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USA: ‘Kayamanan’ and Rondalla Club enthrall at Getty Center’s ‘Sounds of L.A.’

Words and photos by Dionesio C. Grava

You thought you’ve seen enough of them before, those folk art forms that manifest the colorful cultures and history of our ancestors. But time and distance from home have conspired to spur a hunger for more. Of splendid sights and sounds and artistry that strum inner chords in one’s being giving rise to longings for a life that was then, even as we know that what is now could never be as before.

Somehow modifications may have been effected here and there as they were passed on from one generation to the next but how much variations from an old theme could be tolerated before they stir hostility on the hearts of people who consider these things inviolable?

But such thoughts were nowhere near as we got set for the show inside the darkened Harold M. Williams Auditorium of the Getty Center in the San Fernando Valley, Los Angeles.

March 18th was the second of two shows presenting the Kayamanan Ng Lahi Philippine Folk Arts (KNL) and the Rondalla Club of Los Angeles in connection with The Getty Center Sounds of L.A. annual concert series.

Special guest vocalist was Charmaine Clamor, well known Filipino-American jazz artist and said to be the creator of a song genre called jazzipino. Also acknowledged for their participation were the Keali’i Ceballos, Kumu Hula, Halau Keali’i ‘o Nalani as well as contemporary dance artists Peter de Guzman, Ernesto Manacop, Jr., Peggy Nguyen and Ashley Towne.

The program paid “homage to the stunning creative diversity flowing from the Philippine islands to America’s shores.” It was about the evolution of Filipino cultural expression, too, “from traditional gong-and-drum ensembles to string rondalla to contemporary jazz.”

On the theme Agos~Flow: “Inspired by nature’s abundant environment, Philippine music and dance is rooted in reverence and in respect for the land that gives life. Bamboo, followed by brass and bronze, gave voice to the islands’ diverse tribes and communities. Dance punctuated and illustrated every stage of the human lifecycle. Overtime, Filipinos internalized musical traditions from Europe and the Americas, and the accompanying Western instrumentation and formal structures. Like its strategic Pacific location, Philippine culture evolved into a mélange of Eastern and Western flavors.”

It was a “snapshot of the wave and flow of Filipino migration across the ocean and then to the big continent here in America,” said Joel Jacinto, program director of KNL. He spoke of the “Agos” as an original, reflective, thematic and post modern approach about the big waves in the history and the lives of Filipinos especially during the Spanish and American eras.

“‘Agos’ is about the Filipino-Americans,” he added. Jacinto, who is also executive director of the non-profit Search to Involve Pilipino Americans (SIPA), and publicist Ted Benito and Alexandria Sivak, associate communication specialist at The Getty Center, helped facilitate PinoyWatchdog’s accommodation during the event. Our thanks.

Scene 1 was about mother earth, time, fire, air and water:

Inang Lupa (Mother Earth). From the abundance of nature comes the inspiration and materials for the foundation of traditional Philippine culture and expression —music, movement and materials.

Panahon Na (It is Time). A babaylan (priestess) calls upon the diverse peoples of the islands portrayed by the Kayamanan ng Lahi ensemble.

Turayen (Air). Apayao youth imitate high flying birds that inhabit the skies above the Cordillera mountain range.

Ragragsakan (Earth). Kalinga females sing joyous songs while traveling to a distant village to celebrate a peace pact.

Soten/Thalak Subanon (Fire). Males embody strength of character while females entice benevolent spirits with rustling leaves.

Kazadoratan/Singkil (Water). Maranao royalty recreates the pageantry of a wedding, complete with multilayered and poly-rhythmic kulintang music.

Scene 2 was about the Malalaki Na Alon (Great Waves). Personifications for the Spanish colonization and Mexican rule that inundated the islands like great waves from across the seas for over three hundred years. The iconic Filipino stringed ensemble, the rondalla, and other Western musical forms were adapted to suit indigenous character.

Pasodoble de los Cerritos. The Rondalla Club offered a fresh version of a classic Spanish music form. Composed by Will Simbol

Kayamanan Ng Lahi (Treasures of Our People) is a critically acclaimed non-profit organization based in Los Angeles’s Historic Filipinotown. It was established in 1990 and has been under the leadership of the Jacintos — Joel and Ave — and Barbara Ele. It is recognized for its commitment in presenting, promoting and preserving the richness and diversity of Philippine culture through dance and music. The organization is also known to hold workshops and plays a leadership role in providing technical assistance, training, consultation and planning of innovative and culturally appropriate performances and programs in folk dance to student and community folk dance groups.

The Rondalla Club of Los Angeles (RCLA), considered the leading proponent of Philippine instrumental music, was formed in 1991 by a troika consisting of Nitoy Gonzales, former Rondalla maestro of the famed Bayanihan Dance Troupe; Leonilo “Boy” Angos, son of Mr. Gonzales and also a former member of Bayanihan; and Tagumpay “Pi” M. de Leon, son of the late Philippine composer and national artist, Felipe Padilla de Leon. The group has been active in various Filipino social and civic functions.

At The Getty Center Sounds of L.A. is an annual concert series that explores our city’s varied musical geography, celebrating the work of masters as well as up-and-coming musicians from around the globe. Each month features two concerts by charismatic musicians who combine global influences in unexpected and original ways. Admission to any of the shows is free.