Nono's Harvest

When Grace Nono sings, people listen, enrapt. And they watch, enchanted. For this woman is so pleasingly unpredictable—one never knows what she's going to do next, and where it's all coming from.

Take her concert, Aniyaya: A Harvest of Traditional Sources at the CASA San Miguel in Zambales last April 8, for instance. Those of you who have seen her perform before might be saying, "Why should I go all the way to Zambales when I have watched her and can watch her any old time in Manila?" The answer simply is, because it was different.

In Grace Nono's own words, "It's easy to just put up a concert. But we were looking for a concert that would express our vision, and one angle of that is to come up with something very Filipino and very, very personal at the same time."

What took place at the Outdoor Theater of the CASA San Miguel that night was, in every sense, a harvest. And what made it truly unlike any other concert was the material. Grace produced a showcase of our culture: love songs, chants, lullabies, even children's rhymes of Kalinga, T'boli, Visayan, Maranao, and Maguindanaoan origin—material as researched by Aga Mayo Butocan and Neal Legaspi.

A collaborative effort, Aniyaya as a whole, was more than just a presentation of songs and music. It was a coming together of artists and their art. A harvest of creative ideas, as it were.

Says Grace, "It was centrally a music offering, but actually it was a multi-media presentation. Everybody involved in the production poured their souls into the project." And the creativity showed. Maribel Legarda's choreography was infused with the kuntaw, a Southern martial art-dance. Roberto Feleo's set design had traces of our myths, among them the bakunawa.

The concert's producers themselves, Sarri Tapales and Didi Dee (Art Director for Theater and Dance, and for the Visual Arts, respectively, at the Pundaquit Festival of the Arts) are obviously creative people who lavished support. In Grace's words, "Our producers are not just 'money' guys. They understand what the value of art is, not as a commodity, but a living thing, a living expression, not just of the artist, but of the ones viewing it. It was a dream."

Not everyone dreams such a dream. But then Grace Nono has not been named "The Alternative Diva" for nothing. That it's all a matter of values is her opinion. "Because of our orientation, we value these historical treasures, or cultural treasures, which are very ancient." And she believes there is magic in these things. "They're ancient, but they're just as relevant as recent material. At 'yun ang gusto kong palabasin (That is what I wanted to show). That these materials are not dead. We can still use them in the present context, learn from them, get inspired by them."

In fact, one word to best describe Aniyaya would be, as Grace says, cross-cultural. "We know for a fact that we are a multi-cultural lot and I, myself, am a mix already of, say, Northern and Southern blood. That goes the same for my consciousness. I'm a meeting point of so many dichotomies." The important thing is to look for commonality in the apparent differences. For all our ethnic diversity as reflected in the myths, rhythms, melodies particular to a different tribe, "there is a string that connects all of them," Grace stressed. And the point of the whole concert was to tap into the string as present-day artists interacting with the ancient.

It was this interaction which made the concert what it was: an experience. One that demanded a person's entire being for enrichment: not just the eyes to see and the ears to hear, but the heart to encompass and respond, the mind to perceive and comprehend, the soul to soar and be lifted by it all.

For as one watches, one realizes that our heritage is not just rich, but grand. And taking it all in, there is a tugging at our consciousness, but more than that, at something we never knew existed—what philosophers sought and called the "primordial stuff."

For an artist to have dug deep within herself and our country's cultural past to emerge with a musical feast shows much sensitivity and nobility. Says she, "Aniyaya is a tradition in the present moment; the artist and her consciousness."

She adds, "It's like cooking stew—you put all the ingredients there, and then you bring it to a boil and then you simmer it for a very long time. Slow burn, so that the juices of all ingredients will merge, and you get all the subtleties of the taste, which you can never do with instant."

Like a masterpiece, it was vintage Grace Nono.

by Chingbee Templo
The Business Daily
24 April 1995

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