My name is Lydia, and I’m a gongster. But not the type that Michelle Pfeiffer had a hard time with. In the kulintang community, a Gongster is someone who is currently practicing or who has practiced Pilipino gong-row music may it be kulintang, kulintangan or gangsa.
Some time in 2016, I woke up from a dream. In my dream, I was talking to Master Danongan “Danny” Kalanduyan and we were planning a kulintang festival. It was intended to be a gathering of all kulintang players in North America. I was pretty insistent that he should open the whole show, but for some reason he said he couldn’t. That morning, the news broke. He had just passed away.
It took me a while to process what just happened. But that was the birth of this idea that became a commitment to what might be a lifetime offering: creating a space for all kulintang players to gather and cultivate the evolution of our ancestors’ music.
In 2017, in memory of Danny, I decided to just do it. Maybe he was asking for it. Maybe the community needed it. That was the birth of the very first and largest kulintang gathering in North America. We invited a lot of performers. Every group that might have been touched by Danny’s gong chimes were there. There were kulintang players hailing from different parts of the world including LA, San Diego, Toronto and San Francisco. They performed their music in both traditional and contemporary form. It was intimate. It didn’t have to be that big or extravagant, it just had to be community. It WAS community.
The first Gongster’s Paradise was such a soulful event that it created a special bond among the Gongster community. It built this family that has become an epicenter of knowledge and that goes beyond music. The memory of Danny Kalanduyan went beyond the existence of gongs in North America. It encouraged a lot of practitioners to keep practicing. It fueled curiosity that has kept this community growing. It enabled Danny’s first generation students to take on students themselves, to continue the legacy. It allowed this music to continue the oral tradition that was the core reason of its immortality. It left most of us Gongsters wondering who else, or what else is there to create with kulintang music.
We decided to make it a bi-annual event to hold space for artists to create and learn. Now on its second year, it took us many reflections to come up with an even deeper reason to continue the Gongster tradition.
“Ayuwan,” A Responsibility
My husband and I recently took a trip to Kalinga. We realized that we’ve been practicing kulintang for awhile now but have very little knowledge of the gong community in the Northern Philippines. We learned about the term “ayuwan.” We asked our host, Sapi Bawer, what would be the closest Kalinga term for “kuleana,” a Hawaiian word which is a treasured value in the culture meaning “responsibility.” This responsibility refers to your relationship with that which you are responsible for, and is usually related to responsibility to the land as a sign of gratitude for enabling them to be fed and be sheltered.
It took much reflection for me to figure out that maybe that dream happened because it was meant to be our generation’s “ayuwan.” Gongster’s Paradise is our responsibility to let kulintang music evolve while keeping the soul of its rhythms existent in our modern world. Our responsibility to make space for it in memory of our ancestors. Our “kuleana” to keep this music as part of our lives in memory of our ancestors whose resistance has continuously fueled our wisdom and curiosity.
Gongster’s Paradise is now running on its second year, this time with new works and new groups added to the lineup. This time, we are blessed to have Maguindanaoan Master Artist Faisal Monal grace us with his presence. That dream that has become the gift that keeps on giving. It is that one night where we all experience connecting with our ancestors through their music with the chimes that brings us to a paradise that maybe not a lot of people can explain: a Gongster’s Paradise.
Celebrate Danny Kalanduyan’s life and the growing kulintang community at Gongster’s Paradise: A Stronger Kulintang Force this Saturday, May 4, 2019 from 4:00pm - 8:00pm at the Oakland Asian Cultural Center, 388 9th St, Oakland, CA 94607
Tickets here: bit.ly/gongsters2019
Lydia “Lady” Querian is a performing artist born and raised in the Philippines, now based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She studied at Coastal Dance and Music Academy and has performed with Dancing Earth, Kularts and Jay Loyola Dance Collaborations, Alleluia Panis Dance, and toured internationally with Parangal Dance Company. As a kulintang practitioner, she has performed with San Francisco Kulintang Project and Kulintronica and produced Gongster's Paradise, the largest kulintang festival in the west. She's also co-founder of House of Gongs, which offers Kulintang, Tagalog and Eskrima classes. As a writer, Lydia’s goal is to open up dialogue within the diaspora about arts and culture and what it means for us living from a distance to the motherland.