PUERTO GALERA, Philippines – The whispers were loud enough to know that it wasn’t smooth sailing as organizers tried to mount Malasimbo’s ninth year. But the show had to go on to prove naysayers wrong, and yet again, what a special weekend it was.
Held on March 1 to 2 in Puerto Galera, the music and arts event’s latest edition had festival-goers flocking to a nature reserve adjacent to the resort town’s famous White Beach – a venue more accessible than the original, as veterans can attest.
Although a little more distant from its namesake mountain, the signature vibe and spirit of the festival is unmistakable and still definitely there: from that brass-filled, jazzy “island sound” to the iconic elements of Malasimbos past.
Three stages set up across a clearing in the jungle make for an interesting layout this year, considering that the amphitheater surrounding the main stage has long been the festival’s distinct mark.
Now, Malasimbo is just a year shy of a decade existing, and we look back at what went on during its latest installment. For all we know, this could even be a glimpse into its future.
IV of Spades in their Malasimbo ‘Mundo’
Where have you been, my disco? To the beach, it seems.
It’s a little tempting to say that Malasimbo was terra incognita for Blaster Silonga, Zild Benitez, and Badjao de Castro. The festival’s patrons hail from all around the globe, and there was probably a handful of their loyal fanbase present. In a way, it’s like they’re capturing a new demographic –expanding their horizons, so to speak.
Having a new album just added to their catalog, the trio certainly didn’t rely on just their old favorites – including “Hey Barbara,” “Where Have You Been, My Disco?”, and their megahit, “Mundo.” Their groovy, retro-inflected tunes swept the audience off their feet, winning the crowd that balmy Sunday evening.
Wonderful sets from Robert Glasper, Anomalie, more
Whether you’ve heard of them before or not, the headliners are always the most anticipated sets of the festival.
This year, Malasimbo booked Grammy-winning musician Robert Glasper, who was accompanied by the equally formidable virtuoso producer-slash-beatboxer Taylor McFerrin and bassist Derrick Hodge, to deliver a fascinating jazz set.
Hailing from Montréal, keyboardist Anomalie tinkled the ivories with his serious chops and dished out some really sick beats that kept revelers on their feet throughout the evening.
From Brisbane, Laneous brought some good ol’ soul to Malasimbo.
At the DJ stage under a canopy of trees, the likes of the prolific legend Danny Krivit (of “Strings of Life” fame) went behind the decks to spin an unforgettable disco-influenced set.
Homecoming act: Ruby Ibarra
It wasn’t the first time for the Bay Area-based rapper to bring her urban verses and beats to the Malasimbo stage. This time around, Ruby Ibarra breathed new, fiery life to her brand of hip-hop with her motley crew of Filipino-American musicians, the Balikbayans. (READ: The rise and resonance of Ruby Ibarra)
Reflecting her own experience of the diaspora across the Pacific, she seamlessly wove English, Filipino, and even Waray into her forceful, razor-sharp bars. Meanwhile, the Balikbayans with its prominent brass section backed her up with jazz-influenced beats – seemingly incongruous sounds when described on paper, mayhaps, but undeniably gripping and groovy to the ears.
The rapper performed on both nights of Malasimbo, playing a full set to a bigger crowd on the second.
Local talent winning the crowd
Malasimbo didn’t seem to be a tough crowd. Up-and-coming acts and some artists from the independent scene can win new fans here – especially considering that a good number of the guests come from other parts of the world.
From afternoon until way past sunset, the eclectic 2019 roster of musicians – from reggae to electronica – commanded the stage to give revelers a good time.
Extrapolation (with Zia Quizon):
The Blue Rats (feat. Paul Marney and RJ Pineda):
Ian Lofamia Band:
Vic Facultad & Weather the Roots:
Swaying in place to a (silent) disco
From afar, the sight of people swaying in place with lighted headphones on seemed odd, but it’s actually a silent disco – a pretty ingenious setup for a music festival.
Three DJs spun on three neighboring small stages, while festival-goers bopped along to the beat of whoever’s set they chose – with just a flick of the switch.
After tasting this version, you might never look at adobo – that humble, ubiquitous dish among many Filipino households – in the same way again. With its fall-off-the-bone-tender chicken, slivers of mushroom, and a generous heap of crunchy garlic, Malasimbo’s signature version of the adobo, dubbed Dabo-Dobo, is unforgettable.
The recipe, which belongs to the d’Abovilles who helped set up Malasimbo, still tastes like the familiar, beloved dish Filipinos have known. But at the same time, for any newcomer to the festival, it can be potentially mindblowing.
A tip: try it with the homemade kesong puti marinated in olive oil and herbes de Provence.
Stunning, enchanting art installations
The art installations at Malasimbo are always worth looking forward to. They transform the space deep in the jungle into an otherworldly escape: teeming with foliage yet awash in enchanting color.
This year, artists Leeroy New, Denis Lagdameo, Kawayan de Guia, Agnes Arellano, Hohana, Olivia d’Aboville, and Henri Lamy dotted the Malasimbo landscape with their works that had hung on trees or towered over festival-goers.