Words and images by Beatrice Tulagan
For many, the journey starts like this: braving Friday rush hour to catch a bus headed south in a crowded terminal, falling asleep barely five minutes into the trip to the faint sound of city sirens wailing in the distance, and waking up to the melodious calls of persistent food vendors hawking water bottles and buko pie just as Batangas port comes into view.
Then comes the waiting by the gate, the minutes flitting by unnoticed because you spend them nodding to the headliners’ hits you’ve unwittingly saved on your phone to psych yourself up even more. You’re only a few steps away from the colorful boats that bob up and down the water now. You imagine them awaiting the weight of excited passengers, promising to make distances manageable.
“If you see someone who looks like they’re about to go camping,” someone from behind you mumbles to his companion, “chances are they are headed to Malasimbo.”
And indeed, the faces of some of the people you get off with at Muelle port become familiar by dusk, when you finally reach the festival grounds and inevitably meet them again – perhaps in line for yet another serving of Dabo-dobo, or when you lock eyes dancing to silent disco in the Mangyan village.
To get to Malasimbo, you’ll have to ride a jeepney and hold tight as it snakes through steep mountain roads, where the cold wind blasts on your face and the retreat of day into night is soundtracked by nothing but rustling leaves, all making you feel like you’re now truly out of the city.
Somehow, though, you’ll never feel more at home.
Music beyond borders and across generations
Through the years, Malasimbo’s well-curated line of performers has included international artists from all genres, treating its audience to performances from world-renowned figures like Joss Stone and the Robert Glasper Experiment. The festival, however, has always made an effort to carve a space for homegrown talent too, from promising newcomers to industry idols.
Rapper Curtismith confirms this early into the first evening of the festival this year, sharing how the organizers got him onboard upon discovering him on Soundcloud. Performing songs from his newly-released EP, Soully Yours, the young Mito Fabie and his confessional rap set the tone of the festival to one that celebrates artists who have made things happen for themselves, doing it, as he sings, “for the love.”
Meanwhile, soul band Apartel led by Ely Buendia and RJ Pineda, electrified the crowd with hits from their November release, Inner Play.
The best songs destroy language barriers, and such is the case of funk band Brass Pas Pas Pas (with guest Kat Agarrado)’ performance of their hit YONIP. No words were needed to convince the international crowd to get up, dance and even sing along. This was also the case during the sets of reggae act Jeck Pilipil and Peacepipe and Filipina-American soul artist June Marieezy, who once called Malasimbo her favorite festival in the world.
As for the international acts, Jordan Rakei made a comeback much to his fans’ delight. He launched immediately into songs from Cloak. Brother-sister duo Tennyson made the third night one for the books as well.
Other than the incredibly diverse line-up, Malasimbo 2017 also featured Silent Disco DJ battles in their Mangyan Village. Three artists spun tracks simultaneously while attendees listened through headphones, the units lighting up in hues of red, green or blue to represent which DJ channel they were tuned into.
Festival with a heart
Any discussion about the Malasimbo magic is of course incomplete without mentioning its commitment to the arts as well as the preservation of indigenous culture and the environment.
For starters, this year, every ticket sold automatically equates to one mangrove seedling planted in Mindoro. Hosted by the D’Aboville Foundation, a French-Filipino non-profit working on local environmental sustainability and eco-cultural tourism, Malasimbo made sure to give back to its host region by showcasing art installations, talks and products about or by the Mangyan communities.
One of the sessions for example was about the ancient Hanunuo script that D’Aboville Foundation is working hard to preserve by partnering with local schools. Guests were also treated to samples of the Mangyan ambahan, a combination of music and poetry that Mangyans create spontaneously. Ambahans are exchanged when chancing upon another Mangyan down the road or delivered in moments filled with such overwhelming emotion—whether it is sheer bliss or crippling despair—that one just has to burst into song. A traditional dance was also performed by young students for the festivalgoers.
Aside from Olivia D’Aboville’s trademark dandelions and works by artists like Agnes Arellano, Leeroy New, Russ Ligtas and many more, one of this year’s installations was dedicated specifically to Mindoro. Artist Hohana Domanais – Viñas reiterated how everyone should always pay tribute to the Mangyans who were so gracious to share the beauty of the region with guests every year. Her installation of knitted mandalas bordered by rattan called “Indayog ng Kulay” was shaped into the Hanunuo script translating to “Ma” for Mangyan.
“They appreciated it very much,” said Viñas. “I told them I made this to celebrate them.”
Over the last seven years, Malasimbo has definitely grown and made a name for itself worldwide, and for good reason. Combining the best names in music and art with a worthy cause, its no wonder attendees will always feel like its charm lives in how it makes every year’s festival feel like a welcome respite from the incessant demands of city life where the hours drag on but everything feels like its moving too fast.
No matter what happens, we’ll get by with the memory of this weekend atop a mountain south of Manila reachable only by wrestling with the sea, where the Malasimbo magic has inspired hundreds to slow down, take a breather and give into the promise of a homecoming.