Centennial Mile

Published in Metro Society magazine, November 2011

From its humble beginnings in June 1911 in a small house with only nine De La Salle Christian brothers for teachers and 125 male students, DLSU now has over 15,000 co-ed students and is part of De La Salle Philippines (DLSP), a network of seventeen Lasallian institutions across the Philippines with over 100,000 student enrolled nationwide. During World War II DLSU–Manila provided shelter for wounded soldiers and civilians, and continued to hold classes despite severe damage and repeated bombings.  It was shut down in 1945, and reopened a few months later. The school closed down for a while during Martial Law, but eventually classes resumed and the school welcomed female students in 1973. It is now one of the most well-known universities in the country, and has recently been recognized as one (out of four) of the best Philippine universities in Asia by international organizations. This year marks the Centennial of De La Salle University (DLSU) and to commemorate this milestone, DLSU will be hosting a range of events and activities throughout the year, the first of which started last June.

In order to prepare for their 100th year, the DLSU Centennial Celebration Executive Committee was formed in April 2009. Dean of Student Affairs, Fritzie De Vera, was chair of the Centennial Celebration Committee. The celebration started the morning of June 16, with people coming in as early as 5 am. There was an Eucharistic Mass presided by Cardinal Rosales with Bishop Tagle giving the homily. The Vicar General from Rome was also present and gave a short message before the final blessing. After the mass, President Noynoy gave a message as well. “During the 16th there was a lot of people here – an estimate of over 20, 000 people on campus for the entire day. It was good to see so many people happy to be back and proud to be from De La Salle,” De Vera shared.

The official countdown started at 12 noon, with all the Lasallian institutions celebrating simultaneously. At the main campus there was the Green Mile, when all the students, faculty and visitors went out to Taft Avenue, standing from the South gate to the Andrew Gate while cheering and making jubilant noises. True to its “green” roots, De La Salle has been involved in a reforestation activity for the past few years, with trees planted in different areas all over the Philippines .The ceremonial planting of the 1 millionth tree occurred that afternoon, an activity shared by all the La Salle schools.

Later that afternoon, there was a pre-show where the Lasallian Centennial Dance anthem was performed, with various bands such as Sandwich, Kjwan, and Periodyko featured. The highlight of the celebration was the Centennial Concert, Isang Daang Sangangdaan, where different Lasallian performers (such as Barbie Almalbis, The Dawn, Kitchie Nadal and Gary Valenciano) took the stage. The show was directed by Ruel Santiago, with music by Louie Ocampo.

Aside from the main concert at the Yuchengco Theater, there were pocket events going on simultaneously in different areas of the campus, such as Strings and Stanzas – an acoustic concert and poetry reading event with Richard Poon, and the Animo Street Party. The celebration ended with everyone gathering at the amphitheater at around 9:30 pm to watch the fireworks, a pyro-musical and to sing the Alma Mater song.

The Centennial events and activities will continue until June of next year, with De La Salle students, alumni and supporters having a lot to look forward to. There will be an art exhibit, book launches, a Centennial sculpture competition, a series of lectures on various topics, the 5th World Union of Former La Salle Students (UMAEL), the World Universities Debate Championship, and a Tour of St. La Salle’s Relics around the various Lasallian schools, among others.

A hundred years may not seem like a long time in the course of history, but it is enough to raise up generations of achievers, leaders and performers who have helped shape our culture and country. As said in DLSU’s mission, they are committed to “train leaders, competent professionals, scholars, researchers and entrepreneurs, who will participate actively in improving the quality of life in Philippine society.” As De La Salle celebrates its past and prepares for its future, the promise of another hundred years of shaping minds is something that people can look forward to.

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Defiant Beat

Published in Metro Society magazine, August 2014

Can you hear the sound, she sings, in a voice that soars. The enunciation and clarity of tone is reminiscent of a young Lea Salonga and the vocals are distinctly Filipina, with a delicate lilt that is the singer’s own. We dance to the beat of a different drum, she declares. From the rooftops hear the distant hum. This is the music video for the single “Different Drum” and it shows a woman dressed all in black with kohl-lined eyes, wearing a feathered fascinator and neckpiece inspired by Black Swan and1920s dark glam.

Get ready to meet Cherrie Anderson, fierce frontwoman for London-based electronica band Ooberfuse. They describe their songs as, “audio footprints left behind by people impelled towards invisible things.” Although not as well-known in the Philippines, the band has a sizeable following in London due to their spirited East-meets-West beats and fearlessness in tackling serious themes, from political oppression to sex trafficking. They were named as the most original band in a UK-wide competition out of 10,000 initial entrants, where the final play off was in London’s iconic O2 arena.

If that wasn’t enough, the band packs some serious credentials. Who else can say they opened for Pope Benedict during the World Youth Day 2011 in Spain (playing to a live audience of about 2 million), or that they once performed live in the House of Lords? The band has also toured and headlined concerts in Brazil, Canada, Portugal, the United Kingdom and the Vatican. They have released two albums so far, with their third album in the works.

Cherrie’s musical anointing is in her blood. “My mom loves to sing. She also taught me how to play the piano.  My mother is passionate about all kinds of music, folk pop in particular. In addition to la-la-la-la-ing along to Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘The Boxer’, I was rocked to sleep as a baby to Freddie Aguilar,” she said. At the age of six, Cherrie began singing and playing the piano in her local church, eventually singing in various churches and other venues in her teens. She amassed a repertoire of songs in her head and aside from folk songs and OPM, is familiar with jazz standards, gospel, R&B and British pop. If she’s in the mood, she might sing something from Oasis or the musical Grease as well.

Despite the early start and obvious talent, Cherrie didn’t set out to become a professional musician; instead, she wanted to become a lawyer. “My dad is a lawyer, so I was always interested in social justice.” She completed an LLM (Law) degree at the London School of Economics and Political Science. It’s one of the most prestigious universities in Europe, and their Law Department is the UK’s number one research institution.

Eventually, Cherrie realized that her interest in social issues and passion for music could be brought together – fused, as it were. When she met her current bandmate Hal St. John, she started writing music. Today, Cherrie, Hal and producer Kinky Roland make up Ooberfuse. True to their name, the band experiments with combining an assortment of musical traditions, melodies, and instruments.

“Music, for me, is one of the more effective ways of highlighting social justice issues. It is not a solitary occupation. Inspiration comes from engaging with others. Meeting people in London who share a common vision about the power of music to lift up those who have fallen down and to heal the hurts of a broken world provided the impetus to write and launch out into the shark-infested waters of the music industry,” Cherrie explained.

One of the challenges she faced when she started out was being a Filipina who was trying to break into the British music industry. “As with any industry, it is natural to want to protect local initiative from outside competition,” she said. “The lovely thing about London though, is that it is such a melting pot of cultures.”

“Initially, it was a challenge working out how my Filipino identity could be blended with other nationalities without compromising or offending either. But we found that it pays to be true to who you are. For example, we sometimes fuse Filipino instruments like the kulintang in our music and to our surprise, British people like it!” Ooberfuse has received support from Ministry of Sound, BBC Radio, Swedish House Mafia, London dance act Faithless and even 80s icon Boy George, who complimented their cover of “Turn 2 Dust”, calling it cool and quirky.

Cherrie shared, “We’ve also partnered with various charities where we use the power of music to give a voice to the voiceless – such as the Sophie Hayes Foundation, the British Pakistani Christian Association, Christian Solidarity Network, Aid to the Church in Need and others.”

This desire to engage their audience on a deeper level and call attention to a diverse number of issues can be heard in tracks such as “Free Asia Bibi” and “Blood Cries Out” on their album Seventh Wave, which both reference the persecution of Christians in Pakistan. “Rescue” is a song from the perspective of a sex trafficking survivor, and the more recent single “March of the Downtrodden” gives voice to victims of sexual abuse. They have also collaborated with North Korea’s only known death camp survivor in the song “Vanish the Night”. The weight of their musical subject matter is balanced by their catchy beats and rhythms.

Such depth and complexity is unusual in the current electronica/techno scene, making Ooberfuse a rebel of sincerity in a sea of synthetic, surface-level lyrics. Their focus is a result of Cherrie’s Filipino values and beliefs. “My faith, which was nurtured in the Philippines, infiltrates all aspects of my life.”

Even though she’s been in different places growing up (aside from Manila, she’s lived in San Francisco, Kuala Lumpur, and London), Cherrie still counts the Philippines as her home, and makes it a point to visit Manila or other parts of the country at least once a year. “I love Christmas in Manila. Filipinos are the best at showing the world how to celebrate Christmas. The tradition of Noche Buena, singing carols, and families coming together make up my favorite childhood memories.” Last year, Ooberfuse did a haunting rendition of “Oh Holy Night” featuring five children who survived Typhoon Yolanda for charity.

One interesting fact about Cherrie is that her palate has remained quite Pinoy, in spite of her travels and years spent abroad. “Whilst most people in London are happy with pasta, bread or potatoes, I have to eat rice once a day. I also love tortang talong, kesong puti, pandesal, ube cake and danggit,” she enumerated. She’s also familiar with some local restaurants. “I like Tapa King, Kimpura and Pancake House.”

Cherrie works tirelessly on developing new material inspired by her faith, current events and whatever topic, theme or issue captures her or her bandmates interest. A typical day for her and the rest of Ooberfuse starts with breakfast in Brixton, South London, where they discuss plans for their new album, music videos or upcoming events. Afterwards, they usually head over to the studio to work on a track for their album.

“We also make time for phone interviews, email interviews and radio shows. At night, if we have a gig somewhere, such as in Camden Town, we do the necessary preparations and soundcheck for a set. After the gig, we have dinner while dissecting how the show went. Then we all go home and do it all over again the next day,” she cheerfully added.

This year has been a busy one for Cherrie. Recently, Ooberfuse was selected to be part of a 20-date tour of UK universities as part of The Coffee House Sessions, curated by Huw Stephens of Radio 1. It’s a fun project that brings students and artists together for live performances on university grounds. Those interested can check out the band’s Facebook page, Soundcloud, Twitter or their official website www.ooberfuse.com.

The band released a couple of new songs earlier this year, and has just released their latest single, “Different Drum”, last July 28 via Peak Flow Records. It’s a bold encouragement to those who choose to declare their difference to the world. “We would like to keep making music that connects with people all around the world. We are currently working on an album which we are looking to release later within the year. It will include a couple of Filipino-inspired tracks.” It’s an album that long-time fans in the UK and other parts of Europe are anticipating, and could be the thing that reaches out to local Filipino audiences looking for something fresh, significant and cross-cultural.

For Cherrie, being a Filipino means acknowledging the greater things. “It means a love for God, family and community. Being Filipino means finding beauty and generosity in humanity.” This is exactly what Cherrie seeks to do with her music, as she challenges listeners to stand up, pay attention and dance to the defiant beat of a different drum.

Journey of the Center

Published in Metro Society magazine, April 2009

As the CCP celebrates its 40th anniversary, it’s interesting to trace how the vision for the Cultural Center has evolved. The CCP was created as “a trust for the benefit of the Filipino people, for the purpose of preserving and promoting Philippine culture in all its varied aspects” (EO No. 30). It has hosted notable local troupes such as Repertory Philippines, and international artists such as opera star Placido Domingo and sitarist Ravi Shankar. The CCP Library and Archives is a special repository of music, arts and the performing arts – one of the first of its kind in Asia. During its early years, the CCP Museum also had a permanent collection of musical instruments, paintings, pottery, and the other artifacts. To acknowledge artists and their work, the National Artist Awards were formed in 1972. The first National Artist Award was conferred posthumously to Fernando Amorsolo, and succeeding awards have been given to artists within the fields of architecture, broadcast arts, dance, fashion design, film, literature, music, theater, and visual arts. To accompany this, the International Artists Awards were created to honor foreign artists. Those awarded include pianist Van Cliburn and prima ballerina assoluta Margot Fonteyn.

Despite these accomplishments, the CCP had to overcome accusations of elitism and superfluousness even before its inauguration in 1969. Admittedly, the Center initially catered to the privileged and promoted ‘high culture’ and arts such as opera, ballet and classical music. It still does and will continue to do so. The CCP does not apologize for accommodating the upper classes or keeping its high standards of excellence. However, it acknowledges that popular arts and artists do not equal low standards. In the book “Cultural Center of the Philippines: Crystal Years” (1984), Visitacion De la Torre wrote that the Cultural Center “maintains a democratic, open, ecumenical stance… to attain fuller, richer results.” At no time has this been truer than today.

Nestor Jardin, the CCP’s current President, is proud of what it has become and is enthusiastic about its 40th anniversary. “We opened the celebration with the Pasinaya Open House Festival last February 1. It was attended by about 29,000 people. We had 100 performances for one whole day all over the complex.” The celebration was organized so that during the year there would be ‘peg months’: specifically, February, April, July and September. The month of February highlighted Filipino artists and original Filipino works. There was the Gabi ng Musikang Filipino last Feb 13 and the 40th anniversary gala production that featured masterpieces of Philippine music and dance last Feb 27. The 40th anniversary Visual Arts exhibit has already opened, and there are many more events lined up. The CCP’s achievements in the past 40 years will be the focus of this year-long celebration.

One major accomplishment is its discovery and support of Filipino artists, both established and emerging. Another is how it has helped build up an original body of works from Filipino artists, via commissioned work programs and grants. The CCP has also democratized arts and culture in the Philippines. Jardin stated that, “the CCP has that stigma of being for the elite, probably because the high profile events during the time of Mrs. Marcos were big social events. But through our outreach programs, arts councils and nationwide training programs, we have given opportunities for artists, artistic groups and cultural workers to take part in the development of the country.”

An example is the Sining sa Eskwela program. There are about 16 regional schools for the arts across the country, modeled after the Philippine High School for the Arts which the CCP supervises. Students in these schools can specialize or enter into art programs for college. The Sining sa Eskwela program helps these schools by providing training for teachers and helping them develop teaching materials. In addition, the CCP encourages the youth to appreciate fresh and innovative works of arts. There’s the WiFi Body Festival that showcases young, emerging choreographers; the Virgin Labfest, which features young directors, actors and playwrights and Cinemalaya, which supports new filmmakers. The CCP has also actively supported their resident companies such as the Madrigal Singers and Bayanihan Dancers in tours and competitions abroad. The CCP’s vision in the 1980s was to open itself up to more popular forms of entertainment to prove that it supported all aspects of Philippine art. Also, there was a desire to export more Filipino artists and arts abroad. Now, almost 30 years later, the CCP has succeeded on both counts.

However, the CCP’s vision has evolved to take into account not just cultural, but economic issues. De la Torre wrote, “The CCP is not expected to earn like a bank or any financing institution because its investment is in culture and the arts which are hardly quantifiable.” True, the CCP is not expected to earn like a bank, but part of Jardin’s personal vision is to see the CCP become self-sufficient: “We hope to develop the CCP into an artistic, cultural, tourism and commercial complex that will earn enough funds to operate independently of government support, and fund each program nationally and internationally more actively.”

In this day and age, it appears that almost everything, such as the effect of the arts on the economy, can be quantified. “Few people know that the creative industry contributes 11.1 % to the GDP, and that contribution is with minimal government support. In countries like China, Australia, and England, where the government has recognized the creative industry alongside mining, agriculture, and health as a major sector of the economy, there are programs that support it. I think with more such programs, the contribution to the national economy will increase.” Jardin said.

Aside from this, the CCP intends to emphasize the arts as being relevant to the everyday lives of Filipinos. Jardin explained that, “The common perception of the arts is that it is peripheral to our lives, and is mostly for aesthetics and beauty. Many people do not realize that the arts can play a transformative role in society.” First, local arts help to establish a national cultural identity. Second, the arts can help in improving our economy via the creative industry, which employs artists, designers, writers, cultural workers and the like. Lastly, Jardin noted that “the experiential nature of art, whether looking at a painting, listening to a concert, or watching a play, can have a deeper impact in instilling positive values”. Exposure to the arts and culture can complement and even enhance lessons taught within the formal education system.

Jardin was quick to add that he was not criticizing the ‘art for art’s sake’ stream. But to him, “an artist cannot detach himself from his surroundings. An artist, as a person, must interact with his environment. Given the gift of talent, it is his responsibility to react to his community – its concerns and issues – and reflect these in his works so that the community can benefit. In so doing, he will produce works that say something.” This view goes beyond Mrs. Marcos’ ideology of ‘art as beauty’ that the CCP was partly a result of, and the prevailing postmodern slant of many artists today.

As De La Torre commented, “the Center is a human institution manned by people, by artists who have their own imperfections, even idiosyncrasies.” As such, it is not perfect – nor is it static. In order to survive, the CCP had to undergo a re-visioning, achieving a delicate balance between the ‘art for art’s sake’ and ‘art as an instrument for social betterment’ streams of thought, and keeping their commitment to excellence without alienating the multitude. Will it be able to maintain this elegant, and at times, precarious position even as it tries to reach its goal of financial autonomy and promote the transformative power of arts and culture? One can only hope that the CCP proves to be a prima ballerina assoluta in this regard.