Rhythm Is Gonna Get You


The image above is of a DVD jacket for Richie Quirino’s book – Pinoy Jazz Traditions, which won the 2004 National Book Award in the music category. PINOY JAZZ is a 60-minute English language video documentary that provides the first-ever document ation of the development of jazz in the Philippines, from its infancy in 1898, when Filipinos were first exposed to music performed by African-American soldiers, to its present-day maturity in which musicians are turning to indigenous sources for inspiration. Incorporating historical still photography, turn-of-the century film foot age, maps, old recordings, present-day performances and interviews with veteran and contemporary musicians, the video presents an eye-opening view into an almost-for gotten history of the art of jazz as it developed in the Philippines over the last century. The next image immediately below it is of author Richie Quirino (left) and Angel Peña (right) who performed in the concert ‘Basilan’ that premiered in November 2002 at Abelardo Hall auditorium during the 2nd conference of the Music ological Society of the Philippines.


What is it about the Filipino’s love for music which makes them some of the best musicians and singers in the world? What does it have to do with an intimate connection to far off lands in the Americas and Africa? Today, Philippine Music is what it is because it has managed to combine a mixture of traditional musical sounds from many of its indigenous tribes fused with Latino and American in fluences. 


The late 1940s and ’50s witnessed not just the true socio-political emancipation of the Philippines, it also marked the transition of native cultural art and trad itions from mere apprenticeship to incorporation and fusion of Filipino expres sions and sensibilities with world culture and it was no exception. Soon tradi tional folk songs and indigenous rhythms collided with the idioms of Latin and African-American music. 


These days it is a well-known fact that, behind the success of popular Philippine singers and entertainers such as Lea Salonga, Zsa Zsa Padilla, Kuh Ledesma, Sha ron Cuneta, and Gary Valenciano, are jazz-grounded arrangers, conductors and session musicians.


In his monumental second book on Philip pine Music “Mabuhay Jazz: Jazz in Postwar Philippines”, author and Berklee College of Music-trained musician, performer and com poser Richie Quirino conjures up for us son orous names, places, sounds, and images pa raded in an extended tribute to great mo ments of Philippine Music.


As his book relates, the early period of 20th century in the Philippines was characterized by continued call-and-response from hundreds of world musicians. Part of that included American servicemen who interacted with local music makers and the collaboration that often took place between them both in Manila and up in Angeles City where Clark Field Air Base was located.


Another tantalizing anecdote from his book comes from the late Dr. Ramon Sison, a pathologist living in Los Angeles, who said that as a youth, he had heard dirges “played by illiterate musicians during funeral processions in Ilocos Sur” (in northwestern Luzon) that echoed dirges played by black musicians in New Orleans on the same occasions.

Watch The Video

Filipinos in what is now the United States were first documented in the 16th century, with small settlements beginning in the 18th century. When the United States purchased Louisiana from France in April 1803 it did not know that the bargain included an early generation of Filipinos living in a barangay known as the Manila Village and the surrounding parishes of St. Malo. The climate and culture in the bayous of Louisiana were kinder and more tolerant to them thus becoming the original Filipino melting pot of the United States. The story of one such Filipino migrant starts when Felipe Madriaga comes to Louisiana when New Orleans was becoming an important port of call for ships coming from Europe to the New World. Felipe, who probably hailed from the Visayan Islands of the Philippines, arrived in the United States in the early 18th century. He was a seasoned sailor and got a job on one of the passenger ships that ferried the Atlantic Ocean. This was the time when Europeans were immigrating to America in droves. He met Bridgett Nugent onboard one of those ships. She was an Irish girl who with her parents were moving to United States. It is during the 3-month journey from Ireland that Felipe won the heart of Bridgett and they agreed to be married upon their arrival in New Orleans. Felipe quit his job with the clipper and settled on the Westbank of New Orleans. During that time he stashed some Yankee currency in the beginning of the Civil War thinking that the Union Army would prevail. He made a financial killing when Louisiana rejoined the United States. Felipe and Bridget produced three daughters and seven generations of Filipino-Irish Americans followed. The Madriaga name was lost because as all three girls he sired married other Filipinos like Martinez. Today their descendents are dispersed all over the United States but the fading picture of Felipe Madrigal is kept by Lillian Martinez-Burtanog, his great-granddaughter.


By sifting the memories of some legendary pre-war Filipino artists through a fine sieve, Quirino takes you on a magical tour that sweeps through such places and names as the Filipino-American dance halls of Stockton, California; Tirso Cruz at the Shanghai Club of Binondo; locally-stationed American GI Joes at the great cabarets of Santa Ana district; the glamorous nights of the Tirso Cruz Orchestra at Manila Hotel’s Winter Garden; and, the jam sessions throbbing at a late-night jazz club called Cafi Indonesia which became a regular hangout of so many legends including Angel Peña, the Executives Band, Tony Velarde, Lito Molina, Bobby Enriquez, Vestre Roxas, and Romy Katindig.


Quirino relates that the rise of Latin and Afro-Cuban music in the Philippines can be traced to a Puerto Rican GI – Chino Santos, who taught modern techniques of Latin percussion that eventually ushered in the raging Latin dance crazes of the rumba mambo, bolero and cha-cha in the archipelago.


Such was the re-introduction of the Latinized African influence on Filipinos – who digested 377-years of Hispanic culture as a royal colony of Spain, that it dominated the scene well into the early 1950s when Xavier Cugat played in the Philippines in 1953. It flourished with gusto in the early ’60s as Antonio Carlos Jobim’s bossa nova rhythms, Sergio Mendes’ Brazil’66 and Astrud Gilberto’s songs invaded the local airwaves and swept the country in a swirl of musical innovation propelled forward by the influences Cal Tjader, Machito, Tito Puente, Dizzy Gillespie and Mongo Santamaria.


This heady mixture led to a rise of a new breed of Filipino musicians inspired by jazz and latino music and the emergence of such bands exemplified by Bong Peñera and the Batucada 5 band at the Hyatt Regency’s Calesa Bar along Roxas Boulevard accompanied by singers like Pat Castillo and Jaqui Magno in the mid-’70s. The fused musical genre finally embedded itself as part of the history of Philippine Music long before Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine explo ded on the world scene with songs like ‘Conga’, ‘Get on Your Feet’ and ‘Rhythm Is Gonna Get You’. By that time, Filipino musicians were already playing their own strains of that kind of music for nearly 30-years.

Watch The Video

Filipinos have been settling in Cuba since the 16th century and they are one of the earliest Asian communities in the country. They reached Cuba by sailing in the Manila-Acapulco galleons that crossed the Pacific Ocean regularly from the late 16th century until 1815. Manila was the jump-off point for all Spanish trade coming from East Asia, while Havana was the take-off point for Spanish trading ships sailing from Latin America to Spain. Most of the Filipinos who landed in Cuba went on to work in “Nueva Filipinas” (New Philippines) which is now present day Pinar del Río and famous for the production of Cuban cigars from tobacco plants brought over from plantations in the Philippines by the Spanish because it was much closer to Europe and easier to oversee. Afterwards, some Filipinos moved to Havana’s big Barrio Chino or Chinatown. Others jumped ship to Louisiana. Others also sailed back to Sinaloa and Jalisco in Mexico. Those with money went to Spain or back to Manila and brought with them the traditions of Cuban music like Rumba – a variety of musical rhythms and associated dances which emphasize dramatic hip movements influenced largely by Africans brought to Cuba as slaves. They also brought with them “Arroz a la Cubana” and “Escabeche a la Cubana” which are favourite dishes of Filipinos which they almost always serve using ground beef or fish. The rest intermarried with the Cuban popu lation.


Quirino’s book on Philippine Music, the second installment of a trilogy, is not just a story of the incursion of foreign art forms. Rather, it documents Filipino adaptation and re-appropriation of rhythms, tone, and colour that are all of its own. But what’s more significant is that situated in the global and inter-cultural context of the Philippine diaspora, Quirino makes a solid and unassailable case for the Filipino’s lively and significant contribution to world music today. It also provides convincing evidence of the universal respect that has been accorded Filipino singers and musicians for their artistry, skills and creativity, even if such recognition has eluded some of them both at home in the Philippines and abroad.


In reconstructing our musical past and the richness of an overlooked art form, Richie Quirino is giving us a musical future for as long as we listen to our own stories, voices, rhythms and are true to our Filipino soul.


These musical and other cultural traditions of the Philippines are now beginning to take hold here in New Zealand enriching its culture starting with the presence of Ann Jimenez de Guzman (an Auckland University-educated Filipina music director, vocal coach and jazz enthusiast who teaches at The Vocal Performance Studio in North Shore); Jaqui Baldwin from Chicago Illinois and also known as ‘Sista Jacqui’ (in Auckland) who is a jazz and blues singer in the Christian tradition and who has strong ties with Filipino-Kiwis; the efforts of Mabuhay FM 87.6 in Hamilton led by Rene ‘Direk’ Molina which promotes Filipino arts, music and culture in Aotearoa and a counterpart Filipino radio program ‘Filipiniana sa Aotearoa’ sponsored by Filipinos Artists in New Zealand aired regularly on Wel lington Access Radio 783 AM; and, the efforts of the Bulwagan Foundation Trust to kick start the funding and building of a worthy project called the Philip pine Village in Wellington one that would showcase Philippine arts, music and culture and at the same time promote social entrepreneurship.



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