In 1999, as editor of Channels, an entertainment magazine for a cable TV company, I had the privilege of interviewing Philippine national artist Lucio San Pedro. This was a year before he passed away. Little did I know how much impact that afternoon’s conversation would have on how I create music.
The track was born during the 2005 recording sessions for my EP “Kodomo”, I asked vocalist Yu:Mi Calderon to sing any old Filipino folk song that she knew by heart. She sang the first verse of “Sitsiritsit Alibangbang” into the microphone, acapella — with no backing track, no fixed tempo and no designated key. I figured, I may someday use it. I wasn’t quite sure what I would do with it though.
Here’s a new upbeat and jazzy electronic track entitled “Lamay,” which means funeral wake in Filipino. I took the melody from a traditional folk song and put together a joyful, jazzy, energetic arrangement that focuses less on the grief of losing a loved one, and more on the hope of being reunited with the loved one in eternity.
“Bahay Kubo” (Nipa Hut) is one of those Filipino folk songs that every elementary child in the Philippines used to learn early on since it was a lesson in naming your vegetables set to a catchy tune. I used the folk song as inspiration for this track.
Do Filipinos have a unique musical sound? My answer is yes. But it isn’t being practised much by people outside of the local world music genre (Grace Nono, Joey Ayala, Bayang Barrios, Pinikpikan, etc.) Right now it exists though it’s more a vague fog than a typhoon of output.
I’m talking about folksong-inspired music — music which uses our local folk songs as inspiration. Not remakes of ethnic chants or remixes of kundimans, but rather traditional folksongs as building blocks for new music regardless of the genre of the final output (be it pop, classical, electronic, or death metal.) National artist and composer Lucio San Pedro called it Creative Nationalism.
From April 5 to 9, 2005, I was in Nagoya, Japan, as keyboardist, laptop musician and backup singer for the Grace Nono and Bob Aves group. We performed for one hour at the Expo Dome, a 3,000-seater auditorium located within the 300-hectare World Expo 2005 Nagakute site, which just days before us, featured Alanis Morisette. And we rocked the house with a set featuring songs which mixed traditional Philippine tribal music with Western-flavored and electronic arrangements. Traditional + experimental = spiritual world music in ancient languages.