACPA's Fall Festival 2010

I was unable to watch the other dancers, performers, and speakers, or participate in the Pangalay Jam that occurred towards the finale.  To keep up with the demand for Bay Area kulintang, I had to depart the festivities in Oakland and cross the Bay Bridge…

The Bay Area is itself somewhat like a collection of islands.  Each neighborhood, separated by ridges, valleys, and water systems, has a different climate and community, tied together by freeways, buses, and the Bay Area Rapid Transit System (BART).  The Powell BART station is a major downtown SF stop that takes you to the theater and shopping districts, and the South of Market neighborhood (SoMa), also known as the Filipino Social Heritage District, the site of our next adventure.

The Filipino community is deeply rooted in San Francisco, so when the city began a performing arts series at this heavy-traffic train station in the heart of downtown, it went to the premier presenter of contemporary and tribal Pilipino art, Kularts.  I have so much gratitude for Kularts, who in a previous era, had its own brand of kulintang fusion brewing, and today provides me with inspiration, encouragement, and support.

James "Ganyan" Garcia skate jamming with Kulayan

James "Ganyan" Garcia skate jamming with Kulayan

Kularts presented Kulintronica with the Kulayan Arts Program, creating cutting edge visuals direct from the Filipino American imagination.  Hanging out with these artists puts me in just the right mindset to pull Filipino traditions through the looking glass into the urban jungle.

The mixed crowd of commuters, shoppers, and homeless locals were all intrigued by what to them is a new and unusual instrument.  Heads were turning, small crowds gathered, and the boldest walked right up to the kulintang stand and asked questions in the middle of a song.  I welcome the interest and enjoy the wide eyes of music enthusiasts hearing a new sound.  To my surprise, a visitor from Las Vegas sat down to play an impromptu Kaluntang with me after a few words of encouragement.  I should have expected kulintang players to emerge out of the woodwork at a Kularts (formerly known as Kulintang Arts) sponsored event.

This double-header of kulintang gigs was a blessing in itself, but Fil-Am art is in abundance in the Bay Area, so despite having performed at two separate and successful Filipino events, it was time to go to event number three as a spectator.

Lendl San Jose with a gong electronic setup of his own

Lendl San Jose with a gong electronic setup of his own

Over at the Bayanihan Community Center (one of the four SF Fil-Am spaces) was closing night for Aimee Suzara‘s “History of the Body” performed by the Pagbabalik Project.  Three years ago I was musical director for this collective and produced the recorded theatrical soundtrack for Pagbabalik (Return) with Diskarte Namin musicians Juan Calaf and Jen Soriano.

Their current work, History of the Body, is in the capable hands of Lendl San Jose, pictured here playing a beautiful silver-tinged gangsa gong while triggering samples in the pit.  His cello and ukulele are not pictured, but he played those too.  History of the Body is a thought-provoking piece about body image and the legacy of colonization told in a non-linear style accentuated by world-class acting, dancing, and music.  It stirred up emotional reactions from the audience and is a story that resonates beyond the Filipino community.

Thanks for tagging along with me on this re-telling of a typical Sunday in the San Francisco Bay Area, where Fil-Ams can either have their choice of Filipino event to attend, or commit to a marathon commute itinerary and try to see it all.  I tried to see as much as I could, but even I was unable to do all of this and watch the Golda and the Guns/Julie Plugg show the night before.

Performing Kulintang During SF Giants Post-Season 2010

1 Nov

Kulintang Electronica performance at Hallidie Plaza, SF

Kulintang October 7 2010 Giants home post-season home game

Being born in America in a Filipino family has its quirks.  As a young boy I was enrolled in Little League and wondered why all the other kids seemed to know so much about baseball.  Now that I’m older I can observe how baseball is such a big part of American culture in that it becomes an inter-generational activity.  American kids are taught the nuances of baseball by their parents.  What if your parents come from a country whose national pastime is cockfighting?

As a young musician cutting my teeth at Bay Area sports bars in a good old fashioned Top-40 cover band I spent many extra innings watching the crowd go nuts over baseball while I waited for the game to end so we could start playing music, and it seemed so foreign to me even then.  How could anyone from outside the culture jump in to the inaccessible drama of Major League Baseball?

Enter Tim Lincecum, the young misfit star starting pitcher for the San Francisco Giants.  I discovered him while playing a game on an iPhone called “Filipino or Not?” while waiting in line to watch a Bollywood at the San Francisco Asian American International Film Festival.  A Filipino-American starting pitcher representing the city with the highest concentration of Filipinos?  Cooool…

Fast forward to the tail end of the Giants historic 2010 season, and it’s Filipino Heritage Night at the ballpark.  The Heritage Nights are the latest incarnation of the Filipino Festival, and it being a site for Filipino America, I was on the ground at AT&T Park in downtown San Francisco.  The Fil-Am Cy Young award winner didn’t pitch that night, but the Giants won, and so I decided to follow them.  Often times I had kulintang gigs on game days and would drive back to the kulintang studio in post-game traffic, discovering KNBR with Krup and Kuip on the way.

I was amused to learn that Lincecum’s nickname (palayaw in Tagalog) is “The Freak” because if his short stature and unique way of getting the job done… “very Filipino,” I thought.  Combine this trait with his mestizo appearance, a blemish on his police record, and the F-bomb, and you have a role model that I believe many Fil-Ams can identify with.

So today’s blog entry is dedicated to trailblazers like Tim Lincecum who, by excelling in their fields and becoming the best, brings confused Fil-Ams like me closer to mainstream America while raising the bar. Salamat, game na!


4 Aug

Kulintang is a music from the Southern Philippines.  The melody is performed on eight gongs in a straight horizontal row.  It is a very complicated and beautiful music.

I am a Filipino musician born in San Francisco.  I am drawn to the kulintang.

Kulintronica is my combination of traditional kulintang playing with electronic dance music.  I also use live guitar looping in performance to create a soundscape before playing the kulintang over it. I love taking this music to go to new places, meet people, and witness how this music invites excitement, transformation and wonder.

This website is under development, but stay tuned for upcoming performances, community events, and food for thought.