KASAMA Vol. 17 No. 4 / October-November-December 2003 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network

Gamelan Pinoy Style

The predominantly Filipino audience that filled Brisbane's Multicultural Community Centre on November 8, gave an enthusiastic reception to Kontemporaryong Gamelan Pilipino the resident ethnic music and dance ensemble of the College of Arts and Letters of the University of the Philippines, Diliman.

KNOWN BY its acronym Kontra-GaPi, the performance group combines song, dance, rhythmic clapping and chants with the music of more than twenty different instruments. And in between the pieces, while various performers exit the stage to change costumes, the group's founding Director, Professor Pedro "Edru" Abraham, explains the nature of the music you are about to hear, its historical and cultural context, the origins of the instruments, and the principles around which Kontra-GaPi is formed. He aims for a "total theatre approach" in which the audience not only observes and listens but is also an "essential participant in the creative process".

"Gapi" means "to shackle" and "kontra" is "against", so the acronym implies taking a stand against confining artistic expression. Kontra-GaPi borrows elements of the gamelan orchestra from our Indonesian cousins and blends gamelan with the stories, melodies, rhythms and instruments, traditional and modern, that are indigenous to the Philippines. It aims to offset Western influence in Philippine pop culture.

Originally the music of religious worship, gamelan itself has evolved into a fusion of musical influence from the Hindu, Javanese, Balinese, Chinese, Malay and Middle Eastern traditions. Diverse gamelan orchestras, each reflecting the local style of music, are widespread throughout Southeast Asian countries. Gamelan groups are popular even in parts of Australia, Europe and the USA.

The unique cultural sensations of the Philippines can survive, despite centuries of Hispanic and American invasion and neo-colonisation, if its peoples refuse to be vanished, absorbed and assimilated, allowing history to be ignored and forgotten. Kontra-GaPi has its role to play in this resistance. Like the word gamelan which derives from the Javanese "gamel", meaning "to hammer", we can strike at the closed doors of those who would deny freedom. Enthused to recall our ways of activism the audience chanted with Kontra-GaPi: "FREEDOM, JUSTICE, PEACE TO THE WORLD! MOTHER NATURE, FOR THE CHILDREN, FOR THE PEOPLE, FOR THE FUTURE!"

The Brisbane performance was Kontra-GaPi's nineteenth during its thirty-day tour of Australia including Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney. The tour organisers took on a huge commitment to raise funds, organise sponsorship, publicity, accommodation, hosting and transport for 17 people, dozens of instruments and costumes galore across more than a thousand kilometres. The splendid effort of the Queensland Filipino Community Council that achieved bringing Kontra-GaPi to Brisbane should not go unrecognised.

And an extra treat for the Brisbane performance was our local Filipino Silayan A Cappella Group who welcomed the audience with Cordilleran salidummays performed in traditional Bontoc-style dress.

- Dee Dicen Hunt