Grace Nono-Bob Aves Group Ignite Day One of 2013 Malasimbo Fest
by Amanda Lago, GMA NEWS
March 2, 2013

On stage, Grace Nono sings a sacred prayer.

It’s the first night of the 3rd Malasimbo Festival in Puerto Galera, and the Grace Nono-Bob Aves Group take the stage for the headline performance, which begins with “Open,” an instrumental piece by Bob Aves that lives up to its name.

Soon, Nono takes the stage, slow and sure-footed, as in a ritual. Eyes closed, palms open to the sky, she sings in a language unfamiliar but undeniably Filipino.

The performance baptizes the place and the night as sacrosanct so that simply to close one’s eyes and listen is a prayer in itself. Nono’s voice echoes across the grassy concave and beats beneath the earth. The sound of the gongs and bamboo rise in harmony with the wind rushing through the leaves.

Falling into awe

Photo by Brian Sergio

For the most part, the people listen. They watch, intently, amazement on their faces. They let their bodies ride the melodies, and even if they don’t understand the language, somehow, they fall into reverence as well.

Some are not as affected, choosing instead to keep the music at a background to their conversations, or else vulgarly display their affection in ways much too racy for public consumption – and right by the stage, no less.

Even with all that, Nono and the band are unfazed. “You have to give people the freedom to respond to what they hear in their own way. I look at this as planting seeds. There will be some people who will have a profound experience. There will be some people na parang wala lang,” she said.

“Ganun talaga, depending on a person’s readiness, depending on a person’s background, state of mind. But we have to do what we need to do, which is this – perform,” she added.

Watching their group perform is quite the experience. They incorporate ethnic dances, ethnic costumes. At one point, the entire group links arms and dances across the stage, portraying oneness, compelling the audience to do the same.

Their instrumental line-up could be a history lesson, including everything from the pre-colonial kulintang and the tagpi, to the Hispanic octavina, to guitars—they even use computers. Their songs are mostly chants and prayers in regional languages, or else instrumental pieces that are heavy on the jazz.

Sonic escape from the city

Photo by Brian Sergio

The result is a sound unique even at a festival that is already an escape from the mainstream to begin with. To many of the people in the audience—made up mostly of young Manilenyos and foreigners from all over the world—the ethnic melodies and language certainly come off as exotic, a departure from the contemporary.

But as Nono explains, their music is contemporary: “What you say traditional is really also contemporary. These are living traditions, they have not died.”

“The artists who compose these chants are still alive, or if they have gone, mayroong new generation naman na gumagawa. It is contemporary,” she says.

For Nono, their music reminds people of our rich cultural heritage, of the traditions that may be on the verge of being forgotten, if not for these very artists who keep them alive.

“Ewan ko baka nanibago sila sa repertoire, pero it’s good to hear something different. Something different is really a part of who we are deep inside,” Nono says. “Nakalimutan because the sounds that we hear on a day to day basis are very different, so it’s good to be reminded.”

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