PH band Kalayo in Penang World Music fest

MANILA, Philippines - World music lovers from a generation ago knew them as Pinikpikan — named after a dish from the Cordillera region of the Philippines that is prepared by bludgeoning a chicken on its head prior to cooking, to bring blood to the surface and supposedly improve its flavor.

Now reborn as Kalayo (“fire” in Bisaya), this all-Filipino world music group is set to take the Penang World Music Festival in Penang, Malaysia by storm.

“I believe that our music has ripened more and is a bit edgy this time,” shares Sammy Asuncion, Kalayo’s front man and lead guitarist who has also been described by many as “the Jimi Hendrix of the Philippines.” (He is quick to retort, “I am the Sammy Asuncion of the world.”) 

Throughout its over-20-year history, the group has undergone several incarnations and transformations, including the comings and goings of band members and the infusion of diverse musical influences from different parts of the Philippines and of the world.

Here's Kalayo’s latest video, “Sumigla, Sumaya”: 

Its current lineup includes Asuncion, Carol Bello on vocals, Louie Talan on bass, Reli de Vera on drums, and Boy Garrovillo, Budeths Casinto, Deej Rodriguez, and Gerry Baguio on percussions.

According to Letitia Samuel, communications manager of USCI Communications, lead organizer of the Penang World Music Festival, “Kalayo’s music is a mix of folk and rock fusion; thus, they will provide a good mix of world beat with the other bands that will perform at the festival. As most bands’ music are [based] on folk and traditional [beats], Kalayo will definitely provide musical variety — and that is what we intend to bring to the festival.”

Kalayo joins 5 other world music groups from Malaysia, Indonesia, Portugal, South America, and West Africa for what promises to be two full days of heady beats, intoxicating rhythms, open drum jams, world-famous Penang cuisine, and a mash-up of global culture.

Slated for March 30 to 31, the Penang World Music Festival will be held at the Quarry Park of the Penang Botanic Gardens in Georgetown, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the capital of Penang.

A festival for the whole family

Watch the Penang World Music Festival 2013 teaser here:

“Our vision is [to] expose the audience to various music and musical instruments,” Samuel shares. “With such exposure, it will help our intention to preserve and conserve as well as [appreciate] traditional music and instruments.”

Aside from the concerts to be held on the evenings of March 30 and 31, the Penang World Music Festival will also feature art and music workshops in the afternoons and an on-site bazaar where festival guests can enjoy food and beverages, souvenir items, handicrafts, and, of course, the festival performers’ CDs.

“The festival is not only for music lovers, but also for the children. Going to the festival [can] be a family outing of [sorts]. The concert is held in the outdoors and the park is on a slope, thus creating a natural theater setting,” Samuel describes in our email interview.

The Filipinos’ voices for the world

NOT IMITATORS. 'We also want other countries to realize that such music like ours exists in the Philippines.' Photo used with permission from

NOT IMITATORS. 'We also want other countries to realize that such music like ours exists in the Philippines.' Photo used with permission from Kalayo.


No stranger to world music festivals, Pinikpikan and now Kalayo have been touring the world for years, sharing different faces and voices of Filipino music that are often unfamiliar even to Filipinos themselves. 

“We also want other countries to realize that such music like ours exists in the Philippines — contrary to how we are branded as the ‘great imitators.’ This time, we can really call [this music] our own,” Asuncion shares.

World music as a genre has been struggling in the Philippines, with an audience that is often limited to fellow artists from the indie, underground scene and to expats who troop to nondescript bars in search of originality and authenticity. Kalayo’s performance at the Penang World Music Festival will undoubtedly open more doors for the group and for Filipino world music as a whole.

For Asuncion, however, the message and the goal is simple: “[To show] that through music, we, the people can really live as one; that through music, peace and unity [are] always achievable.” -