by Levy Abad
With Rock ’n’ Roll in my mind, I went to the 8th Manitoba Filipino Street Festival (MFSF) at the Maples Multiplex Grounds Community Center (434 Adsum Drive) to watch Acoustic Live in Winnipeg (ALIW) buddies, and the long-awaited reunion of the 1993-forming band After Touch: Jojo Yso, Frank Urbano, Jonjon Natoc, Ricky Natoc, and guest performers Arnold Tongol ,Gino Yso, and Jun Magnaye. It was also great to hear Gangsa Rhythm, a band representing the Cordillera community. Watching and listening to the performances made me realize how MFSF’s idea in 2012 has become a cultural force in the city. The Filipino community at large has come to embrace the now annual festivity.
MFSF encompasses the different cultural expressions that range from food, fashion, dance, regional floats, paintings, to music. But in this article, I want to focus on the relevance of the MFSF in projecting Filipino musicians and music in the community, most especially grassroots musicians who sacrificed their time and resources, to gather, heal, and shield the community from the trauma of migration.
In my book Rhythms and Resistance: Narrative of Filipino Musicians and Activists of Winnipeg from 1972 to 1994—published recently via McNally Robinson Booksellers—you will find one of the earliest bands, like RP Revival in 1972, and other pioneering artists such as the late Celso Bueno, Teo Mance, Butch Jularbal, the late Neil Bondoc, Ardie Sarao, and many more. Sometime in 1997, the community saw the formation of Filipino Association of Musicians & Other Unknown Artists (FAMOUS), which organized concerts to showcase Filipino talents. All these previous attempts at showcasing “Pinoy music” were far from the big MFSF 2017 that was held at Broadway in front of the Legislative building, where 15,000 people attended. Indeed, the community has advanced in numbers and cultural expression.
From its humble beginning, MFSF has already promoted Filipino bands and soloists, for instance, Traffikk Jamm. I’m proud to have been part of the early years of MFSF. This year, 2019, is a turning point in the festival’s history. I noticed that there were numerous bands that performed at the event, and some of them have been featured in the previous years’ festivities: Dolly Atillo’s Rag Dolls, The 12/21, Quarter 2, Soulblast, Knights & Angel, Amberlite, Aries Ocson’s Ripple Wine, Julius Eugenio’s Humous, Lykosa, Izza 1band, Basement 315, Headway, Embersky, and 1Luna. There were also soloists: Miguel Mangoma, Keesha Mari, Vina Dimayuga, Paul Ong, Bella Pepito, Sherylyn Policarpio, Tiffany Ponce, Zach Ignacio, and Miyael Cruz. The bands greatly appreciated the opportunity given to them by MFSF to perform before the huge crowd that sang with them; and the professional sound setup provided by the organizers of the festival. Under the leadership of Ley Navarro, himself a musician and is meticulous with the quality of sound, these things were given priority.
Nowadays, there’s an explosion of talents in the Filipino community. Songwriting workshops are already being organized. Musicians cover Original Pilipino Music (OPM), Mainstream North American music, and also writing original Fil-Canadian music (Migrant songs). We have bands releasing albums, EPs, and what not.
In 1972, Filipinos in the community numbered only at two thousand. Musicians in the community played the role of providing relief from the effects of our diaspora such as homesickness, anxiety, and depression. As a result of successive waves of migration, the community grew through the years. Based on the 1986 Census, we are 20,264; 1996 Census: 26,280; 2001 (30,500 in Manitoba); 2006 (36,820 in Winnipeg); 2011 (61,270 in Manitoba); and 2016 (83,000 in Winnipeg). With this growth and the issues confronted by the community, musicians also adopted and reacted to the process and served the community as a means of integration, cultural consolidation, and rousing the community in times of crises—for instance, discrimination and racism like in the spring of 1994 and fundraising for victims of calamities in the Philippines.
For these reasons alone, there is a cause to celebrate and, at the same time, be nostalgic to hear “Bayan Ko” performed by a friend—Cris Bilibli of the band Gangsa Rhythm, Manny Araullo, and Ernesto Ofiaza Jr. (founder of Filipino Music & Arts Association Canada Inc., or FMAACI) at the 2019 MFSF.
Today, the Filipino community is already 80,000 and gradually attaining economic and political empowerment. In this context, culture in general and Filipino music in particular play a significant role in opening the community to multiculturalism, thereby fostering deeper understanding. Hence, the music of the Filipino community is a vital front in cultural consolidation and giving back to the wider audience.
Kudos to the leadership of Ley Navarro, Aida Madridejo, and all the members of the founding committee, as well as to the 2019 Board of Directors and volunteers who sacrificed their time and effort from 2012 and up to now to elevate the community’s culture and heritage here in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Our culture, heritage, and music constitute the heart and soul of our people. With dedicated individuals who nurture the dutiful task of bringing the community together without expecting anything in return, our community is assured of its identity and future.
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