Photo by Candice Lopez-Quimpo
MANILA, Philippines - “There is no way for peace; peace is the way.”
Quoting the words of the revered Mahatma Gandhi, Nityalila addresses the crowd before beginning a song. The local singer and songwriter is on a mission, taking it to stage with her guitar, her band, her music and her guest, a Taiwanese pipa player.
It’s a cross-cultural music collaboration that finds audience curious — initially — then awed. Nityalila’s music, broadly described as folk with tinges of rock and world influences, breathes new life when joined by Chung Yufeng’s improvisations on the traditional Chinese lute.
On the surface, it is a curious mix of the Western guitar and the Asian instrument. The sound they produce together piques the interest of the audience, intrigues, then impresses.
“When you listen to her pipa,” Nityalila relates, “you already know that it’s an ancient sound. You don’t even need to see that she’s Taiwanese. You don’t need to see a race. You already know, ‘That’s from China.’”
But race is the reason of their coming together, at least for this particular project. Dubbed Om Shanti Shoal, it is a musical tour for peace — addressing, particularly, the Philippine-China conflict over Scarborough Shoal.
While Nityalila has never been shy about socio-political issues (she’s an active member of Dakila and PETA), Chung has mostly stayed the conventional musician’s route, focused on the art.
But Chung posits that her nationality is sometimes a statement in itself.
“Foreigners always want to know what’s the difference between China and Taiwan. I play a Chinese instrument — we share the same Chinese culture. But politically, we are different. We are free," she says. "No matter what I want to play, nobody can stop me. I just focus on my music and I meet different musicians and work on what we really want to do with music.”
It’s not the first collaboration of Nityalila and Chung Yufeng. The two musicians met in Taiwan in 2009, and have been working together in music festivals, workshops and concerts since 2010 in various Asian venues.
Om Shanti Shoal brings Chung for the first time to the Philippines, a personal endeavor Nityalila has been wanting to happen. Sharing their collaborative tandem to the Filipinos was something Nityalila has been hoping to happen — something she took into her own hands.
There is no grandstanding on stage, no slogans or political statements. The show lets the music take over — sounding both familiar and foreign at the same time, delivering a sense of oneness from seemingly disparate parts.
Photo by Candice Lopez-Quimpo
After all, the project Om Shanti Shoal takes its name from a Vedic Mantra. “Om” is a Hindu symbol regarded as the sound of the whole cosmic universe. “Om Shanti” refers to peace for all human kind and for the entire universe.
“’Shoal’” for me is just an angle,” admits Nityalila. “Yun kasi yung recent na nakikita ng mga tao. I’ve always played for peace. For me, peace is a choice. It’s not a condition. So I’m making this choice to promote peace and to have a collaboration with my Taiwanese friend.”
Chung explains how such a project is much deeper than the number of songs they play onstage. “I feel our project is a kind of crossover project. The first condition is you have to listen to the other one. You need to listen to understand what the other wants. The Chinese lute is a kind of traditional instrument. From an artistic aspect, it’s kind of an adventure.”
Despite the number of Filipinos living in Taiwan, Chung realizes that she knows little about Filipino culture or its music; part of what she knows comes from her sporadic interactions with Nityalila.
The Om Shanti Shoal music tour has had several stops in Metro Manila and will culminate in Baguio. The response, the duo shares, has been overwhelming. Nityalila confesses that a big motivation of the project is to share Chung’s music with kababayans.
“It’s the first time they’re seeing and hearing this kind of instrument, and from a foreigner,” explains Nityalila. “Our hope is for them to appreciate the concept and the collaboration, more than the sound.”
Chung puts the collaboration in a wider perspective.
“You need to listen to other kinds of music. Then you can make another level of music, another level of peace. Really have some dialogue between us. Not just put us together and do something. You need to know more of each other’s culture, more of our music, to know what we really want to express.” - Rappler.com