According to Pantayo’s Kat Estacio, the group’s music is “going to be quite different from what you may be expecting”, and truer words have never been spoken.
The Toronto-based collective, made up of five young women of Filipino origin, plays kulintang, a style of music that’s almost unknown in Vancouver—or, indeed, in most of North America. Named for its primary instrument, a horizontal array of tuned kettle gongs not unlike the bonang used in Indonesian gamelan, it’s the music of several Indigenous groups from the southern Philippines; Pantayo’s music is specifically derived from that of the Maguindanaoan and T’boli peoples.
As Estacio explains, the members of Pantayo originally came together to explore their shared heritage; as young, diasporic Filipinas, they felt a need to look beyond the American-influenced pop culture of the Filipino capital, Manila. “It’s part of uncovering tidbits of what our identity means as, you know, Filipinos who aren’t in the Philippines, and who are settlers in another land,” she says.
Kulintang isn’t a virtuosic music, she goes on to explain. In its original context it was a way of bringing villagers together, to strengthen communal bonds and provide a soundtrack for seasonal celebrations, and Pantayo has kept that aspect of the style intact. But before you conclude that they’re engaged in some kind of ethnomusicological research, check out the sounds that they’re readying for an upcoming album release, some of which can be found on YouTube. Gongs still play a prominent role, setting the music’s pace and structure, but electronic keyboards, synthesized bass, EDM rhythms, and R&B–inflected vocals have also been subtly integrated into Pantayo’s sound. If its roots are in villages past, its present lies clearly in the global village.
“That’s the beautiful thing about culture—that it’s not static, right?” Estacio says. “And it’s ever-evolving, all the time.
“The kulintang music that’s being played in the Philippines, it’s also evolved,” she continues. “It gives us permission and ownership of our artistic work to think that we are part of that evolution of culture. And, yeah, it’s awesome to now see that there are more kulintang players in the diaspora, and also in the Philippines, because of social media and access to the Internet and things like that.”
At home in Toronto, Pantayo’s members are particularly involved with getting more young Filipinas into music, in part through collaborations with organizations like Girls Rock Camp. And although Estacio doesn’t want to make a big deal of the fact that Pantayo’s all-female lineup is a deliberate choice—“You never ask an all-male band ‘Why all-male?’ ” she says pointedly—she doesn’t deny that it’s also a political choice.
“Filipinas in the diaspora—when people think about them, what’s the immediate stereotype?” she asks, alluding to the service-sector jobs—caregiver, nanny, cleaner—many first-generation Filipinas have to take. “So if women are playing percussion, that’s always a statement. We’re just providing another perspective on what Filipinas can be.”
Vancouver New Music presents Pantayo at the Orpheum Annex on Saturday (April 27).