Tracing the musical roots in the Philippines, and the rebellious sounds of the Sahara

On this premier show of Chicago is the World Radio program, I will be featuring music by two groups who will be playing in town, Tinariwen and Bagwis. What follows is a collection of music from the Philippines that has influenced my own cultural consciousness I hope you all will enjoy.

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009. Live broadcast on WHPK 88.5 in Chicago’s southside and streaming live on the net at

april-21-09_chicagoistheworld playlist download


Bangon Ka, Ina (Arise, mother), Dap-ayan ti Kultura iti Kordilyera
the Dap-ayan ti Kultura iti Kordilyera (DKK or the regional umbrella of cultural organizations) a Regional sectoral organization of the Cordillyera People’s Alliance.

The Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) is an independent federation of progressive peoples organizations, most of them grassroots-based organizations among indigenous communities in the Cordillera Region, Philippines . CPA is committed to the promotion and defense of indigenous peoples’ rights, human rights, social justice, and national freedom and democracy.

Timbuktu à Essakane , Lo’Jo
Lo’Jo are a group of France-based musicians, performing and recording a blend of world music with strong North African as well as French folk elements.

The band was founded in 1982 in Angers by singer/keyboardist Denis Péan and Richard Bourreau (violin/kora). These two have remained central to Lo’Jo throughout their history. For several years, with a rotating cast of members, they played events locally, working with acrobats, street theatre, mime, dancers and film as part of their overall presentation. They have subsequently maintained a communal lifestyle, based in Angers.

By the end of the 1980s, they were playing throughout Europe and had appeared in New York as part of an artists’ collective. Including Nicholas ‘Kham’ Meslien (bass) and Matthieu Rousseau (drums), they consolidated their line-up, and their first album, Fils de Zamal, was released in 1993. In 1995 the group added singer/saxophonist Yamina Nid El Mourid and her sister, Nadia, who brought a strong North African influence to the music. In 1996, the new lineup recorded Sin Acabar, and 1997 saw them complete Mojo Radio, both with English producer Justin Adams. Upon the latter’s release they found more acclaim in the world music community, getting them on the WOMAD circuit.

In 1999, they journeyed to Bamako, Mali, to begin work on Bohème de Cristal. While in Mali, they became involved in the organization of the Desert Music Festival held in January 2001.

In 2002 they released the acclaimed Au Cabaret Sauvage (originally issued in France as L’une des Siens). This was followed by a live album Ce Soir Là (2003), and a new studio album Bazar Savant (2006).

Hele, Bagwis
BAGWIS is a collective of filipino cultural workers, activists, and musicians who began writing and performing original music in 1998 as a contribution to the first annual Kultural Night of Resistance celebrating the centennial year of Philippine Independance. Since then, Bagwis has composed several dozen pro-people songs and participates in community building for our youth, women, artists and migrante workers. BAGWIS music believes in THE POWER OF THE PEOPLE, in seeking genuine freedom and democracy in the Philippines and in upholding human rights. In creating & performing this kind of music, BAGWIS hopes that it is contributing its humble share and effort in the overall struggle for justice and social change.

Sierra Madre, Musikang Bayan
Musikang Bayan (People’s Music) is an acoustic band. It was formally formed in 2002, a year after its first music album was recorded and launched. It is composed of 4 members whose objective is to write and popularize the songs of ordinary people from different sectors of society. Its name was derived from those who toil, create and build our society and who makes history. Their lives, aspirations and heroism always inspire the group to compose and perform.

Kik Ayittma (Hey my brothers), Toumast
Moussa Ag Keyna was born in the north of the Azawagh valley, a remote region running on each side of the border between Niger and Mali.
In 1987, he left his homeland to join the Touareg political movement, which prepared an offensive attack for the recognition of the Touareg people. During slack periods, Moussa learned to play the guitar in the ishumar style, using the melodies of the traditional repertoire as a starting point, as his elders, the group Tinariwen, would later do. In 1993, his right leg was seriously wounded in combat and he was taken to France, where thanks to the benevolence of a few associations, doctors and private medical centers, he recovered partial use of his leg. In 1995, he got word that 12 of his comrades in arms had been assassinated. In reaction, Moussa wrote the song 12 moons and started the Toumast band. His guitar and music would now become his only weapon to help people know of the Touareg society. After ten years spent in France and several collaborations with Western musicians including the Digital Bled project, Toumast’s first album, “Ishumar”, is recorded in 2005 with Dan Levy.

Kilos Tawo , Pinikpikan
Pinikpikan – It all started during the first Baguio Arts Festival. Participating artists from Manila had joined up with members of the Baguio Arts Guild at a dinner at Cafe by the Ruins after the festival’s opening. As they sat around the Cafe’s Dap-ay (a circular rock and stone installation found in tribal villages in the northern Cordillera where elders hold their council and rituals) someone picked up a couple of pieces of pinewood meant for the fire raging at the center. Another picked up some bamboo segments. Rum and beer bottles were used. So were covers of pots and pans. Rocks were pounded. Sticks flailed. A rhythm was born. Very Igorot in its influence. Then the rock band The Blank joined with lead and bass guitars. A keyboard was set up. A couple of guys brought out their saxophone and flutes. Grace Nono wailed and the Bisaya and Ilonggo connected it with their melodies. The Wandering Chink called it Rock n’ Runo (a reed found in the highlands similar to bamboo). Manong Bencab called them the Pinikpikan, after a Mountain Province chicken dish which is prepared with an Igorot beat.

The Pinikpikan Band was never ever “officially” formed, yet it exists. From a Baguio cafe’s Dap-ay to a living room on Protacio in Pasay, from the beaches of Puerto Galera to the mountains of Sagada, the music has incessantly rocked and rolled. Different places, different groupings, but always the percussion and the jamming. The members have never been the same, yet the members always are.

Diokno Pasilan calls the concept a “collaborative idea for artists who consider it a lifestyle based on an intuitive notion of coming together and sharing the moment with the creative impulses of music and art according to the participants’ own understanding.”

Interactive, as one would say these days. An art Interface through musical rhythms.

One of the unusual characteristics of this “band” is that the participants aren’t all career musicians. Most are visual artists, installationists, filmmakers. And one or two even consider themselves as Art Objects (in more ways than one: Object ng object sa Art ‘yung iba).

As such, the music you hear is nowhere in the class of Boying Geronimo, let alone Nana Vasconcelos. Also, the “best” music the group has ever put together was created at parties or some such occasion. This is because of the spontaneous, trance-like celebratory aspect of the participants’ lifestyles.

Matadjem Yinmixan (Why all this hate between you), Tinariwen
The Tinariwen story is already well marinated in startling myths; fierce nomadic desert tribesmen toting guns and guitars, Ghadaffi’s poet-soldiers spreading their gospel of freedom throughout the world, turbaned rock’n’roll troubadours, Stratocaster on one shoulder, Kalashnikov on the other, 17 bullet wounds and rawest desert blues on earth.

Like all myths, like all legends, there’s plenty of truth mixed in there with the wild fantasy and wishful thinking. But the real story is deeper, richer, more engrossing, and more universal. In the desert oasis of Tamanrasset, southern Algeria, three aimless teenage friends in exile – Ibrahim Ag Alhabib, Hassan Ag Touhami aka ‘The Lion of the Desert’ and Inteyeden – fall in love with the guitar, and with all the dreams of modernity and freedom that it embodies. They write songs about their own lives and about those of their friends, the modern Touareg youth, no longer lording over the desert on their camels, but living the clandestino life far from home, surviving by any means necessary, longing for friends and family, dreaming of retribution, of freedom, of self-determination. They are Kel Tinariwen, the ‘desert boys’.

In the 1980s, all three become soldier-musicians, lured into military camps in Libya by Colonel Ghadaffi. Their songs become the soundtrack of a time and of a movement; the ishumar, the Sahara desert’s Generation X. They fight a brief, painful rebellion against the government of Mali. They accept peace. They become full-time musicians and meet LoJo, a group of musical adventurers from Angers in France. They stage the first Festival in the Desert, visit Europe for the first time, release two albums including the award winning ‘Amassakoul’ and tour the world. This whole epic story takes 28 years to unfold.

Samba, Grace Nono
Born and raised in Agusan, Northeastern Mindanao, Southern Philippines, Grace Nono is an award-winning Philippine-world music artist-producer, researcher-teacher, and cultural worker-administrator.

Learning from Philippine elders the performance of a number of oral traditions for the past fifteen years, and infusing these with her own contemporary spirit, Grace is known to advance through music, issues such as living identity, environmentalism, women’s rights, and inter-faith dialogue.

She has been featured in world-music festivals around the world, and was principal vocalist for the Asian Fantasy Orchestra in its Asian tours from 1998 to 2002. As a recording artist, Grace has released five acclaimed solo recordings, and together with principal collaborator, composer-arranger-musical director Bob Aves, established Tao Music, an all-Filipino record label, whose publications on various Philippine traditional musics are being used by a number of schools and teachers as instructional materials for the teaching of Philippine music, arts and culture. In 2006, Grace was awarded a residency at the Asia-Pacific Performance Exchange Program at the UCLA, and this 2008, another fellowship grant is being granted to her by the Asian Arts Council.

On the administrative front, Grace serves as Founding Director for the Tao Foundation for Culture and Arts, a non-government organization engaged in cultural research, music publications, popular education, scholarships, cultural regeneration and holistic development initiatives, for which she has been granted support by the Toyota Foundation, the Ford Foundation, UNESCO, the British Council, the Cultural Center of the Philippines, the National Commission for Culture and Arts, Advocates of Philippine Fair Trade, AusAid, and other institutions.

To date, Grace has won 40 awards, including TOYM or Ten Outstanding Young Men, TOWNS or The Outstanding Women in the Nation’s Service, numerous Catholic Mass Media, Katha, Awit, National Press Club, and other awards for her artistic and cultural contributions.

Ania Na, Joey Ayala
It is an innate character of Filipinos to be music lovers. History proves it through the Philippines’ wide range of songs that are evolving and adapting to the changing times. These are songs that mirror the Filipinos’ rich saga depicting the culture, customs, traditions, and life itself.

Another proof of the Filipinos’ love for music is the recognitions received by Filipinos such as Lea Salonga and Regine Velasquez who made it big through their talent in music. Joey Ayala is one artist adding more rhythm to Philippine music.

Songwriter and columnist Joey Ayala is an Economics graduate of the Ateneo de Davao University. Joey grew up in an artistic family. His father, Jose Ayala, is a painter. Tita Lacambra, his mother, is a poet. Cynthia Alexander, the Rock Diva, is his sister.

Joey Ayala is a contemporary pop music artist in the Philippines. He is well known for his style of music that combines the sounds of Filipino ethnic instruments with modern pop music. His professional music career started when he released an album recorded in a makeshift studio in 1982.

He used to play bass and indigenous string instruments with ethnic music such as the two stringed hegalog of the T’ Boli tribe in Mindanao and the 8 piece gong set, kulintang of the maguindanaoan tribe. He also uses modern instruments like electric guitar, bass guitar and drums in his music.

This Datu Bago awardee popularized such haunting songs as “Walang Hanggang Paalam” from the album “Magkabilaan” and “Wala Nang Tao Sa Santa Filomena.” These two songs eventually became theme songs of two critically acclaimed films, Lino Brocka’s “Orapronobis,” and Marilou Diaz Abaya’s “Bagong Buwan,” respectively.

Ayala also recorded other albums such as “Panganay ng Umaga,” “Mga Awit ng Tanod-Lupa,” “Lumad sa Siyudad,” and “Langit at Lupa.” “16 Lovesongs” (Bagong Lumad) was launched last September 11,2003 at ABS-CBN mag:Net gallery. The universality of love illustrated by an extremely talented and poetic man who recovered from a struggle searching for purpose and realizing that music was his. His songs often deal with environmental concerns, and contradictions on oneself, love, nature, and the society.


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