One of the regional bands playing at the Penang World Music Festival 2013 (www.penangworldmusic.gov.my) in Malaysia this weekend is Kalayo (www.kalayomusic.com). The Filipino group plays experimental, folk, fusion, contemporary and roots music. Louie Talan, the band’s bass player, co-produced and engineered the group’s debut album “Kalayo-Malaya” alongside Sammy Asuncion, who is the musical director, vocalist and guitarist.
Louie joins us in this exclusive interview on the group’s unique blend of tribal and contemporary sound, improvisational styles, and Asian connections!
What was the vision behind founding of your music group, and the name of your group?
Kalayo (in certain Philippine dialects) translated to English means “fire” or “heat.” Words which suit a certain kind of aggression that we like to put into our music. This is definitely not a passive outfit!
Our vision, which we carry over from our group’s past incarnation as Pinikpikan, is to create music that has its roots in the music of the indigenous tribes of our country, but openly acknowledges and embraces musical influences from all parts of the world. All of us are broad, open-minded listeners, and we live to absorb all the beautiful music this planet has to offer. Hopefully, our compositions reflect this.
How do you blend different musical influences and genres in your compositions?
We don’t really think about it. It’s just a very natural process where the music just comes out a certain way. A result of varied listening I suppose. We can go through the whole process of writing and recording a song, then only upon playback realise “hey that’s got a bit of salsa in it eh?”
What is your vision of what music can do in this age of political/economical turmoil?
I believe a sincere, unselfish and courageous act by an individual can move mountains. The world has witnessed this many times. If a song can inspire that individual, then music can do so much.
What are your thoughts on fusion and blending of music of different genres, though some purists frown on it?
If no one decided to try blend blue and red, there would be no purple! It is necessary in order for music to evolve.
Tell us about the more unusual instruments you have in your ensemble.
We use a lot of bamboo instruments (tungatong, bungkaka), juice harps (kubing), brass gongs (gansa) and two string lutes (hegalong/faglong) from the mountain provinces. We also use djembe-inspired drums homemade by one of our percussionists, Boy Garrovillo.
What new album or video are you working on now?
We released an album mid 2011, and along with it, a video for our song “Lumaban Ka” which can be seen on YouTube. We are due to start recording again mid-2013.
What have been your previous highlights in playing across Asia?
We have played in Cambodia, Sarawak, Singapore and the highlight is always to find that we have a deep connection with our Asian neighbours. Be it similar or common words, gestures or habits, it is very warming to know that we have so much in common.
Do you also teach workshops for students/musicians?
Yes, we do make it a point to share what we know with anyone who is interested. Sammy is actually a guitar instructor at the Euro Campus in Manila. Carol Bello, who recently re-joined the group, lectures at a university. Boy Garrovillo gives drum making workshops. I regularly hold bass clinics. We feel blessed to be able to play music, and we love to give back.
Some of us will be conducting workshops at the festival Penang. On the side, most of us also attend music workshops. Always great to hear a musician or artist verbalise what they do!
What music influences did your family have?
My parents love music. I am so grateful for that. I grew up around Peter, Paul & Mary, John Denver, Chuck Mangione, The Tijuana Brass Band & The Glenn Miller Orchestra. My parents never forbade me from listening to anything. But my mom did kind of frown when she heard Iron Maiden! I was encouraged to take up piano at an early age.
How do you choose what to play in just a short 45-minute session in the festival, given your repertoire?
We always like people to groove, have a good time and participate. That is sort of a guiding principle when we put together a set list. It is very hard to choose songs for a 45 minute set. Most especially because we are known to spontaneously stretch out songs to 20 minutes when the spirit moves us! We always try to show a bit of everything, we have solemn prayer-like hymns and we have balls-out funk/rock stompers plus everything in between.
What kinds of social and political messages have been conveyed in your recent albums?
Our song “Lumaban Ka” encourages people to fight….for their rights, for what they believe in, for what is theirs. “Padayon” encourages people to carry on, despite difficulties in life. “Simigla, Sumaya” says just dance your problems away! “Kabayanihan” is about people coming together to achieve a common goal.
What can we expect to hear at your upcoming performance?
You can expect us to play our hearts out for you Penang. Perhaps we will even bring out some of our Pinikpikan material. Then we will come down and party with you all! It’s gonna be great.
From the looks of the festival lineup on the website, I have to say that the organisers have put together a really interesting show this year. All the acts are top quality with something unique to offer. Fantastic. From our experience, the camaraderie between bands in world music festivals has always been great, and we always leave with new knowledge and new inspiration.
Written by Madanmohan Rao
Editor & DJ, World Music and Jazz; Bangalore
Global Correspondent for Jazzuality.com
Photos are taken from Kalayo’s official website http://kalayomusic.com