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POP GOES MINDANAO

DAVAO CITY — Over the years Mindanao music has been boxed in the “ethnic” or “world” music category. This is probably because the first Mindanaoan musicians who broke into the mainstream brought instruments like the kulintang, kubing, kuglong/kudyapi, and agung into their musical styles. Audiences, particularly in Metro Manila and other places outside Mindanao, lapped up the “new sound” — but in the process also set a limit to what they believe Mindanao music should be.

Sarah Faye Dulaca sings her song “Filters,” which talks about being authentic at a time when people use filters to show unrealistic versions of themselves online. MinPop photo

But there is so much more to Mindanao music than that. This was brought home perfectly on November 9, 2020 when the Mindanao Popular Music Festival (MinPop) was launched to the media in Davao City. That night the 10 finalists were revealed, and their songs showcased the diversity that Mindanao artists can create.

Marvin Asis says his song “Sayaw” was inspired by a bride and groom dancing during a wedding. MinPop photo

Festival director Jeremy Sarmiento said the process started in the middle of this year when MinPop did the rounds of various areas in Mindanao to conduct songwriting workshops. This was followed by invitations for submission of entries, and MinPop was flooded with more than 300 songs. This was whittled down to an initial 70, then 30, then 15, and finally to the final 10.

Many of the songs were good, Sarmiento says, and it was in fact difficult to come up with the final 10. In the end the following were selected:

  1. #Buang by Sherwin Fugoso of Jabonga, Agusan Del Norte
  2. A.M. by Mau Ria Pama of Lupon, Davao Oriental
  3. Bahala Na by Crissia Jenn Kaamiño of Medina, Misamis Oriental
  4. Balay by Kenneth and Adam Niel Corvera of Tubay, Agusan Del Norte
  5. Bulawan by Miggy Ann Kaamiño of Medina, Misamis Oriental
  6. Filters by Sarah Faye Dulaca of Davao City
  7. Rason by Kent Charcos of Davao City
  8. Sabihin Mo Lang by Crissia Jenn Kaamiño of Medina, Misamis Oriental 
  9. Sayaw by Marvin Asis of Davao City
  10. Tethered by Marckenny Joshua Bohol of Iligan City

As you can probably tell by the titles, these songs run the spectrum from love songs to social commentary. But you’d have to hear the songs to tell that the styles are far different from what many non-Mindanaoans expect. There is no “ethnic” sound, no boxed-in style, no restriction as to what the sound should be.

Mau Ria Pama’s bittersweet song “A.M.” has a unique twist in the end. MinPop photo

And that is what pop music is. MinPop is simply “pop music created by Mindanaoans,” and while Sarmiento and the other organizers made no conscious effort to exclude the stereotypical “Mindanao” sound, the songwriters themselves showed that they are not about to be restricted by anyone.

MinPop is more than just a contest or a music festival: It’s a movement whose vision is to have globally recognized pop music created by Mindanao. Its mission is to position Mindanao as a pop music generator, and based on the top 10 as well as other songs that have already been produced, this is a totally doable and achievable goal.

“Tethered” by Marckenny Joshua Bohol uses imagery that people can easily relate to. MinPop photo

Mindanaoans have actually already started making their mark in pop music. Last year Chud Festejo of Davao City won the first prize in the Philippine Popular Musical Festival (PhilPop) with his song “Nanay Tatay,” while his fellow Davaoeño Kyle Raphael Borbon won the first prize in the Himig Handog songwriting competition with his song Sa Mga Bituin na Lang Ibubulong. They have proven that pop music is not the exclusive domain of those in Luzon or the Visayas, and that Mindanao music is not just about kulintang, kubing, kuglong, kudyapi, or agung.

So what is Mindanao pop? Like all music it is still evolving, but based on the MinPop Top 10, MinPop is heartfelt music written and sung by a people who know what it is to be neglected, sidelined, and ignored. There is a certain edginess, to be sure, but it is not the kind of edge that hurts the listener. There is also hugot — an emotion that’s pulled from deep inside — that seems to pervade even the upbeat entries.

Festival director Jeremy Sarmiento emphasizes that MinPop is not just a music festival or contest but a movement to create music for the entire country. MinPop photo

Sarmiento says MinPop, which is supported by prominent business leaders Ricky Floirendo and Mike Ayala, will culminate in a three-day music festival on February 2, 2020 (02/02/2020). It will be highlighted by a concert featuring the Top 10 where the final winners will be announced. Prizes at stake are P100,000 for the first prize, P50,000 for the second prize, and P25,000 for the third prize.

Now in the production stage, MinPop Top 10 will be arranged by an all-Mindanaoan pool of arrangers and producers: Pao Lofranco, Paolo Sisi, Cacho Gemcache Ferrero, Richard Deligero, and Jude Gitamondoc (not in the photo). Festival director Jeremy Sarmiento stands in the middle. MinPop  

It’s almost immaterial who will win because in the end, all the artists share one goal: for all Filipinos, no matter where they are and what language they speak, to appreciate the music of Mindanao.

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