THE SHARED VOICE
Chanted and Spoken Narratives from the Philippines
Grace Nono
Anvil Publishing
Fundacion Santiago
248 pages


Across the world and especially in post colonial countries, aspects of ancient indigenous cultures have over generations been progressively fragmented, marginalized, and sometimes eventually simply lost forever, obliterated by change.

Some aspects have adapted and transformed. But entire languages have vanished. Others survive only in the heads of, literally, just a handful of elders. So it is with music and song as well, and the traditions of communication, spiritualism and healing that are an inseparable part of music and song.

The Philippines is a nation particularly fragmented. Hundreds of years of colonialism shattered and submerged much of the indigenous tribal cultures, from language and scripts to music and spirituality. Whatever left, struggled to stay afloat on a sea of seductive western culture.

Yet the soul of a culture, of a society and civilisation, is its written and spoken language, its spiritual tradition and its music.Without those there is left only a shallow reliance on borrowed identity, often spawning a collective and self-destructive neurosis. It is appropriate that this body of research is written by an oralist herself, not an academic. Grace Nono lives the tradition. She is a bridge between the older – and endangered – generation of oralists and a new. Straddling and riding on a world that from Tokyo to Los Angeles, has been transformed in a very short time in media, communications and electronics, Grace has transcended borders and yet remained fiercely devoted to the roots of her tradition, breaking away from the easy and well-worn path of thousands of other Filipino musicians and their compatriots in comparable post colonial societies who practice – or in reality mimic – western music. ''For a long time now, I have wished to liberate myself from the conditioning that in order to become 'civilized' I have to abandon my traditions and imitate the colonizer whom I could never completely become anyway'' writes Grace in her introduction.

''I have been drawn to the study of my roots that I might find in them the dignity and wisdom denied them by colonization, which associated them with ignorance, inferiority, illiteracy, paganism, primitiveness.''

Grace's quest has been both spiritual and physical. She has trekked humid jungles amongst remote misty mountains, and boated up tropical rivers, to meet the shamanistic sources of her own inspiration and tradition.

Grace long ago earned the respect and admiration of her peers, her elders, and of thousands who have been touched by the power of her creativity.

This book springs from that power. Meticulously written and annotated and rich in content and production, it contains ten case studies of oralists, to all of whom the spirit world is real, and close. Like all creative artists driven by an unseen energy, they are all highly intuitive and can sing or make music for hours on end, powered by a primal energy and packaged in degrees of ritualism. At some level, overt or subliminal, they are also healers. All are free of dogma and orthodoxy.

And all including Grace herself, have struggled to survive in a world in which their gift is too often seen as nothing more than a quaint hobby.

Grace does not impose on their stories, allowing them to tell them in their own words. The book is therefore, straight from the source. It is enriched by photographs, and by artworks (mainly batiks and woodcuts). Collaborating with Grace Nono in this work are Carolina S. Malay, Anna Fer, Gigi Escalante, Jordan Mang-osan, and Felix Mago Manuel among others. Their contributions – together with the inserted CD which is co-produced by the hugely talented and accomplished Bob Aves - vastly enhances a work of impeccable scholarship, turning it into a richly layered multi dimensional tapestry - a written, visual and auditory exploration of the real soul of the Philippines, the heart that only weakly flutters in her chaotic cities but still beats quietly and strongly under a silent moon in faraway mountains and jungles deep in the islands.

The Shared Voice is a seminal work of tremendous aesthetic quality, spiritual depth and academic rigor, that will be taken up and studied and referred to for generations to come.

-- Nirmal Ghosh
Thailand Correspondent, Straits Times
President, FCCT
Trustee, The Corbett Foundation (India)


   

 



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