Photo by Sarah Bo
Pantayo’s self-titled release is a solid centerpiece for starting a conversation about the Filipino diaspora. The Toronto-based ensemble sits at the crossroads of modern and traditional Filipino music. Pantayo, meaning “for us,” in Tagalog, blends kulintang music from the Maguindanoan and T’boli peoples in the southern region of the country with contrasting genres like R&B and punk.
Kulintang is a form of music composed of small, horizontally laid gongs accompanied by larger, suspended gongs. Adding kick drums and synths has resulted in a new interpretation of traditional Filipino music that can’t be compared to other musical genres.
In that way, the album demonstrates a wide range of sound. The gongs’ more melodic sounds complement their lead single “Divine,” which features a slower tempo and smooth R&B vocals. In contrast, the kulintang in “Heto Na” has atonal ringing that slices through the song. The melody is reminiscent of playing hand games during recess but still manages to sound like something to dance to in a club. The song was inspired by Original Pilipino Music (OPM) disco songs from the 70’s.
The funkiness is reflected in the music “Heto Na.” The band says the song came into fruition because they wanted to give listeners a song they could groove to on the dance floor.
“We think about the different queer dance parties that we go to and how it is a place for community to gather and a safe space to be yourself,” Pantayo member Kat Estacio says.
The video also features another Toronto-based Filipina group called the Tita Collective (think “Filipino auntie”). Pantayo explained that they previously collaborated with the Tita Collective for their folktale improv show “Kwento” and scored the show. In that way, making the video for “Heto Na” was like coming to kin.
“There are a lot of Filipinos who share a love of music. Learning about kulintang affirms what we already know in our bodies: music traditions are part of our DNA and that our desire to express ourselves through music is very closely related to our cultural identity,” Estacio says.
Pantayo’s debut is a nod to their Filipino heritage, either in their songs in Tagalog or the seemingly more traditional kulintang songs like “Bronse” that don’t have any words at all. The song “Bahala Na” finishes the album with the vocals singing “whatever happens, happens.” This song is where the height of chaotic gong clashing suddenly turns to gentle silence, a perfect metaphor for fatalism, as evidenced in their music video for the song.
All in all, the kulintang influence is what makes this band’s sound unique, reverberating in all of the songs its own way. The mood that the gongs contribute ranges from ominous and contemplative to hyper and anxious. It’s better to first familiarize yourself with Kulintang, to really appreciate Pantayo’s music, their take on traditional Filipino music and the ways they keep Filipino culture alive.
Reviewed by Kristine Villanueva
Kristine Villanueva is a Filipina journalist in Washington, D.C.. She has previously reported on issues surrounding the underground punk scene in the greater New York City area. You can follow her on Twitter.