Kulintang music is primarily instrumental, so your addition of vocals is an interesting counterpart to the sounds and rhythms of the gongs. Can you tell me about the importance of the voice and singing to Pantayo?
Katrina We’ve encountered some footage of kulintang players humming along while playing or screaming to accentuate certain parts of the pieces they’re playing. Sometimes when I play kulintang “riffs” I am reminded of some pop song I’ve heard and then this idea drives me to hum along with the melody of that song that I just thought of. My twin sister Kat and I have shared multiple moments (inside jokes?) throughout our lives when we do something similar by putting together two ideas and remixing them. A new memory is then created and we can’t go back or un-hear the two pieces independent from each other. In the same way, when we work together as a band, Michelle, Jo, or Eirene would mention songs they’re reminded by when we jam with the gongs, and that’s when we cultivate the beginnings of a Pantayo song with lyrics incorporated within.
Kat Using voice and singing is one way that we can incorporate ideas that we know from our culture. The first song we wrote that had vocals was ‘Bahala Na’. The title refers to a Filipino philosophy that can mean different things. When I was growing up, I thought this was a passive, fatalist way of accepting adversity. But I’ve learned that it could also mean to surrender and trust in spirit, it is one’s determination to find creative and resourceful solutions to life’s challenges. The almost two-faced structure of the song seems to illustrate this philosophy. Another song, ‘Eclipse’, came together because we learned that the Gandingan (instrument) is referred to by the Maguindanao as “talking gongs”, meant to imitate the sing-songy tone of human voice. If you listen to the structure of just the vocal parts, it looks like there’s no real “chorus”. We wanted the vocals in ‘Eclipse’ to be in conversation with the kulintang lead lines, and used the gongs as another “voice” to carry the song structure forward.
Michelle Adding vocals became something to really consider when we began working on this album project. When we got stuck, our producer alaska B, asked us fundamental questions like the whys and hows. By digging deep and answering these questions, we were able to navigate and process what was authentic to us. From there, it became apparent that adding a voice to our music made sense.
Eirene Adding vocals speaks to our organic process of mixing kulintang with our other musical influences. We love songs with singing and lyrics! We love a good ballad. A song like ‘Divine’ is an example of where the kulintang ensemble instruments take on more of a supporting role to a lead vocal line.
You’ve just released a debut album after more than five years of playing together. Would you say that playing live, composing and workshopping has felt more important to you than making an album, and if so, why?
Katrina We had come together as a group initially to learn the traditions behind kulintang and some pieces from sheet music we’ve come across. When we started incorporating our own influences, that’s when the thought of making an album propped up in our minds. Working with someone like alaska B pushed us to package songs we’ve been working on into an album format. We are privileged for funds that were made available to us from the Ontario Arts Council, the City of Toronto, and FACTOR, largely from the grant writing efforts of our band member, Kat (and eventually, with the help of Telephone Explosion, our label). I mention these funding opportunities since we would not have structured our band the way that it is now without considering how we can be compensated, money-wise, for the work we do. In my opinion, the album-making process would not have been as important in our band’s activities had there been no support for it.
Michelle In hindsight, workshopping and playing together for years was definitely integral to the formation of Pantayo. This provided us a space to grow personally, and most importantly, it provided us a space to grow together. Years of learning and growing together helped us get ready for making an album. As we would eventually learn, making an album is quite complex. It could be challenging to plough through pushes and pulls/trials and errors, and had we not had a solid foundation, we would have completely fallen apart.