KONTRA-GAPI

 

The Music

 

In the beginning there was Sound. And out of the primordial Sound arose the

Universe, and all things in it.

 

So the ancients believed; and they paid homage to the primordial sound by

making joyous sounds of their own, first with the human voice - the primal

instrument - and later with drums, gongs rattles and whatever means were at

hand. Thus was born the art of music.

 

As civilization became more and more complex, however, so did music. Finally

the day came when it was decided that the sublime art of music could no

longer be left in the hands of amateurs. And so the creation of music

became the province of the few who devoted their lives to it, while the many

became for the most part nothing more than passive listeners.

 

But in truth, anyone who can bang a gong or clap his hands or make any sort

of human sound can reclaim the right to create music. All it takes is a

shift in perspective.

 

Bringing this shift about is the reason for being of Kontemporaryong

Gamelang Pilipino, or Kontra-Gapi. The group's name is not just an acronym.

Gapi is a Filipino word meaning bound, vanquished, conquered. Kontra-Gapi

therefore seeks to free Filipino musical consciousness from the stranglehold

of Western-oriented pop, and from the stifling notion that only specialists

have the ability to create music.

 

The vehicle that Kontra-Gpai has chosen for this task is the gamelan.

Gamelan is the traditional percussion orchestra of Southeast Asia. It is

said that the sound of the gamelan can only be compared to moonlight and

flowing water, for it is as mysterious as the moonlight and ever changing

like the water.

 

The sound of the gamelan is at once ancient and timeless. One need only

listen to the hypnotic tones of the gamelan to realize that the music

strikes a resonant chord somewhere deep in the racial memory. It is part of

the Filipinos' roots, buried beneath the colonial overlay, dormant but alive.

 

The Ensemble

 

Kontra-Gapi had its beginnings in 1989 when Edru Abraham, a professor at

the University of the Philippines was asked to create music for a Pilipino

adaptation of August Strindberg's A Dream Play. The director had only one

guideline: that the music be distinctly Filipino and Asian. Throughout the

run of the play, consistently excellent reviews singled out the music's

stunning exotic appeal. This encouraged the ad-hoc band to transform itself

into an independent troupe, and what followed was a long string of

performances throughout the Philippines. They have performed in diverse

places, from village basketball courts, to hole-in-the-wall rock clubs, to

street demonstrations, to the imposing main theater of the Cultural Centre

of the Philippines.

 

In 1993, Kontra-Gapi was appointed resident gamelan or music and dance

ensemble by the University of the Philippines. Three years later they

received the university's Outstanding Achievement Award in the Performing

Arts for their significant, trendsetting, and visionary contribution.

 

On one level, Kontra-Gapi is an experiment in using the gamelan for

contemporary musical expression. To the gamelan, Kontra-Gapi adds a flute,

a jew's harp, a clarinet, a harmonica, even an electric guitar and a

synthesizer.

 

On another level, however, Kontra-Gapi is also an experiment in

empowerment. It aims to remind us that music belongs to the people.

 

The Kontra-Gapi philosophy is best appreciated in performance. Group

leader Edru Abraham, a wriy, wildly energetic presence, usually directs the

ensemble from his drum kit, around which other instruments are arrayed. As

the concert proceeds, however, the members of the audience soon realize that

they too have a part in the performance.

 

In one piece for instance, titled Palakpakan o Kapalpakan, the audience

participates through rhythmic handclapping, building rhythms and patterns

that soon fill the hall. In another piece, Abraham has the audience

chanting Kalayaan, Kasarinlan, Kapayapaan sa Bayan (freedom, sovereignty,

peace to the nation) like a mantra.

 

Kontra-Gapi is eclectic and experimental, and all musical styles, even

Western idioms are grist for its mill. In one piece, the ensemble runs

through a series of Latin rhythms, from the tango and the cha-cha to the

bolero and bossa nova, culminating in a wild lambada.

 

Anything can happen within the improvisational framework of a Kontra-Gapi

performance. One moment members may be dancing to an ethnic beat. The next

Abraham might be playing the William Tell Overture on his bamboo jew's harp.

Later on, a jazz singer might be scatting along with the kulintang as foil.

And as a finale, the audience might be enticed to rap along with the ensemble.

 

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