Because the Soul Must Chant and Sing
by Luisa A. Igloria*

Review of the music CD's (with accompanying books) KAHIMUNAN: CULTURAL MUSIC OF THE MANOBO, HIGAONON, BANWAON OF AGUSAN DEL SUR and MENDUNG SABAL: TUDBULUL LUNAY MOGUL (The T'boli Hero of Lunay, The Place of Gongs and Music) Produced and Published by TAO Music (Project Director: Grace Nono).

In late 1998, TAO Music Publishing unveiled its third offering in its Philippine Indigenous Music Series, the much awaited MARINO ("Beautiful"): HANUNUO MANGYAN MUSIC AND CHANTED POETRY -- a music cassette and accompanying book of ambahan poetry and song transcriptions, with maps, background cultural information, rich details of musical instrumentation, recording sequences, and of the indigenous syllabic writing system or Mangyan script ("surat Mangyan"). It was a gift, a labor long in the dreaming and making, the result of a love and life affair that TAO Music's visionary producer, Grace Nono, has had, ever since she began to inquire into the question of how to connect contemporary music and music-making-- as it once was in another time-- with nourishment from indigenous cultural sources.

This October, TAO Music is presenting two additional recordings-- this time in CD format-- each with its own book containing the same high-quality, high-artistry and well-researched formats that TAO Music is now well known for.

In KAHIMUNAN we find the voices of an impressive list of individuals, to whom we can ascribe more than just musical credits. One of them, Datu Yadup, is a traditional priest or baylan; most, like Datu Lagnasan and Datu Lindahay are datus or tribal chieftains; two of them, Rev. & Bae Florencia Havana, are church ministers, holders of degrees in divinity, translators, teachers, linguists -- all have in one way or another dedicated their lives to serving as mediums and living voices for their communities. The singers in KAHIMUNAN sing songs of invocations to the spirits, play a kind of hide and seek with the tones of the lute or bamboo harp, match the percussive beats emanating from the heart of the Gimbae drum. They sing of life in the forest, life in villages with no machinery; they sing of glimpses of the city, of the inward-returning to recognize poverty, the absence of silver, the mistakes in speech. They look up on the verge of tears, they look up at the moon; they sing of the roasted potato and of the girl from the plains loved illicitly by a man from the mountains. They rock a baby to sleep and they entreat the soul to be happy, be joyful, to find what it is "that the spirit willed for us."

In TUDBULUL Grace has recorded a compilation of T'boli vocal and instrumental works, including shaman Mendung Sabal's chanting and recitation of a short version of the Tudbulul epic. Mendung, Grace relates, came to this project with T'boli culture specialist Myrna Pula, as if ushered in by a spirit guide. Mendung, who is also a healer, chanter, instrumentalist, weaver, embroiderer and settler of disputes, is very clear when she says, "I belong to the first generation, the first people... My dream is that we preserve what we have by uniting as a tribe and also by uniting with other tribes... My life is getting shorter. I would like that our ways remain...." When she was ten years old, Mendung dreamt of a song that entered her liver and was stored there. That was how she came to know about Lunay, how the earth came into being, how the songs she sings come from the deepest layers of earth and space.

In the KAHIMUNAN and TUDBULUL recordings, we can experience-- mostly, only-- the naked power of these singers' voices, with their characteristic layers and quavering, their resonance and supple variety. The indigenous instrumentation in the background of these arrangements cannot take away from the primary characteristic of the voices recorded in these albums: "...truly, these are voices that pluck a music that threads from the soul which sings for no other reason than for the fact that it is."

Norfolk, VA
26 September 2002

* Luisa Igloria (previously published as Maria Luisa Aguilar Carino) is a poet and writer originally from Baguio City. She is currently an associate professor of Creative Writing and English at Old Dominion University. She has collaborated with Grace Nono on a number of poetic translations for the latter's musical projects.

Luisa A. Igloria, Ph.D., Associate Professor, English Department, Creative Writing Program, & Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity 200 BAL, Old Dominion University, Hampton Boulevard, Norfolk, VA 23529 (757) 683-3991 xt 3929; Fax (757) 683-3241 Author Homepage:


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