With the likes of Jimmy Cliff and Joss Stone playing, it’s the rare music aficionado who can resist the song of the siren beckoning.
Only this siren doesn’t deceive. On the contrary, heed her allure and you’ll find yourself on a magical adventure to a misty, tranquil mountain where nature is peaceable, people laid-back, and life is oh-so-good.
We’re describing Malasimbo Music and Arts Festival, which is quickly becoming one of the most anticipated music and art festivals in the Asia-Pacific region.
Since its 2011 debut, Malasimbo has brought such musical heavies as experimental hip-hop turntablist DJ Krush; Joe Bataan, originator of Latin Soul; revolutionary Jamaican artist Jimmy Cliff; and English soul singer/songwriter Joss Stone.
Grace Nono and Bob Aves, the Mar Dizon Band, Up Dharma Down and Radio Active Sago Project are some of the local luminaries that have graced the festival.
In 2014, festival-goers can look forward to Grammy-winning Robert Glasper Experiment; Swedish indie folk singer-songwriter José Gonzalez; soul-jazz fusion pioneers Roy Ayers and Lonnie Liston Smith; dub extraordinaire Mad Professor; British Neo Soul pioneer Omar; Osunlade; Jordan Rakei and more from Feb. 27 to March 3.
“Puerto Galera is the birthplace of Philippine reggae, and soul and roots is what really sounds best in Malasimbo,” says festival coproducer Milo Grgic. “For me, Malasimbo is a really good representation of the Philippines as the heart and soul of Asia. We all know that Filipinos are the most soulful people in Asia when it comes to music… So the music of the festival is really inspired by the actual venue.”
The venue he’s talking about is the verdant, natural amphitheater at the foot of Mount Malasimbo in Puerto Galera. From the cool air up here, you overlook what has been officially dubbed by the globally prestigious, eponymous Club as one of the most beautiful bays in the world.
Up on the festival grounds, it’s idyllic and serene, an Eden for nature-lovers. While the sun is up, there’s trekking to be done, a mangrove forest, an excavation museum, and an exotic zoo to be visited. Workshops on themes like dream-weaving, bamboo-flute-making and Tibetan singing bowls are offered.
Workshops and trekking not your cup of tea? Well, then stay on the beach where it’s hot, steamy and hedonic. The Malasimboat, an afternoon party in a floating bar, may appeal more to you. Or there’s diving, island-hopping, jet-skiing and kayaking.
But there’s more to the festival than chill music and hot fun. There’s visual arts to tickle or bring awe to the soul. For the three years of its existence, over 30 visual artists have been given access to the site to use as canvas for their creativity.
Gus Albor, Agnes Arellano, Billy Bon nevie, Denis Lagdameo, Grace Katigbak, Dondi Katigbak and Niccolo José are artists whose creations have become fixtures in Malasimbo’s Sculpture Garden.
Olivia d’Aboville, Mona Alcudia, Kawayan de Guia, IC Jaucian, Leeroy New, Alwin Reamillo, Risa Recio, Mikai Rodrigo, Mark Salvatus and Troy Silvestre have made art installations for the festival.
Some works are delightfully whimsical; others, fraught with mystery and myth.
Olivia d’Aboville, curator of the visual-arts division of the festival, explains: “Whether permanent or degradable, loud or discreet, phantasmagoric or natural, interactive or silent, the works all have a synergy with the mountain, the landscape, the wind, the ocean, and the festival’s creative energy.”
Come sunset and the music begins. Ara d’Aboville, Malasimbo’s muse, says: “It’s a beautiful ambience. People are just so gentle and so cool and having a good time. There’s enough space for everyone. If you want to dance, you can come close to the stage and dance. Or if you want to lie back, you can lie down on the grass terrace and look up at the stars.”
What sets Malasimbo apart from other festivals is its core ethos. Music is its first cornerstone; art, its second; environment, third.
Malasimbo festival is committed to the protection of the environment.
Hubert d’Aboville, founder and coproducer, insists on zero visual pollution. “At the beginning, our sponsors asked, ‘Why can’t we give our promotional items?’ I told them, ‘No. Please come. Enjoy our nature. You don’t have to overdo your promotions.’ Now they understand. They see that the environment is very pure, very protected.”
Past festival proceeds have gone to reforestation. Hubert is very proud of his adoptive home. “God gave us the bay of Puerto Galera. It’s an exceptional beauty. Now, once we have this gift, what will we do with it? Do we protect it? Do we enhance it? This is our responsibility. With the municipality of Puerto Galera, we are doing all that we can to protect and enhance and communicate the beauty of Puerto Galera. In 2005, we managed to have this bay accredited with a world club called The Most Beautiful Bays in the World. We are only 40 in the whole world.”
The fourth cornerstone of the festival is the preservation of the culture and heritage of indigenous peoples. On the festival grounds, life-size Mangyan houses have been built to showcase ethnic arts and culture of Mindoro’s eight Mangyan tribes. Heritage workshops and tribal performances are part of the festival program.
Proceeds have gone to providing scholarships and electricity to the Mangyan people.
“The relationship that we are slowly and respectfully building with the indigenous people is extremely important,” says Hubert. “They are fantastic people. They are the soul of Puerto Galera.”
With the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the Department of Tourism and the Municipality of Puerto Galera, Malasimbo festival fosters sustainable ecocultural tourism in Puerto Galera.
Lofty goals for an operation that runs on a shoestring budget and has developed organically!
“We’ve always had to rely on the help of family and friends and those who are enthusiastic about what we do. We really are a small, independent production,” says Grgic. “We sort of draw in the resources as we go along.”
Sponsors during the first year have remained with them—Visa, Shell, TicketWorld, La Farge, Coca-Cola, Royal Cargo, Stage Craft, Sofitel. And the festival has gained momentum.
This year, several UK and Australian publications have contacted its organizers, volunteering to write and spread the word. Last year, 17 nationalities were represented in the festival. And so, step by step, this mountain is being scaled while magical adventures happen.