Diwa
By Nirmal Ghosh, 2002

In Diwa (Essence) Grace produces Sufi-like vocalizations of piercing intensity, pushing the boundaries of the range, depth and power of her extraordinary voice. This element is no doubt a product of the twinning of basic tribal chants with the inspirational devotional highs of the Islamic musical tradition dating back to the Arab influence in the Philippines, both of which Grace has absorbed from her studies of the ancient tribal cultures of Mindanao, Mindoro and the northern mountains.

The result is a startling new dimension to her already powerful work. Her singing is backed here by churning rhythms, complex and dense yet woven together like a seamless fabric; rich and sensitive musical arrangements; and always the umbilical cord to the Earth and the use of native percussions and stringed instruments (all acoustic) rooting the music in her own heritage - with strings, keyboards, guitar, drum and bass embellishing it.

Much of it has the hypnotic repetitive rhythms that are so characteristic of tribal music from Africa to Asia. But the roots from which Grace draws her strength and her knowledge, are primarily tropical, reflecting the Philippine environment; the hot and humid tropics, cradle of life on Earth.

Thus Pananaginip for instance blends the spare hypnotic string music of the desert (look for the solo, it is straight out of the middle east and north Africa! Compare it with the similar yet different, understated but joyously light introduction to Amazing Grace!) and with the full bodied, robust approach to life of the tropical Philippines.

The Sufi-like singing brings with it an enhanced element of devotion, sharpening the already devotional aspect of much of Graceís work (using the word devotional in the broadly spiritual rather than the narrowly defined
religious sense). In fact her music reminds me constantly of the words of the great Sufi mystic Jalaluddin Rumi:

Today like every other day, we wake up empty and frightened. Don't open the door to the study and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument. Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

There is an ancient Philippine tradition in that nation of thousands of emerald islands; when you land at an island you have not been on before, you kneel and touch your forehead to the ground. It is a custom that is dying, but Grace keeps it alive in another way through her music.

Diwa is not just a musical recording, it is a chronicle of, a record of, and a tribute to Philippine culture. The country has long been at the crossroads of the Pacific and Asia. In the Philippines there is a welter of cultures in dynamic equilibrium : ethnic and animist tribal, Arabic/Islamic, Chinese, Catholic Christian and American. Diwa blends all of this ancestry into a seamless musical journey which, importantly, is grounded in Graceís own research and experience and the fact that she has consistently refused to compromise on the integrity of her art. In fact this is one of the few CDs in which the album notes are worth reading and enhance oneís enjoyment and appreciation of the music.

It is tempting to make individual notes on tracks. But after listening to this music often, favorite tracks keep changing. Diwa is a treasure chest; each time you delve into it you find something new and interesting, and the
experience of listening to it fills you in the same way that the rising sun warms your bones on a cold morning in the northern mountains.

Grace's musical intuition and knowledge over the years, and her collaboration with her husband Bob Aves, a gifted musician and producer with the open mind so crucial to be able to create work like this, has produced a CD of apparently effortless, instinctive beauty. The passion of her singing gives Grace the ability to rock audiences off their feet one moment, and make them weep the next. This CD perfectly reflects that elemental quality that has always been a feature of her music, and takes it a lot further down the road.

 



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