Review: Malasimbo Arts and Music Festival 2014

Paul John Caña

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Thought-provoking art, great music and a man in the buff liven up the 4th edition of the unique festival held in Puerto Galera, Oriental Mindoro

MANILA, Philippines – There was a man buried up to his neck along the path leading down to the main stage area of the Malasimbo Music and Arts Festival over the weekend. Wearing face paint and a body wrap made of indigenous fabrics, the man was Cebu-based performance artist Russ Ligtas, who called his piece Please Don’t Feed the Natives.

VARIATIONS. Aside from the music, performance art, installations, and interactive art could be appreciated by viewers at Malasimbo

This, as well as a series of performances from top artists from around the world, and an unexpected concertgoer that showed up in his birthday suit, were only some of the mesmerizing, off-kilter sights and sounds at the annual festival held in Puerto Galera in Oriental Mindoro.

Music and art 

Several other installation artworks were scattered around the main festival grounds, located at the mountain from which the festival gets its name. These include pieces by Gus Albor, Agnes Arellano, Kawayan De Guia, Billy Bonnevie and Olivia D’Aboville, one of the festival’s co-founders. There was also a traditional Mangyan village set-up in one area of the grassy field, an attempt to expose city-bred folk to the traditional way of life of the indigenous peoples of the island.

While there were other things to see and do at the festival, most of those who bought tickets were there to watch the musical artists, particularly the international acts, perform onstage. Malasimbo officially started on Thursday, February 27, but the bulk of the crowd appeared on Saturday and Sunday.  I missed the Saturday lineup, but D’Aboville, whom I spoke to while watching Ligdas’ assistants slowly shovel dirt around the artist, said it was “magical,” and she hoped Sunday would be just as special.

THE MELOTONINS. Their jazzy sound and vocal harmonies made the perfect experience for their fans and a great discovery for casual listeners

Yoga practitioners (many foreigners here) engaged in stretches and routines as DJ Complex spun a mix of chill-out and beat-heavy rhythms to open the lineup at 3pm. Members of the band Kooii took the stage past 4pm to deliver an entertaining set composed of vocal harmonies of covers from artists like Duke Ellington, Mayer Hawthorne and the Beatles. The performers, who hail from Australia, also engaged in dry, witty banter that drew chuckles from the audience in between songs.

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Come as you are 

Local instrumental folk group Good Leaf performed next, followed by a surprise addition to the lineup. Festival co-founder Hubert D’Aboville introduced a cultural show from a troupe of grade school and high school kids from the nearby town of Baco. The performance, which consisted of kids dancing with flickering candles inside holders attached to their bodies in gold-colored wires, served to highlight the diversity of talent as well as promote the local culture of the people of Mindoro.

SURPRISE. Local performers were also part of the lineup this year

By this time the sun had set and the venue was quickly filling up with more people. Most were dressed casually in beach attire (as White Beach was only a 20-minute jeepney ride away). Music festivalgoers are known to flaunt their own individual style through their get-ups, so there was an assortment of women in tank tops and bikini tops, sarongs and long flowy dresses, while guys were decked out mostly in wifebeaters, T-shirts, short sleeve button-down shirts and cargo shorts and flip flops. 

There was one guy however who took the dress code suggestion “come as you are” a little too liberally. At the end of Mishka Adams’ set, people started to howl and laugh when a guy suddenly materialized in the middle of the crowd wearing absolutely nothing. The chap didn’t seem like he was inebriated and would have otherwise looked like a regular audience member just dancing along to the music onstage if he wasn’t so, well, naked. Security officers eventually escorted him out, but not before he got close enough to the stage so Adams could actually see him.

MISHKA ADAMS. The singer entertained the crowd with her unique, jazzy vocals

Despite the distraction, the female singer-songwriter-guitar player delivered a stellar performance. Adams has been living abroad for a few years and it was good to see her back, still with the same ethereal vocals that combines the rough artistry of Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks with the classic torch singers of old, like Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan.

Intimate space

A highlight of the night was the appearance of Swedish musician Jose Gonzalez. I have been listening to his songs for years and never imagined he would ever make it to these shores, much less perform in a relatively lesser-known music festival held in a forest in the middle of a tropical island. But there he was, wearing a red shirt and an unassuming, almost “aw shucks” expression on his face as he walked out amidst enthusiastic applause.

JOSE GONZALEZ. The "Heartbeats" singer made the wide open spaces feel cozy and intimate

The set-up was bare-bones: two acoustic guitars, a microphone each near his mouth, in front of his guitar and by his feet, and that was it. The effect, however, was nothing short of sublime. He managed to turn a wide, open area into an intimate space, like he was singing to an audience of dozens instead of thousands.  His voice was just like on record— silky smooth, emotion-filled and beautiful, calming down an audience that was increasingly getting rowdy and amped-up on the festival spirit.

He began with old hits, “Crosses,” “Lovestain,” and “Cycling Trivialities,” before doing newer material. His last three songs were arguably his most popular—a cover of Massive Attack’s “Teardrop,” John Lennon’s “Imagine,” and a stirring rendition of The Knife original “Heartbeats.” 

The festival really kicked things into high gear with the last few acts. Kooii brought their funk-blues-rock sound to the stage, and Osunlade delivered his reggae-tinged, island flavor jams to an audience still moving and grooving even in the small hours of Monday morning. The lineup included a set by Badkiss (model-turned-DJ Christina Bartges), and an after-party at the Mangyan Village set to music by Kristian Hernandez, but my friends and I made our way back up to the real world just after midnight. It was our first trip to Malasimbo, and if this experience was anything to go by, a return trip next year isn’t out of the question. – Rappler.com

Note: An earlier version of this article identified The Melotonins as Kooii. The correction has been reflected. We regret the error. 

Paul John Caña is the managing editor of Lifestyle Asia magazine and is a live music geek. Email him at pjcana@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @pauljohncana

 

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