RHYTHM NATION
By C.H. Pardo


I attended my first rehearsal of the band Pinikpikan in September. It was held in the garden of sculptress Agnes Arellano. Pinikpikan in its present reincarnation is getting ready to launch a new album and perform with Grace Nono for the concert, "Gawis Tako." Their Nov. 26th show at the Baguio Convention Center is the musical center piece of the 5th Baguio International Arts Festival running Nov. 23-27. Festival venues are staged throughout the city, mainly the Botanical Gardens.

poster by Boy GarovilloBaguio Arts Guild executive director Santi Bose has organized a truly global event with artists from every corner of the earth. They meet in Baguio for a week sharing dance, crafts, mixed-multimedia. Jaime de Guzman from Quezon Province will give seminars at Drum Village on learning to make and use the drum. There will be installation and visual art by filmmaker Egay Navarro, and internet video and audio concepts originating from Mila's M3-03 Cybercafe on Session Road broadcast to Liverpool, England and the world - interactive audio/video via the Net, one additional genre in the world art. Hank Bull in Vancouver, Canada, will interact via the Web and Klay Kayumanggi from Berkeley, California Underground Radio will DJ his audio from a yet undetermined frequency and location. BenCab, Baguio's finest, will be performing, while digital art takes form in a computer store.

The Philippines as host will share some of our finest musical performing treasures. Grace Nono and Pinikpikan take center stage to let the world hear where Pinoy rock, indigenous instruments from North to South, contemporary and traditional Filipino themes and ideas merge.

Grace Nono has two albums out on the market, "Isang Buhay" and "Hulagpos," that give you her view of presenting contemporary Filipino music. "Isang Buhay" is Grace at her finest. Her voice is best in dialects and vocalist Noel Cabangon is a perfect foil. You can catch him at Bistro's 70's and at the concert and on the track "Manama."

Grace working with husband Bob Aves - this has got to be every married working Filipino couple's dream. "Hulagpos" is a Grace project, an anthology of Filipina poetry. It's Grace's melodies and vision, art and activism to help women who are victims of violence. The concept covers all forms of emotional, economic and sexual bad trips.

Boy "BoyU" Yuchengco has written that the origin of the band Pinikpikan was at the First Baguio Arts Festival in 1989, during a party around the Dap-ay (a circular stone area where elders of the tribes in Northern Luzon hold council and rituals) in Baguio's Café by the Ruins. The percussion flowed with guitar and keyboards joining in absolute celebration of the moment. The rehearsal was a feast of sound in honor of the coming millennium.

"The members have never been the same, yet the members always are," says BoyU of the group. Pinikpikan is about spontaneous collaboration by everyone moved by the music. The years have seen the band come and go, but never disappearing, as even the passing of a few members are now a memorial to the band. Q-pal, the bassist, is taking the experience to heart. The band's youngest member, Q-pal says that Musical Director Sammy Asuncion has given him a chance to take rock to soul in one motion. The musical soul that Carlos Santana talks about and lives. A cosmic approach to music bound by magic chords and sounds.

I have gotten to know most of the 20 musicians, and remember watching one of the early Pinikpikan ensembles perform in Malate at Penguin Café around June 1996. The small outdoor area was filled with a collage of percussion instruments. I asked someone if I had missed the launch performance of their first album, "Metronomad," and she replied, "This is a jam." The upcoming 1999 album, "Ataf," is a mission of love and perseverance. The jam is tempered into a conscious stream of sounds and music. The concept of Pinikpikan and its apparent random sound is now in perfect harmony.

Sammy Asuncion and the band as a whole is very much a family of musicians and artists. Week by week, I have seen the pace and tempo perfect themselves. A members drops out and you discover someone new who will add to the sound, through the silence of dance.

Shant Verdun sets up his bamboo frame that holds bongos, gabang , gansa and tungatung. This is totally Baguio, and Shant is imposing and graceful in his execution of the beat.

Standing over his shoulder is Jean Paul on conga, shaker and with a very Latin playing style. Jean Paul is seen rocking against the second floor window of Verve each Wednesday night on J. Nakpil. Dante, the djembe player, is snapping his fingers across the djembe's skin with feeling because his wife has recently given birth to their first son. Boy Garovillo is a talented graphics artist who plays the taglong. The taglong is an indigenous guitarlike instrument with two strings, a long neck with a slender body. Boy has souped it up with an additional bass string and acoustic pickup so it doesn't disappear beneath Gerry's big djembe, tungatung and titultogs. You must really see these musical instruments and hear the sound.

Each of the 20 musicians has been positioned in a semi-circle facing the audience. Joon on bamboo flute to the left and Jose on zordo to the far right. Billy with his long hair and beard stands like a conga-slinging guru. Anne plays perbouka and dumbek. She looks like a Spanish mestiza but is French, and is always aware of the tension across the skins being affected by the humid air. She has an electric light bulb by her side to warm and dry out the interior of her instrument.

A band with just four players can be hell, as each member's personal life and artistic temperaments must mesh to produce a great music. Sammy and BoyU have managed to find balance, and the lack of tension is miraculous. As break was taken last Sunday, the players lit up cigarettesand broke up into three groups. Neil put down his percussion and sat down at the drum set to tap out a beat on the cymbals. The other group sat around playing whatever was there. You had three different jams going on in the room, sounding very random. Q-pal sat alone on his amplifier and began pumping out an electric base line that brought the three groups into sync. This is what Pinikpikan is about. A family that is together musically. On beat.

Carol Bello and Nonoy Alcalde carry the vocal instrumentation. As Grace Nono uses her voice to sing the lyrical side of the music, Pinikpikan uses its vocalists not as a singular male and female singers, but as two unique instruments. I started as a guest and now feel like a member of the band. It was a natural transition. My only clue to the infectious nature of the album is the last song, "Salidummay," a traditional Filipino lullaby, that will have anyone willing to join in the song, come up on the stage. The title of the concert, "Gawis Tako," refers to the journey into the next millennium: "Let us be okay and let our journey be good."

Pinikpikan today has evolved to totally catch the Filipino spirit of music and merge it with that of the world around us. Not religious or political. Not superficial or fake. The collaboration is one of surrender to the music and talents BoyU has brought together.

The music of Grace Nono, Pinikpikan and information on the Baguio Arts Festival can be previewed nationwide between 9 and 2 a.m. every Saturday in November over The Hive FM 100.3 Manila and FM 91.1 in Baguio on the Rock and Roll machine.
 

poster: designed by boy garovillo
 

reprinted from
The Sunday Inquirer Magazine
November 7, 1999