Celebrates The Traditional
- Contrary to the expectations of those accustomed to the Filipino
bands in hotel lobbies around the world, original Filipino music does
exist. It just isn't a major export yet. But with artists such as
Grace Nono around, it should be.
music is strong, rhythmic, tribal and moving. She combines native
instruments with a modern consciousness. The result is a form of ethnic
rock that is the latest craze among Manila's bohemian set.
traditional music takes vast reserves of physical energy, which Ms.
Nono exudes from her tiny but powerful frame. After spending time
with the Ata mountain people in her home province of Agusan del Sur,
on the southern island of Mindanao, Ms. Nono says it requires spiritual
appeal of the Ata, she says, "is not just in their instruments,
their dress ... it's more basic than that. It's more basic than mythology.
Seeing them face to face is like seeing a part of me that I had forgotten."
is like a companion for me," explains Ms. Nono, 30. "I was
an only child, I had no friends, but I had a guitar. I could talk
to it. I left home at the age of 12, and it was the same situation
- no friends."
school, I had a family, and the music was still there. Then the marriage
finished and the music was there. Finally, I thought I should focus
on the music. It never let me down. It's my most basic fixation."
in theater arts, anthropology, art history and Asian music, Ms. Nono
combines many influences in her song-writing and performance.
are so many subcultures here," she explains. "Some are avant-garde,
some pop, some pure traditional. It's like cooking stew, with many
ingredients. You put them all in the casserole, boil them and let
talking about traditional rhythms, traditional instruments, textures
and color. But I'm also talking about contemporary instruments, like
I'm talking about a lot of soul."
first album, Tao Music, has just been followed by Opo, which she is
busy promoting on local radio and television. While much of her music
is traditional, it is at the same time contemporary. A haunting and
full-sounding song turns out to be simply her voice and one lute.
important element of traditional music, says Ms. Nono, is the rhythm,
produced by logs, skins, stones, anything at hand. Western notions
of harmony do not play a large part, but lyrics and feeling do.
is a song on my first album. It's in Visayan (the language of central
Philippines) and is all about moving on. I think I wrote it in a bus!"
original inspiration for many songs is the lullaby. Grace Nono uses
a lullaby chant from the Cordillera mountain people in northern Luzon
and weaves lyrics and harmonies around it. "I try to be as organic
as possible," she says, over a fresh pot of herbal tea at her
home, which she shares with her eight-year-old daughter and another
solo parent and child.
time in the mountains has left a lasting impression on my mental landscape.
In the mountains there are so many layers, so many levels of consciousness
as mountain after mountain fades away into mist."
inspiration risks becoming a cliché to the purveyors of mainstream
culture, she admits. But this alternative scene in the Philippines
is alive and well.
Baguio City, for example, near the gateway to Luzon's mountain ranges,
is the Cafe by the Ruins, where performances of poetry, music, jokes
and other arts happen around the large open fire and get written up
in the national newspapers.
in Baguio, and organized by many of the same people, is the Baguio
Arts Festival. This intense experience of a range of arts, from the
traditional to the bizarre, happens every November.
Manila radio stations play unending selections of sentimental love
ballads, with no sounds of the Philippine heritage to be heard but
Nono hasn't given up though.
was harder to interest people a few years ago. Now, more Filipinos
are open," she says.
and friends hope to change attitudes through a variety of projects.
Philippines Tourism Department is organizing "The Musical Islands
Festival," November 20-26, featuring Ms. Nono and other traditional
own record label, Tao Music, is now engaged in producing other artists
as well as herself. Her home is sometimes home to Kulintang workshops
with a specially hired master of the gongs.
we want is a balance, a unique sound," Ms. Nono says. "This
is not to preserve old things. It's not a romantic crusade. We are
not out to change the world, but to evolve with it. These forms are
ancient but just as relevant as anything else in today's language."
International Herald Tribune
19 October 1995