A Festival Of Underground, Experimental & International Music
2 – 5 April 2020
Various Venues Around Glasgow

It is amazing how much is still going on amongst the community of artists. Home radio shows, online streaming, digital releases and all sorts of creative approaches. The concern is where does income come from? The creative spirit can generate all sorts of outcomes but without mechanisms of currency it is hard to see how, with our current systems of capitalism, incomes can be sustained.

As we said before we are currently exploring ways that Counterflows can move forward. Solutions will be found. We will get there.

On to our fourth intervention, we were so looking forward to seeing Pantayo live, they generate such an ebullient and bubbling energy. With their new music just being released it is perfect timing to offer them the website for their intervention. Thanks to Frances Morgan for the Q&A. Enjoy…

Alasdair & Fielding

Pantayo

An interview by Frances, Morgan 2020

‘Kulintang is to be played by everyone,’ says Kat Estacio of Pantayo. The Toronto-based quintet of Kat and her sister Katrina Estacio, Eirene Cloma, Michelle Cruz and Joanna Delos Reyes look to the social origins of the Filipino gong-based music for inspiration, combining traditional percussion instruments and musical structures with influences from synth-pop, punk and r&b that reflect the group’s experiences as diasporic queer Filipinx musicians with varied – and fluid – relationships to tradition and place. Pantayo’s new self-titled album, out now on Telephone Explosion, mixes hypnotic jams such as ‘Bronse’ with dancefloor fillers like ‘Heto Na’ and the fierce pop anthem ‘VVV (They Lie)’. It’s dreamy, sharp and joyful. It’s also the result of years of workshopping, friendship and ongoing explorations of roots and identities, as they explain below.

SENSELONG on KLINTANG, T’boli – Tablo

When did you first play together as a group and what was it like?

Michelle We started playing together in early 2012. It was a period of exploration for the group and it was also a time when our friendships beyond being workshop buddies began to grow.

Kat I remember a steep learning curve! When we first played together, we deciphered sheet music based on a lot of assumptions on its notation. It didn’t matter so much how and what we played, but I remember the first thing we wanted to do was end pieces together. Different members took interest in certain songs and that gave us all the chance to play “lead” on the kulintang, or explore dabak or agong rhythms. Because of this, we switched instruments when we started performing.

Was there a particular Toronto venue, group of people, scene, etc, that you all had in common?

Kat One connection that we all shared was a yearning to learn more about and remember our diasporic Filipinx identity. We all met at an arts hub for young Filipinxs in Toronto’s Kensington Market, which also housed our rehearsal space for a bit. We also have the privilege of sharing space with queer diasporic folks from many cultures who are working in arts, culture, activism and are building bridges to so many communities. And I feel that our gateway to Toronto’s music community was through this venue space that supports explorations in music and acts as connectors to eager listeners.

Pantayo recommend a selection of Filipinx-Canadian musicians and sound artists

What was your relationship to traditional Filipino music before you started Pantayo?

Katrina My relationship to traditional Filipino music before Pantayo was mixed. On one end, I was exposed to artists that my family listened to like Grace Nono and Joey Ayala who were successful in incorporating bits of traditional Filipino music in the realm of pop music. Then on the other end there were teachings and music sheets that have already been filtered from the eyes and ears of other people. There were more barriers than means for me to learn the artforms – they were always presented and taught as an aside, never in the curriculum. Because of these I didn’t think I could seek out and spend time learning kulintang, let alone own a kulintang set myself. There has always been this pull, though, from the loud metallic rhythms of gongs, a calling that was hard to ignore.

Kat I didn’t think traditional Filipino music was accessible to me before I started playing with Pantayo because 1) I am not Indigenous Filipino and 2) I grew up in the city and was listening to a mix of OPM – Original Pilipino Music – and American pop music. I remember there were kulintang ensemble instruments and other Filipino folk instruments in one of the music rooms in the school that I went to when I was a kid. But it looked more ornamental and decorative versus something that was used for teaching or something that could be used for everyday life. Then in North America in the mid 2000s to early 2010s, it felt like a lot of kulintang was played in academic, performing arts and jazz circles. I had no connections with any of those circles, but still wanted to learn. Knowing what we know now – that kulintang is for self-relaxation and expression, is meant for everyday activities from the mundane to ceremonial, and is open to be played by everyone – Pantayo became the gateway for us to learn kulintang with each other. The way Pantayo operates is shaped by the idea of making kulintang accessible, both through the music that we create and in the workshops that we offer.

Eirene Born and raised in Canada, my experience with different forms of traditional Filipino music was through Filipino folk dance recitals. The folk dance repertoires were usually presented in suites covering different regions or eras. Kulintang caught my attention when I was in Grade 12 when I attended a traditional Filipino folk dance recital. Being a mallet percussionist in high school, I was so moved by the atonality and energy of the kulintang.

Michelle My relationship to traditional Filipino music before Pantayo was non-existent; estranged. As a young Filipino immigrant settling in a predominantly white community, I felt vulnerable – somewhat like an alien – and so I allowed myself to assimilate early on to feel a sense of belonging. I became determined to change and was more than willing to let go of my Filipino-ness and everything else I was built to be up to that point. I fully embraced what I thought I needed to be in order to belong. I buried who I was, what I liked, and along with that, I buried my love for Filipino (OPM) music. But I guess this album is now the symbol of a happy ending to that story!

SENSELONG on KLINTANG, T’boli – Tablo

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.

SENSELONG on KLINTANG, T’boli – Tablo

You worked with the producer alaska B on your album – could you tell me about that relationship and what she brought to Pantayo's music?

Katrina One key question that alaska posed us was something along the lines of, what is your sound if you take away your kulintang gongs? We had a hard time figuring it out as a band, and eventually we came up with ‘lo-fi r&b gong punk’. Alaska’s role is pivotal in the sense that we still had creative freedom to call the shots; however, her guidance, knowing which questions to ask, was key in coming up with the sound that is heard in our record.

Kat alaska brought in a lot of technical expertise drawing from her experience as producer and musician, and from film scoring. She also has her own tastes that definitely influenced how some of the songs on the album came to be. We started this project with no experience so we looked to her for a lot of direction and guidance. In between deciding what effect to put on the gong sounds, and what MIDI gong sounds could complement our kulintang, we also shared our love for poutine and fermented foods. We’ve come to grow a friendship from working together over the years.

Michelle Ohhh, alaska B. She was a game changer. Our sound wouldn’t be what it is today without alaska B. This was our first shot at making an album as a band, and we thought we were the shit. In reality, we were naive and inexperienced. That was not a bad thing at all though. This gave us an opportunity to dig deep and figure out who we are and what is authentic to us as a band. She became our guide; our mother; that parent that will ask you all the hard and gruelling questions with your best intentions in mind. She helped each one of us grow personally, and most importantly, she helped us grow together as a unit.

alaska B’s music with Yamantaka//Sonic Titan also brings together different musical traditions from a diasporic and queer perspective. Do you think that music and sound can help you to articulate and explore these complexities of identity, and is this something that Pantayo’s music does?

Katrina I believe we are currently doing this although the potential is still out there in terms of what we can still accomplish! We are remixing the traditions we have learned about kulintang with the influences each of us have. Much like kulintang music is constantly evolving in regions where they emerged from and are pretty much still practised everyday, I think our sound can also evolve. When we are finally able to perform our songs live again, the songs are most probably gonna sound different every time we play it! I can only make do with what I have been given and be curious enough to prod more so I can expand my knowledge.

Michelle Absolutely. 100%. Our album is a result of this. The creation of our music is deeply related to the complexities of our individual identities. For me, this is the beginning part of my journey to openness and I think I’ll be on this road for a while.

How are you staying creatively connected to one another during this lockdown?

Katrina We knew that an album release show or party was highly unlikely amidst this pandemic so we resorted to Zoom by having a listening party on the night of our album release. Creatively speaking, though, it’s been a challenge to create and jam out since we have been so used to workshopping songs in person. We’re working on using Zoom when the time feels right to get back to the drawing board. Right now, we realize we’re in a pandemic and are privileged enough to think we do not have to measure productivity at this time.

Kat We’re currently not able to jam with each other because our instruments are tucked away in our rehearsal space in Eirene’s home. Playing together is very central to our process and our identity as a group, so it’s really heartbreaking to not be able to play together. We were however able to play a DJ set at Club Quarantine in early May, thanks to Austra. But we haven’t quite explored ways that we can play a set through a video call. The technology is daunting to me, and I feel that I need to be the person that explores this in the band. Now that our album is out, I think it would be a good time to learn this so that we can stay connected to each other and our audience.

Michelle We stay connected by being there for each other in subtle (and sometimes loud and obnoxious) ways that feel comforting to us. We are able to constantly find fun ways to check in on each other and celebrate our work. Although we are not working on any new music together right now, we are definitely being creative in finding ways to continue to work together, post album release.