Filipino songwriters

Bullet Dumas’ ‘Nananatili’: Dispatches on creativity and performance

Aldus Santos

This is AI generated summarization, which may have errors. For context, always refer to the full article.

Bullet Dumas’ ‘Nananatili’: Dispatches on creativity and performance

Genevieve Reyes

'You can’t reach the highest possible form if you don’t stimulate those around you enough,' says Bullet

As of this writing, prep work is underway for Bullet Dumas’ comeback show: his first in five years, and also his first to feature new material in a while. Co-mounted with Gabi Na Naman (GNN) Productions for a June 8 staging at the Music Museum, Nananatili is the culmination of a string of reckonings: with art, with performance, with creativity in general.

Billed by his GNN co-producers as “an elegy, a eulogy, and a funeral drama,” Nananatili is rife with intrigue, no doubt about it. But whereas 2018’s Usisa had the buoyancy of certainty, this new show is unavoidably refracted through the lens of volatility. For one, the pandemic put a pause on Bullet’s live shows; for another – and perhaps more importantly – he has discovered drama.

No, I don’t mean that he’s hanging his oddball hat and settling for “hugot” fare. What Bullet has discovered is drama, as in theater, through involvement in such projects as 2Bayani (Tanghalang Ateneo, 2022) and Ang Huling El Bimbo (AHEB; 9 Works Theatrical, 2023).

In fact, 10 minutes into our dinnertime sit-down, he’s admitting to a paradigm shift in how he does things, thanks to his recent dalliances with all things thespian. And while I’m enthralled by the conceptual framing of Nananatili – a paean to both stillness and strength, as the word’s embedded paradoxes go – I’m more invested in the repercussions of this shift on his writing and gigging.

After all, Bullet largely came into public favor due to his high-wire persona: unpredictable, vacillating, earth-shakingly emphatic. So, by this token, I feel compelled to prime the Bullet fan for a burgeoning new era, by way of artistic advice.

Bullet Dumas’ ‘Nananatili’: Dispatches on creativity and performance
Rehearse, but prepare to forget everything

A motif we kept circling back to is preparedness. It pays to rehearse, for sure, but Bullet is cautious about the illusion of control provided by this. To counter, he prescribes still going to That Place Where It All Just Clicks: “Kahit prepared ka (Even if you’re prepared), you can still be [open to being] in a trance. I will leave space for that in the concert, [pero] hindi masyadong marami (but not too much),” he says.

Sing like something huge is at stake

In its 2023 run, AHEB staged roughly 60 shows (Bullet missed eight when he caught COVID).

The shows all aimed for composure in repetition, but in the end, “You’ve exhausted everything, and no two shows are alike,” Bullet says, visibly amused.

More than this realization, though, what struck me is the gravitas assigned to song, something Bullet learned from his collaborators in the Eraserheads-themed jukebox musical.

Kaya ka kakanta, kasi [everything’s] too much [to bear]: the words, the emotions. ‘Pag ‘di mo na kaya na sinasabi lang, you burst into song,” he adds.

(You sing because everything’s too much to bear: the words, the emotions. If you can’t handle just speaking your thoughts, you burst into song.)

Be open to the unsettling, the weird, the ugly

I tell Bullet I’ve always seen him as someone who assigns himself musical problems to solve. In other words, as someone who wouldn’t settle for easy. It’s not like he wants to be folk’s answer to prog, or someone who obsesses on terrible riddles rather than terrific revelries. He’s just uneasy about anything easy, and his pieces and performances reflect that. It’s not so much a commitment to being difficult but a willingness to be different.

“[It’s being in that place] na hindi masyadong nararating ng iba, especially musicians who are theory based. Never sila mag-se-set foot sa mga place na mali, na hindi dapat puntahan. ‘Yun ‘yung advantage ko: ‘yung experimentation at [‘yung pagtanggap] na OK lang na may pangit,” Bullet explains.

([It’s being in that place] that people haven’t really gone to, especially musicians who are theory-based. They’ll never set foot in the wrong places, and in places that shouldn’t be visited. That’s my advantage: my experimentation and my acceptance that it’s okay if things are ugly.)

Stimuli over feedback, any time

In a collaborative staging, you’re only as good as the energy you project.

“You can’t reach the highest possible form if you don’t stimulate those around you enough,” Bullet says in a mixture of English and Filipino.

But in the absence of cohorts, he’s mindfully open to different stimuli: an off-key car horn during an otherwise peaceful jog; a weird word that stands out in a free-form scat-jam; “random [bits of] inspiration that come at you from different directions.”

When he stumbles upon even one of these after several hours’ worth of wrangling, “I’m happy for the day,” he says, likening himself to a curator of sonic bric-à-brac: a technician and a scavenger rolled into one.

The one thing he cautions about is over-reliance on feedback, saying, “Masyado tayong concerned na nasasara [na tayo] sa mga puwede pang puntahan (We’re so concerned that we aren’t able see where else we can go).”

Art is never done

Curiously, on the matter of Nananatili – where his new material will be first consumed live rather than recorded – he waxes lyrical on art as presentation. “Is art ever done?” he asks. “I mean, every time you present something, it changes.”

He also speaks of creativity in terms of “glimpses at the end” – “maliliit na hangganan” was the term he used – and how our creations are negotiations to further stretch these borders.

All of this may seem esoteric, I’m sure, but they’re testaments to Bullet’s restlessness as storyteller, performer, and actor. In Nananatili, he promises a return to form, but with a heightened sense of self-awareness.

“We have different ways of telling stories anyway, and this is one way I know.” –

Add a comment

Sort by

There are no comments yet. Add your comment to start the conversation.

Summarize this article with AI

How does this make you feel?

Download the Rappler App!
Face, Head, Person


Aldus Santos

Aldus Santos is an independent author and musician.