"...In a tiny courtyard under sweeping old narra trees, a cluster of musicians is making music that feels gut-familiar and deeply stirring. On mats strewn on the ground, amid a formidable array of largely unfamiliar instruments sit these young music makers, the Kontemporaryong Gamelang Pilipino, their eyes riveted on their mentor, Edru Abraham, a compelling figure in black and white batik, who gives the beat as he plays the drums.
gongs, gamelans from Mindanao and Thailand, Tibetan flutes, Peruvian pipes, olus myriad bamboo instruments from the Cordillera make up the ensemble of what Edru Abraham has chosen to call Kontra-Gapi - Kontemporaryong Gamelang Pilipino.
The name has a purpose: "Kontra-Gapi" for breaking away from something narrow, limiting space; in this case, narrow musical parameters, Edru Abraham explains, Kontra-Gapi is the man's political statement against the Filipino's unnecessary confinement to Western music, particularly pop music, to the exclusion of other types of music closer to our center of gravity and our sphere of influence...."
Agatha Farolan, Philippine Star, August 15, 1989
"...The group's resident visionary, Edru Abraham, effectively "infects" his young protegees with is vibrant love for ethnic music done in a contemporary manner for today's audiences. In time, the group's young people will mature into fine, impassioned musicians in their own right and help Edru in spreading the good word about Filipino gamelan music.
The Department of Tourism (paging Sec. Mina Gabor) should send Kontra-Gapi abroad to stun the world with the richness of our aural textures.
People dream of a Filipino musical that willbe hit abroad. We believe that Kontra-Gapi's unique music is the way to get musical-theater audiences aborad excited about Philippine theater...."
Nestor U. Torre, Philippine Daily Inquirer, September 19, 1996
"...But the international popularity of Filipino Musicians is more a tribute to their ability to imitate Western pop than anything else. Even what is locally known as Original Pilipino Music or OPM is seldom original, being "Pilipino" only in the broadest sense that it is music made by Filipinos. The lyrics might be in Tagalog, but in structure ans style most OPM is often indistinguishable from Western pop.
In the new global information society, music has been reducedto product - something to be manufactured, packaged and thrust into the gaping maw of the consumer - like processed cheese or canned sardines. A songwriter writes a song (in Los Angeles or Manila, it doesm't really matter) and if it conforms sufficiently to pop conventions, the massive machinery of the recording industry is set in motion. Before you know, the song is blaring out of 30 million radios from Batangas to Sitangkai.
Kontra-Gapi offers one alternative to this syndrome. The medium is the message, and the message is clear: it is high time we broke away from the overwhelming cultural dominance of the West and returned to our roots.
The group's name is not just an acronym. Gapi is an old Filipino word meaning bound, vanquished, conquered. Kontra-Gapi Kontra-Gapi therefore seeks to free Filipino musical consciousness from the stranglehold of Western-oriented pop, and from the stiftling notion that only specialists have the ability to create music.
the vehicle that Kontra-Gapi has chosen for this task is the gamelan..."
Eric S. Caruncho, Sunday Inquirer Magazine, Vol. 8, No. 24, August 18, 1991
"In all aspects, Kontra-gapi's music is radical. The instruments are South East Asian in origin, many of which are the work of craftsmen from Davao, the Cordillera, Tuguegarao, and many parts of rural Philippines and Asia. The nature of the instruments create music totally different from america's and Europe's Top 40 hits. They emphasize rhythm rather than harmony. When played by Kontra-gapi, they stir up a frenzy complexly structured percussion and string sounds - complementary, interweaving and rhythmic - enticing the body to unleash itself. There is beat, force, energy.
If this is music of our forefathers, they must have been deeply in touch with their spiritual selves, for how Gamelan stirs the emotions, the senses, producing a blissfull yet frenzied nirvana-like state that arises from the depths of being! This is certainly us. We touch base with the elements or spirits that once moved our Asian ancestors.
As such, it opens new worlds, new visions, arouses sensibilities that pop music fails to do. We see and feel our Asian-ness coming to the fore. So Asian in structure is Gamelan that it may sound like noise to the untrained, Western ear. 'If you listen to music without melody, or with several simultaneous melodies, your first reaction is to freak out,' explains Abraham. But this too shows that we have become so conditioned to the Western idea of music that we now mistake melody for music.
Abraham sees today's Filipino music as 'entrapped by Western structures.' Remove the Tagalog lyrics and you can't distinguish it from music from California, he says. 'You have to find a way of releasing yourself from the entrapped. There are so many different things to choose from. Bakit laging hamburger at hotdog ang pinipili mo, mayroon namang sinigang (Why choose just hamburgers and hot dogs when you can have sinigang)?'.
Gamelan music is radical too in the sense that creating music is a community activity, not exclusive to trained musicians and singers. 'We all have the ability to create music', he says...."
Joji B. Balcita, The Evening Paper, September 10, 1996
"...There's a rich tapestry of music here, as Abraham shows, some of them echoing the strains of music from across the globe. You'll hear the chants and the beating of the gongs from up north and south, among the indigenous people. And there's a host of difference between norht and south, if you listen closely. You'll find the jota, the fandango and the kundiman all over the place, music originally introduced by the Spaniards, but which have been sufficiently Fipilinized over the centuries. Our jota, fandango and kundiman are not like anything you'll hear in Iberia. In fact, they're not like anything you'll hear in the world.
And everywhere, musicians of all hues - from musikong bumbong to bamboo ensemble from marching bands to rondallas. It's a wealth of music that's bring frittered away over time from sheer neglect. No people have been more contemptuous of their bountiful musical heritage. Other countries plumb the depths of that heritage, dusting off every last bit of ore. We trade them off for the musical equivalent of colored beads. But, well, that's pretty much the story of our lives. We gave up our forest too for Hersheys...."
Conrado de Quiros, Philippine Inquirer, September 26, 1996
"The man in the middle of the conference hall inserts a tape into a cassette palyer, and press 'play'.
'This is music from Sierra Leone, West Africa,' he says. In front of him are about a hundred more tapes, each containing music from various parts of the world: South African music used in the movie 'The Lion King,' an Egyptian folk song accompanied by an electric guitar and a bass drum, a Mongolian drone, the sound of a Javanese gamelan, dissonant harmonies sang a capella by a Bulgarian choir, reggae music from Jamaica and Barbados.
He made his audience that morning - a mix of musicians, students, and academicians - listen to all these tunes from various parts of the world, juxtaposed against the music of our very own Joey Ayala, Gary Granada, Bayang barrios, Inang Laya, and Jim Paredes, to drive home a point: we can sell our songs to the wolrd, provided we know how to 'market' them. This scene would be repeated at the Kasalo cafe some two weeks later, with poets, artists, journalists, and professionals in attendence..."
Claire Agbayani-Isidro, Sunday Inquirer Magazine, Vol, 12, No.35, November 3, 1996
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created: February 12, 1997
updated: August 20, 1997
APSIS Editor Johann Stockinger