Wednesday, February 15, 2012

REVIEW: Songs of the Beloved by Grace Nono

Asia Society Hong Kong Center Miller Theatre, Sunday February 12

There is something about listening to “folk songs” that connects one to humanity whether it is in a language one knows or not. There’s a certain sincerity and truthfulness about the sound of the words in the music that seems to reveal the deep sentiments of the culture they represent.

As part of the inauguration of the Asia Society Hong Kong Center’s grand opening, it has invited the Filipino artist Grace Nono to perform at the Miller Theatre (Former Magazine B) of the Center. The Miller Theatre is a converted theatre with 100+ seats that is far more suitable for lectures than performing arts. The performance, meanwhile, was also broadcasted to another hall of the Center, the Pavilion, for what Ronnie Chan, chairman of the Asia Society Hong Kong Center gracefully presented as important members of the society, the “domestic helpers”.

While marred with unbelievable technical problems, Grace Nono and her artist friends persevered to provide a beautiful and soulful performance. Most songs, if not all, were based on songs handed down by elders of the different ethnic groups in the Philippines. Through primary research and experience, Grace infused them with a contemporary context and provided a performance that was rooted on the ancestral values of the different ethnic culture yet sounded at the same time contemporary. Nono’s natural “mezzo” voice maneuvered through the chants and songs with no less skill of a pop and soul diva; except that hers was not only infused with honesty but also a certain intensity that is almost spiritual.

Together with Bob Aves on the “Filipino” guitar and Rodelio “Waway” Saway, Sr. and Alex Tumapang, they presented a programme that was a not unlike an audio travelogue of the Philippines. Songs were fluid and rhythms were freer with the songs from the South, almost reflecting the relationship of the people with the land and its proximity to the sea. Slowly, the songs turned to the North and rhythms were more pronounced. Words and actions bounced accordingly to the rhythms like it was empowered by the mountains surrounding them. Equally amazing was the discussion after the show moderated by Rachel Cooper, Director of the Cultural Programs & Performing Arts Asia Society.


O D'Wata Holi Kemundung (Creator, look upon us)
Panangpit (Invocation)
Uyaging (Manobo epic, historical chant)
Namiyansa Ha Untung (Guarantee for Life)
Lugoh (Sama melody)
Hol Doyon Kuy D'Wata (Let us praise the Creator!)
Awit Sa Krus (Song for the Cross)
Golpiadu Makimallo (Prayer for God's benevolence)
Uggayam (Kalinga ballad)
Dandannag (Song of health and happiness for grandparents)
Salidumay (Kalinga song)

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