>> write // kaisahan afrocubalintang: liner notes

Conrad Benedicto:
kulintang (3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, 12)
dabakan (1, 2, 7, 13)
gandingan (4, 6)
agung (11)

Bo Razon:
congas (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 10, 11, 12, 13)
okonkolo (6, 9)
itotele (6, 9)
iya (6, 9)
achere (4, 6)
saronay (7)
gandingan (7)
agung (2, 3)

Chris Trinidad:
babendil (2, 3, 6, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12)
gandingan (8, 9)
agung (4, 8, 9)
clave (2, 3, 6, 8)
sartenes (2, 3)
guataca (4)
guagua (10, 11, 12)
campana (2, 3, 5, 10, 11, 12)

Mario Salomón:
bongó (8)
timbal (8)
güiro (8)
chekere (8)

José Sanchez:
quinto (2)

Produced and mixed by Chris Trinidad at Elemental MusicWorks, Pinole, CA.

Additional production assistance by Bo Razon.

Recorded on 17 - 19 June 2022 with additional recording on 13 August 2022 and Mastered on 8 October 2022 by Akiyoshi Ehara at Sleepy Wizard Studios, El Cerrito, CA.

Layout and Design by Chris Stevenson.
Insert Artwork by PJ Martin.
Cover Pre-Philippine Calligraphy “Kaisahan” by Kristian Kabuay.

Kulintang is the gong-chime music indigenous to Mindanao, one of three major island groups in the Philippines. It is practiced primarily by the Maguindanaon and Maranao peoples, as well as the Tausug, Yakan, Sama-Bajau, and other indigenous Lumad ethnolinguistic groups of Mindanao. In the mid-1970s, kulintang found its way to the West Coast of the United States through Danongan Sibay Kalanduyan, who accepted an invitation to teach this pre-colonial tradition at the University of Washington in Seattle. Danny, as he was also known, moved to Northern California and formed a number of kulintang ensembles, cultivating the tradition while inspiring new practitioners. Among them were Conrad Benedicto, Bo Razon, and Chris Trinidad.

Danny was always interested in collaborating with musicians who had an earnest interest in his tradition, and he sought to push kulintang’s boundaries by investigating ways it could adapt to other genres. As early as 2009, Bo and Danny started exploring Afro-Cuban folkloric rhythms which could be adapted to kulintang music. In 2012, Danny joined Bo, Chris, and percussionist Frank Holder to form Subla Neokulintang. They released an album the following year and performed regularly in the San Francisco Bay Area and Greater Los Angeles. Naturally, the group began to explore the intentional pairing of kulintang with Afro-Cuban folkloric rhythms, given Bo, Chris, and Frank’s knowledge and experience with those musics. But before a project could get off the ground, Danny passed away in 2016.

Bo and Chris collaborated on several recordings that respected the traditions and histories of the Philippines and Cuba while provoking transformation and evolution. The album Subla Neokulintang featured kulintang rhythm-modes combined with Western instrumentation and forms. Chris Trinidad’s Cancíon Tagalog saw Bo and Chris delve into the shared Spanish colonial histories of the Philippines and Cuba by melding late 19th and early 20th century music from Filipino composers with popular Cuban rhythms and instrumentation (along with some original tracks from Bo and Chris). This recording, Kaisahan Afrocubalintang, is the next point on their trajectory with Conrad joining along for the ride.

There is no known musical bridge between the Afro-Cuban folkloric rhythms and kulintang. But, they do share a number of similar rhythmic motifs that make for fascinating musical possibilities. For instance, the tresillo and cinquillo rhythm patterns have their roots in West Africa and are present in Afro-Cuban music. These same patterns appear, albeit with different accents, in the timekeeping rhythms of the babendil. On several tracks, the juxtaposition of the clave alongside the babendil demonstrates how two cultures a world apart can have so much in common. These serendipitous connections became the inspiration for melding the two disparate musical worlds. Many of the song titles are portmanteaus that indicate the intentional fusing of the repertoire.

“Enjoyment was prevalent throughout the process,” Conrad said, “even as we pushed ourselves to musical realms we had never been together. How could the mingling of two deep traditions not result in joy? There was so much discovery. In many instances, the intermingling of rhythms and melodies was seamless and natural.”

Unity and Oneness
The Tagalog word for unity and oneness is “kaisahan.” In a time of political division and separation, creative music-making in community has the capacity to bring people together. This recording project honors all of the dedicated scholars and practitioners of kulintang music—past and present—and the diversity of music that has resulted from collaborations, expansions, and reimaginings. The project also acknowledges and honors the motherlode of rhythms and music brought by African ancestors to another musical island, Cuba. This album is dedicated to “our guro,” Danongan Sibay Kalanduyan. Danny shared his music with all, and encouraged all to continue collaborating, expanding, and reimagining kulintang for the benefit of future generations of Filipinos around the world.

The album opens with a processional-like drum duet. Conrad plays the goblet-shaped drum known as the dabakan. Bo plays the congas. The dabakan rhythm is lifted from the Maranao composition called Kapagonor. Bo complements Conrad by playing the Conga de Comparsa pattern. Chris lays out and contributes silence to the track!

Conga de Comparsa y Kapagonor
An exploration of the alliance between two rhythms, the track features Cuban musician José Sanchez on the quinto drum (highest pitch conga drum). He improvises on top of a bed of rhythms provided by Chris on an assortment of percussion (including the sartenes, or frying pan), with Bo and Conrad continuing their contributions on congas and dabakan respectively. Performed by Bo, the agung (bass gong) substitutes for the bombo (bass drum), an important voice in the Conga de Comparsa Habanera.

Kapagonor is played by the Maranao people to entertain important guests, typically at weddings and other celebrations. Conrad recalls performing this piece as a grand opener in performances with Danny. Given that the Conga de Comparsa Habanera is performed during the celebration called Carnaval, the pairing of the dense interlocking rhythms with the Kapagonor melody seemed more than appropriate.

Kangungudan a Bembe
Kangungudan refers to the modern style of kulintang that tends toward rhythmic ornamentation, melodic improvisation, and increased tempo. Taken from the Manguindanaoan root word “manguda,” Kangungudan is often performed by younger people. Conrad composed a new melody to fit the 6/8 phrasing characteristic of the bembe. Chris plays the bembe bell part on the guataca, or, garden hoe. Bo plays a traditional style of Bembe drum patterns on three congas as well as shekere on this piece.

Kamamatuan a Mozambique
Kamamatuan, on the other hand, is the traditional style of kulintang which emphasizes mellower melodies. Accompanying this melody is a second generation rhythm called “The Mozambique” (no connection to the African country). The rhythm was inspired by Cuban percussionist Pello El Afrokan, which was later modified by New York musician Eddie Palmieri. This simple arrangement provides the listener with an “ear-palate cleanser” from the density of rhythms that preceded it, and a preparation for what is to come.

Binalig a Batarumba
Binalig comes from the Maguindanoan root word “balig,” which means “slang” or “foreign accent.” This piece is a version that hybridizes various kulintang modes. The complexities of the kangungudan style on kulintang is blended with the simpler kamamatuan approach on the gandingan. The batarumba is also a merger of Afro-Cuban drumming styles that combines the batá toque (rhythmic sequence) of Chachalokafun with Rumba Guaguanco. This fused drumming style is credited to the group Afrocuba de Matanzas.

Arara con Saronay y Gandingan
Arará is the collective name given to the ethnoreligious group of Afro-Cubans descended from the Ewe-Fon people. They originated from the ancient Kingdom of Dahomey in what is known today as Togo and Benin. The Arará drum ensemble parts were transposed by Bo for kulintang ensemble gongs using agong for their yenofon (low-pitched drum) and the gandingan for their apliti (mid-pitched drum). Conrad plays the guegue (hi-pitched drum) rhythm on the dabakan. Chris plays the Ogan, or bell part, on the babendil. Bo plays the Yenofon part on Agong and does a solo on the gandingan. The melody is inspired by the songs Elegua Nado and Afra Jegan, and is performed by Bo on the saronay, a small metallophone version of the kulintang made of tin.

Descarga con Duyog
The descarga is an informal jam. The bass function called the “tumbao” was assigned to the agung, in the same way the marimbula (an Afro-Cuban lamellophone composed of a large box with attached metal strips) does. The montuno, or displaced accompaniment characteristic of Son Cubano, is taken by the gandingan. The clave marks the time side by side with the babendil. Incidentally, the latter rhythmic pulse is similar to the Afro-Cuban cascara. The main melody is Conrad’s version of Duyog, which means “the chase.” Cuban percussionist and songwriter Mario Salomón adorns the track with timbal, bongó, güiro, and chekere.

Pangalay a Yakota
This rendition of Pangalay is derived from Danny’s version of a kulintang piece meant to accompany tagunggo, or trance dancing. The rhythm bed is a batá toque called “Yakota,” used as accompaniment for certain Orisha songs in the Lucumí liturgical tradition. In this arrangement, the gandingan and agung gongs double the function of the itotele and iya drums for a denser effect.

The Makuta refers to both a series of rhythms and the drums on which those rhythms are performed, as well as the specific dance it comes with. The Makuta has its roots with the Bantu and Congo peoples of Central Africa. The commingling of the Makuta rhythms with the piece Tidtu work well together owing to their shared tresillo rhythmic keys. Bo plays the makuta rhythms on regular congas on this track.

Tidtu a Makuta
Tidtu is often played for agung contests at breakneck speed. Featuring Conrad, the agung improvisation is the highlight of this piece. It is amazing how agung soloists can squeeze beats into spaces one would never expect them to fit!

Similar to Makutidtu, this piece is Conrad’s melodic arrangement on kulintang. This recapitulation completes the three-part exploration of Tidtu with Makuta.

This piece is a reprise of the opening drum duet now rendered in a much slower tempo. This time, the congas initiate the call with the dabakan responding in kind. The characteristic buzz-mute dabakan playing technique is present as the listener is invited to wind-down and recess from the intense density of what has come before.


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