ABOUT SUBLA: Redefinition of the Tradition
Subla was borne out of the mutual musical interests of Danny Kalanduyan, Bo Razon, Frank Holder, and Chris Trinidad who sought to explore the indigenous gong music of the Maguindanao and Maranao peoples from the southern Philippine island group of Mindanao. This music is known as Kulintang and it is related to other gong musics of Southeast Asia including most notably Gamelan and Piphat. In its indigenous form, Kulintang dates back over a millennium to pre-colonial times. It is an exotic amalgam of intricately woven layers and patterns of sound produced by the different instruments in the gong ensemble driven by rich interlocking rhythms.
The traditional gong ensemble consists of a lead instrument of horizontally laid bossed gongs which, incidentally, is also called kulintang. In addition, vertically arranged bossed gongs called the gandingan accompanies with secondary melodic material, and the bass function is handled by two large vertically suspended gongs called the agung. A goblet shaped single-headed drum called a dabakan in concert with a handheld gong called a babendil complete the ensemble and take the role of time keeping.
Subla is a neo-kulintang group which takes its inspiration from the traditional gong ensemble and applies elements of Western music like form, harmony, and improvisation, while adding timbres from rock, jazz, and world music. This fresh perspective respects the melodies, patterns, and rhythms of kulintang while simultaneously experimenting with new sounds, ideas, and approaches.
The music evolved after many discussions and rehearsals. Danny and Frank would begin the development by teaching everyone the traditional parts on the gongs. These rhythms would evolve into the guitar and bass which, in turn, would adapt the melodies and sequences to create the core of the pieces.
Often, the guitar would take on the role of the babendil and the bass guitar played an amalgam of the gandingan or the agung parts. A constant challenge for the musicians was working with the idiomatic tuning of the kulintang which is not set to western equal temperament. There exists a tension between the string instruments and the kulintang which had to be overcome in order to create harmony and juxtaposition of the two elements of this group.
The pieces are not set repertoire in the tradition, per se, but are rather closer to melodic-rhythmic modes which the kulintang player, as lead instrument, can use as a platform for improvisation. As such, many variations exist within the tradition and the identities of the pieces can shift depending on the musicians.
Their latest CD (“Subla Neo-Kulintang”, © Matrix Records 2014) showcases 7 original arrangements that display the rhythmic and melodic complexity at work and gives the listener a deeper sense of Filipino ethnic music at its most visceral.
Click on the iTunes or CD Baby link to listen to previews and purchase your own copy.
Danongan “Danny” Kalanduyan plays kulintang in Subla. He is one of a very select few master scholar-artists on these shores of the western United States who has freely shared Kulintang with any who would care to take the time to learn and to foster the tradition. Born in the small village of Datu Piang in the Maguindanao region in Mindanao, Philippines, Kulintang was a part of the social fabric of Danny’s childhood. After earning his undergraduate degree in community studies, Danny became a traveling cultural ambassador through his work with the Darangan Cultural Troupe. The University of Washington invited Danny to share his knowledge of Kulintang with the music department and in the process earned a graduate degree in ethnomusicology. After some time teaching and performing in the Pacific Northwest, he found his way to Northern California through a series of invitations from various Filipino cultural organizations wanting to learn more about Kulintang. Danny is a National Endowment Award recipient and is currently a Distinguished Artist-in-Residence at San Francisco State University.
Bo Razon is a Filipino-American guitarist and percussionist who has studied a wide variety of music and has performed with musicians from across genres. Bo has worked in a musical capacity with the Alliance Française, Goethe Institute, Instituto Cervantes, and the British Council as producer, composer, arranger, and performer. He has worked with artists such as Patti Austin, Pauline Wilson, Kevyn Lettau, Jim Chapell, Grace Nono, Joey Ayala, and Bob Aves. He taught World and Afro-Latin Music at the College of Music of the University of the Philippines from 1998 to 2007. A long-time resident of the San Francisco Bay Area and now living in Nevada, Bo continues to be active in the Latin and World music scenes.
Frank Holder is a Filipino-American percussionist born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. A founding member of the Kulintang Arts Ensemble, his collaborative work on the CD release Cycles was critically acclaimed and was awarded the Isadora Duncan Award for Best Original Sound score for Choreography. Frank also released his own modern kulintang composition CD entitled Birthmark. He has studied, toured, and performed extensively with Danny Kalanduyan. Frank is mentioned in the second volume of the Continuum Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World for his work and contribution to the diaspora of Kulintang music in the United States.
Chris Trinidad is a Filipino-Canadian multi-instrumentalist who now makes the San Francisco Bay Area his home. With Subla, Chris plays bass guitar and percussion. In addition to his bass playing, as a freelance session musician he is also often called to accompany on piano or drum set, or to perform as a choral singer. As a seasoned veteran with experience in multiple genres of music, Chris balances practical musicianship and applied artistry with a solid background in academia. He holds undergraduate degrees in Jazz Studies and Music Education with additional earned graduate degrees in Music Education, Liturgical Studies, and Lasallian Studies. His far ranging interests also include work in academic research, secondary school teaching, record production, liturgical ministry, and choral conducting.
Roberto Rios plays an integral role as the Babendil player, or timekeeper of the band. He is based in the San Francisco Bay Area and is a bassist and percussionist who has played in many salsa, latin jazz and world music bands in the area.