Sunday, September 14, 2008

Styles upon styles upon styles: From the Islands to the Streets

Dressed in jeans and jamming to an I-Pod, the Pinay dancer struts to the center of the stage, whipping her long hair to the sounds of "Bebot" and Jocelyn Enriquez. Then, all of a sudden, the headphones quit working, and the gentle sounds of metal kulintang gongs emerge. The spotlight reveals a varied collection of musicians in the rear of the stage. The colorfully-dressed gong players increase the aggressiveness of the percussion when the spotlight then reveals loin-clothed musicians pouncing on animal-skinned drums. Soon enough, the graceful sounds stringed instruments makes an entrance, and the rondalla musicians appear, magically intertwining their guitar sounds with the other percussive instruments. The staccato and harmony of the music appears almost chaotic, but it somehow makes sense. It works.

Photo credit: Dixon Perey. The Pinay dancer is in pink to the left. You see the visual color variety, can you imagine the way the music sounded?

Putting down her I-Pod, the Pinay dancer revels in the sonic madness, moving rhythmically across the floor and vibin with a variety of Filipinos dressed in traditional garb who come down from the rear.

This opening scene sets up the "post-modernism" and "interconnection" that describes "the Philippine spirit in music and dance" in the production "Magkaugnay" put on by the Kayamanan ng Lahi Philippine Folk Arts (KNL) organization featured at the Ford Amphitheatre on Saturday, September 13th.

Photo credit: Yvette Federizo. Spanish-influenced dance (jota i think?)

"Paso Doble" Spanish-influenced dance.
I like how the girl flirts with the priest at the end.

Walking into the amphitheatre, I didn't know what to expect. KNL has always been an institution within the Festival of Philippine Arts and Culture (FPAC), so I was familiar with the organization. But at "Magkaugnay" (translated: interconnectedness), the cutting-edge artistic messages blew my lid. How can you mesh in Spanish guitar music and Moro gong sounds? Maybe I'm naive and uninitiated, but it was the first time I've experienced this bold and brave attempt at sonically layering and remixing the complex musical traditions of the Philippines.

Photo credit: Yvette Federizo. Mountain tribe suite. Loin cloths and all.

Photo credit: Yvette Federizo. Muslim dancers, with rondalla and kulintang in the rear.

Much of the show reminded me of the Fil Am turntablist, who blends, bends, freaks, and funks with existing samples and sounds. This is where the "post-modern" aspect comes in--an aesthetic experimentation of anachronistic moments meshed together without a claim to authenticity (for example: the Muslim should be compartmentalized here, the Spanish here, the hip hop here, etc.). Instead, the production was self-aware of the complex and varied music(s) of the islands and the Filipino diaspora (hip hop), and unapologetically remixed it--indeed, "interconnected" it--to form an aesthetically coherent (although complex) narrative on Filipino musical traditions. Tiiiight!

Photo credit: Yvette Federizo. "Modern" (aka hip hop) dancers, with rondalla string musicians posted in the back.

Isn't that soooo hip hop?

I wonder if that's one big reason for Fil Am immersion in hip hop culture: our existing Filipino cultural/political legacies of layering, variety, sampling, borrowing, mixing, Westernization, Easternization, polyrhythms, mestizaje...

Re: Authenticity is a joke. So let's create and have fun!

The musical traditions of the islands are a DJ's record collection! Round and round and round we go...Yo! It's in the title: "styles upon styles upon styles is what I have!"

At the closing of the show--after we get a good glimpse at the musical and dance traditions of the Aetas, the Muslims in the South, the Indigenous tribes in the North, and Spanish-influenced Visayans, the Catholic traditions of Ilocanos, etc.--the Pinay prances back on stage as the music violently meshes together again, almost rumbling in its forced synchronization. As the sounds climax, she looks down at her I-Pod, turns it off, and the music ceases.

Great show KNL, Rondalla Club LA, Institute of Native Arts, and Pakaraguian Kulintang Ensemble! Hope it happens again next year!

Photo credit: Yvette Federizo. Our post-modern performers wave to the crowd after a audience participation (dance) finale.


Anonymous said...

extreeeeeeeemely good recap/analysis/response to the show.

now i wish i kept that program ;)

cheryl said...

wow! mark, that show looked/sounded amazing. i wish i lived in LA. haha. very nice analytical summary.

Jnetsworld said...

What a great experience the show was and your analysis of it is a good read sharing the richness of Philippine culture and its post-modern expression.