Cuerdas sa Pagkakaysa 2011

CUERDAS SA PAGKAKAYSA: 3rd International Rondalla Festival

12-19 February 2011/ City of Tagum, Davao del Norte province, Philippines

21-24 February 2011/ University of the Philippines–Diliman, Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines

Cuerdas sa Pagkakaysa (“Strings of Unity” translated in the Filipino language) was presented by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), through the Musicological Society of the Philippines (MSP) and the City of Tagum Tourism Council (CTTC), in cooperation with the City Government of Tagum under the leadership of Mayor Rey T. Uy, and the University of the Philippines College of Music.

The first leg of the Festival took place in Tagum City in the province of Davao del Norte: it was the most favorable in the Mindanao area (Southern Philippines island) because of its desire to project music as its main cultural emblem with its annual music festival called Musikahan, and its promotion of the rondalla. From there, though on a smaller scale, the Festival went to Metro Manila in Quezon City where the University of the Philippines-Diliman (U.P.), thanks to its Chancellor Sergio S. Cao and the Office of Initiatives for Culture and the Arts, was host to a number of daily concerts, outreach performances and master classes. A special performance at the main theater of the Cultural Center of the Philippines capped this second and last leg of the Festival.

The Participants

From the 21 groups that came to Cuerdas sa Panaghiusa, the number of participants swelled to 36 ensembles: 12 international contingents, 12 local rondallas, and 12 indigenous groups from around Davao del Norte and outlying provinces – a much more ambitious effort to bring together musics from diverse cultures, climes and civilizations. For the first time two great musical civilizations joined the event: China and India, where plucked string traditions have flourished for centuries with great intensity and vigor. The Festival was also graced by the participation of Manlilikha ng Bayan awardee (National Living Treasure) Samaon Sulaiman.

The Philippine groups were: the Andres Bonifacio Elementary School Alumni Rondalla (Manila), The Cainta Rondalla Ensemble (Rizal province), Celso Espejo Rondalla (Las Piñas City, Metro Manila), Dipolog City Community Rondalla (Dipolog City, Zamboanga del Norte province), Kabataang Silay Rondalla Ensemble (Silay City, Oriental Negros province), Philippine Normal University Rondalla (Manila), Quezon Rondalla (Quezon province), RTU Tunog Rizalia Rondalla (Mandaluyong City, Metro Manila), The Sisters of Mary School Boystown Rondalla (Cavite province), Tagum City National Comprehensive High School Rondalla (Tagum City, Davao del Norte province), University of the Philippines Rondalla (Quezon City, Metro Manila), and the University of Southeastern Philippines Rondalla (Davao City, Davao region).

After a global search for participants, the international groups in attendance were: the Abhijit Roychoudhury Group (India), China Broadcasting Chinese Orchestra Plucked String Instrument Ensemble (Beijing, China), Luo Chao Yun’s Music Group (Taiwan), Miladomus Music School (Jakarta, Indonesia), National University of Singapore Rondalla (Singapore), Prasarnmit Performing Arts Alliance (Thailand), Phoenix Trio (Russia), Roohtaf (Iran), Sai Hawm Paeng (Chiang Mai, Thailand), Soundaryalaya (India), Suarasama (Sumatera, Indonesia), and the Xiamen Music School (Xiamen, China).

The indigenous peoples’ groups from the Davao region who performed onstage their music usually played in the context of their ritual spaces, were: the Ata-Manobo of Kapalong (Davao del Norte), the Dibabawon of Kapalong (Davao del Norte), the Kagan of Madaum (Davao del Norte), the Mandaya of New Bataan (Compostela Valley), the Mandaya of Baganga (Davao del Norte), the Mandaya of Caraga (Davao Oriental), the Mangguangan of New Corella (Davao del Norte, Philippines), the Manobo of Talaingod (Davao del Norte, Philippines), the Mansaka of Tagum City (Tagum City, Davao del Norte), the Mansaka of Maragusan (Compostela Valley), the Matigsalog of Marilog (Davao City), and Special Guest Manlilikha ng Bayan (National Living Treasure) Master Samaon Sulaiman from Maguindanao. The latter is a key figure in this music scene, a virtuoso in kutyapiq playing. He is also a recipient of the Philippine National Living Treasures Award (Gawad sa Manlilikha ng Bayan) that honors artists of the Traditional Arts. Throughout the festival he gave the public a taste of the Filipino people’s shared traditions with Indonesia and other Southeast Asian countries. The musical showcases of these different indigenous groups demonstrated that the Philippines plucked string traditions are not limited to the rondalla ensemble. Variations of the kudlong (kutyapiq) instrument are indeed widespread among these groups of Davao region and of others in Mindanao. The festival gave them a wider audience to present their music to, as well as to educate about the rich cultural heritage of the country.

The Performances


A vast diversity of music characterized the repertoires played. Considering the great variety of instruments and ensembles and the different musical cultures they represent, the audience experienced the breadth of sonic structures that they are capable of producing. Among the Philippine rondallas alone, the pieces ranged from folksongs that have been re-arranged by leading Filipino composers such as Lucio San Pedro and Alfredo Buenaventura, dance music and pasodobles, to transcriptions of classical compositions by masters such as Franz von Suppe, Antonio Vivaldi, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Peter Ilyich Tchaikowsky, to pop songs by Ryan Cayabayab, Ogie Alcasid and Koji Kondo and new works of Bayani de Leon, Philip Vinoya, Jimuel Dave Dagta, Christine Muyco, Josefino Toledo and Ramon Santos. The Chinese repertoires covered a wide musical compass from ancient melodies to folk songs from Jiangsu, Xinjiang, Canton, and Yunnan, highly evocative of nature, landscape, fantasy, and the beauty of the different times of the day. Luo Chao-Yun’s group from Taipei on the other hand explored highly modern techniques on the Chinese pipa as well as other instruments. The Miladomus from Indonesia also represented Chinese music, playing a group of guzheng instruments and producing a powerful variety of sound and dramatic effects.

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Suarasama, also from Indonesia, exploited a different musical language featuring the traditional instruments gambus and the kulcapi with new fusion compositions (written by Irwansyah Harahap) derived from Karonese music. Each of the evening concerts began with the music performances as well as the courtship dances of the artists and leaders of the indigenous people’s groups from the Davao region. Their two-string plucked lutes were highlighted, performing different kinds of musical strains: the kudlong, among the upland people of Mindanao, is an instrument that is usually played with the saluroy (a polychordal zither). They were performed by a man and a woman. They are played to communicate messages, either with song or with dance, or both. They are used in festivities, in courtship, as lullabies, and in other rites of passage.

The two Indian groups of Soundaryalaya and the ensemble led by sarod player Abhijit Roychoudhury played different ragas; while the Iranian Roothaf sang and played maghams in the tar and tanboor accompanied on the tonbak, the clay pot and the damam, the drum. On the other hand, the Phoenix Trio from Russia performed renditions of pieces that range from the classical music of Aram Katchaturian, to the dance rhythms of different countries, to folk dances and modern music. In contrast was Sai Hawm Paeng from Chiang Mai, Thailand, that uses a distinct instrumentation (mostly made up of sung and salaw) and tonal pentatonic mode, playing music that has a variety of purpose, from accompanying boxing to love song, to description of cities.

The highlight of the entire Festival were the Closing Concerts in both sites (Tagum City and U.P.-Diliman) that featured the more than 300 plucked string artists who rendered four composite pieces: the Cuerdas II Visayan Medley by Ramon Santos; a Beatles Medley arranged for rondalla by Josefino Toledo; the Festival’s theme Isahan sa Pagkakaisa; and Katubo by Ramon Santos, the new composition for Cuerdas sa Pagkakaysa, complete with the participation of the indigenous artists from Mindanao and the Asian improvisational music from India, Iran, North Sumatra and Thailand.

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Outreach performances

The outreach performances were able to spread the different musical treasures to countless citizens in all walks of life. A total of 23 performances reached some 50,000 or more people from outlying towns and cities, with as widely varied venues as a school gymnasium, municipal and barangay halls, town squares, cultural centers, hospitals, malls, the public market, trade center, the Freedom Park (of Tagum City), rehabilitation center, home for the aged, and the Bureau of Prison and Jail Management.

Conference (Tagum City)

Theme: “Plucked String Music: Tradition, Change and New Directions”

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The three-day conference – attended by more than 100 participants – included plenary sessions, paper presentations and public workshops. Master classes were added in the afternoon for a focused group discussion. The conference tackled the different aspects of plucked string cultures in the Philippines and in the different parts of the world. The first day was a discussion on the history and legacy of the Philippine Rondalla, where scholars were joined by senior Rondalla masters/ teachers. These historical presentations were complimented on the second day by those on indigenous and traditional plucked string music such as the kudlong, kutyapiq and fuglung from the Philippines; the sűbű from the Lisu people of Northern Thailand and the domra from Russia. Modern trends and innovation on the rondalla instruments were also given some space, such as the development of the Singapore-Vietnamese bandoria and the resurgence of the rondalla in Australasia. The third day was dedicated to the plucked string tradition in Mindanao. The ‘Conversation with the Masters’ classes were an exciting aspect of the conference: the two master artists Jasa Tarigan from the Karo Batak (Indonesia) and Samaon Sulaiman from Maguindanao (Philippines) were able to dialogue and fuse their two music together, one playing the kulcapi and the other performing on the kudyapiq, in a display of utter virtuosity. The Miladomus of Indonesia, a highly liberal music group that has been playing fusion music, collaborated with the Roohtaf from Iran in an experiment of merging instruments to play a freshly fashioned musical expression.


Title: “Cuerdas: Music, Heritage and Cultural Identity”

The exhibit focused on the musical heritage of Tagum and its environs, centering on the indigenous communities of the Manobo from Talaingod; the Matigsalog, the Mandaya from Banganga, New Bataan, and Compostela; the Dibabawon from Kapalong; the Mansaka from Tagum and Maragusan; the Mangguangan from New Corella; the Kagan of Madaum; and the Ata-Manobo from Kapalong. The different styles of playing the kudlong and saluroy were highlighted as well as the different social functions of the music – for accompanying a ritual, song and dance, or for pure entertainment. Initially planned to focus on the plucked string tradition of four major indigenous groups in Tagum City (Mansaka, Kagans, Dibabawon and Mandaya), the exhibit expanded to include more indigenous groups from the provinces of Compostela Valley, Davao Oriental and Davao del Sur.

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The plucked string traditions of the world and the Philippine rondalla were also important features of the exhibition. Through stories of migration, it presented some of the pioneers (who came from as far as Ilocos and Baguio City in Northern Luzon Island) who introduced the rondalla instruments in Tagum. The government provided the ships that brought these settlers to Davao,  among them Benjamin Daquioag and Alfredo Pulmano, who were the first teachers of rondalla in Magugpo (the former name of Tagum).

World Rondalla Society Meeting

Founded during the 2nd International Rondalla Festival, the World Rondalla Society held its third meeting during Cuerdas sa Pagkakaysa to formally launch the organization and draft its permanent organs, its programs and other musical and extra-musical goals (festivals, other forms of international and regional exchanges, cultural tourism). The Society will not only sustain the evolution of an important musical patrimony but will also promote peace and understanding among the world’s cultural communities. To strengthen itself, it was envisioned that the forthcoming festival would strive to expand the ambit of participation where plucked strings have been flourishing in the past and present history of world musics (Eastern Europe, West Asia, and Africa).


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