By Nirmal Ghosh, 2002
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
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.
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.