Tag Archives: SF

Here comes Filipino American History Month!

24 Sep

Greetings, kulintang fans!

It’s that time of the year, the month of October at the end of the summer season when the Filipino artist community gears up for a final push before settling into the holidays.  October is Filipino-American History Month!  To kick things off, we have an early start with a special screening of “Rescue in the Philippines: Refuge from the Holocaust” at San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum.

The Philippines is rich with history, with multiple layers and story arcs intertwining the contested archipelago.  I consider myself a Philippine history buff but I was surprised to learn about this chapter.  Although much has been said of the Philippines role in the battle for the Pacific, but the topic of Philippines involvement in the European conflict is hardly discussed.

Pictured above is President of the Philippines Manuel Quezon with the Frieder brothers taken in April of 1940.  I am excited to learn this intriguing story, and to provide intermissions with smooth grooves and live kulintang playing.


Kulintronica performs at “Rescue in the Philippines” screening

Asian Art Museum, San Francisco

Screenings at 6:15pm and 7:30pm

Happy FIlipino American History Month!


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

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 Electronica meets Filipino Vegan Restaurant

31 Jan
No Worries Filipino Vegan Food

No Worries Eat Now Laugh Later

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.

Diwa Kulintang Circle

Diwa Kulintang Circle

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.”

Kulintang residing in West County

Kulintang residing in West County

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.

Gongs living in Berkeley

Gongs living in Berkeley





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.

Ocean Beach Sunset

Ocean Beach Sunset offering light rays from the Pacific Islands to San Francisco

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!

A kulintang player of many hats

1 Sep

Greetings, kulintang fans, and welcome to the Kulintronica blog. Today’s entry will recap my gong-related activities in August 2010 which brought me from San Francisco to San Diego.

Kulintang, Agung, and Dabakan in Rock City, Mt. Diablo, CA

Kulintang at Rock City, Mt. Diablo, CA

A highlight of this month was my own birthday celebration; a gathering of gongs, bamboo, singsong, talkstory, and delicious Filipino pasteles at beautiful Rock City in the cradle of Mt. Diablo. Rock City, like Mt. Diablo and its surrounding foothills, was created by the crumpling and stirring of bedrock later exposed by erosion, resulting in the phenomenon that you are traveling backwards in time (encountering older and older rock) as you ascend the mountain. We set up my newly acquired fourth kulintang set on a natural stage of rock formation and hung a grand total of four agungs from the trees. We were also blessed to be visited by a tribe of bamboo instruments from Kalinga via Alaska and Richmond, CA.

Palabuniyan Kulintang Ensemble performed at the SF Public Library as part of the Singgalot series. This library branch across from SF City Hall and adjacent to the Asian Art Museum houses an impressive collection of Filipino and Fil-Am publications housed in a dedicated reading room.

Explaining what a kulintang is while Jason Mateo looks on

Kulintronica at Pistahan 2nd Show

Pistahan festival and parade was a great free event for the community held at Yerba Buena Gardens. I opened the festival from the main stage with a Kulintronica set complete with live looped guitars, kulintang playing and dancing lolas on the grass. Riding a wave of positive energy I glided over to the youth stage for an encore performance. I was so grateful to get two sets of applause that day. The sun came out too by the time I loaded my gongs back into the gong-mobile for the drive East through bridge and tunnel.

Playing agung and dabak with Pakaraguian members

Palabuniyan and Pakaraguian at PDGW 2010

Finally, I attended the Philippine Dance Gathering Workshop in San Diego. It was a reunion of friends and colleagues from the folk dance community, and a chance for all of us to sharpen our discipline, inform the discussion, and invigorate our passion for cultural performance. Amongst the legions of new talent on stage, it was the first time since blowing out the candle on my babayin double tsokolate cupcake (thanks, Shuganomics!) to really feel my age.

Thanks for accompanying me on this trail through time!