TATI is my nickname; my full name is Astarte D. Abraham. Working with Kontra-GaPi is not my full-time job. I was invited by Sir Edru to join the tour because I have been a member of the group since 1994 and, since it is just a one month tour, I was glad to join. I'm a freelance performing artist and I host events back in the Philippines. Basically I am a singer, dancer, actor and writer.
Kontra-GaPi has toured the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Canada, the U.S., Laos, Vietnam and now Australia. The President of the University of the Philippines christened us Ambassadors of Goodwill. We are not for profit and we are not music majors, we come from very different backgrounds.
We believe everyone has an ability that can be used in a community to make music together. If you can dance or sing, well and good, we will have you dancing or singing. And, since we are not music majors, we utilise each person's main music strength. For instance if you're not really gifted in performing, you can help out in other ways. And we all get to play almost all the instruments. I also compose and my favourite is the kulintang, the main percussive instrument.
So basically it's a lot of group work and team work. There are a lot of instruments and costumes to pack, re-pack, and they have to be carried around. And when the group is on tour and we are assigned to a hostel, we have to organise a cooking committee, a laundry committee; it's like playing house. We are divided into two households and there are rules about the things we should or shouldn't be doing. For instance, I was invited to a disco. But it's been a policy since 1997 that if we have a show the following day we should relax the night before.
It doesn't take too long to prepare for a performance like the one we presented this evening. We have a show back home and standard pieces that we modify to suit the person or persons who are going to perform the piece. We are flexible and can have three for a particular dance or just one dancer. Usually we have a solo singer but we can have a duet or a trio as well. So we modify certain pieces and create new ones.
Sir Edru Abraham is the main choreographer. I choreographed the Kalutang dance with the tuned wooden bars and the Waltzing Matilda piece.
No, I don't see myself working in this same group in ten years from now; although I can help out. In so many ways I am indebted to Sir Edru and Kontra-GaPi has given me so much, but I feel that I have to move on and discover 'me'. So after this I'd like to be more active in Philippine theatre and be more active in the performing scene there.
When members of the group graduate, they move on. In the same way that I need to move on, I'm sure they will too. Because only a few, I think, will dedicate their lives to performing. That's why we keep on training, and training and training.
We suggested to Sir Edru that he professionalises the group so that he has a constant pool of people and grows from there and right now I'm not closing the door to that; this could be a full-time thing. The amount of work required to produce such a show, year in and year out, could easily be a full time job. I'm sure that I could help out with the songs and the dances, as I have done before, but I'm thirsty for other things as well. Personally I've dedicated much of my college life to the group.
On tour we rehearse when we have the chance, because often there's no time or place to rehearse where we can unpack all the instruments.
In Manila, at the UP Diliman Faculty Centre on the 2nd floor, we have a stockroom and a tambayan - our home where we can post all the information about the group.
The good thing about training college students is that you infect them with a mission. You can infect a new batch all the time with our beliefs. We're kind of political; we have a political statement. We like to expose our Filipino identity. Most people would possibly not have an inkling about the depth and breadth of our culture. For many people it is the first time to see a show like this. Maybe for many Filipinos, the gauge of performance rating would be imitating Western standards, imitating how westerners sing or how westerners dance.
You said that you noticed a bit of rap towards the end and that the group mixes different cultures and employs a fusion of sounds. Well, that's why we're contemporary. Actually we used to have a synthesiser. In 1997 we had a choir and I had a composition where the whole structure of the song was very western. Why? Because I was into pop songs also. You know, you can't really erase your creative process in order to be a certain way.
Yes, I've encountered purists. But art is so big and our name says Kontemporaryong Gamelan Pilipino. We are contemporary. We say, okay this is a traditional dance but we have actually made it our own and this is Edru Abraham's version, or this is my version or my interpretation, it is not the actual authentic tribal version. But we take, we get, from that; and that can be a good thing. We've never said that we do authentic versions of tribal music or dances. One has an artistic licence to be different and to interpret some things in a creative way.