Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Kontra-Gapi in Europe

Prof. Edru R. Abraham founder of Kontra-Gapi greeting the audience during  the gala celebration of the 20th year of foundation of Balikatan in Chur Switzerland on June 1, 2013.

"In Kontra-Gapi, music is dance heard even as dance is music seen."

Kontemporaryong Gamelan Pilipino (Kontra-Gapi), the Resident Ethnic Music and Dance Ensemble of the College of Arts and Letters of the University of the Philippines is currently on a concert tour in Europe. They are not only mesmerizing their audience with their professionality as multi talents performing as  musicians, dancers and singers but sharing the richness of the indigenous Philippine and Asian culture with music and dance workshops with European children. The posted video shows performance of Kontra-Gapi in one schools in Chur, Switzerland.

Please see the history of Kontra-Gapi below.

The gamelan is the quintessential orchestra of South East Asia. Africa may lay claim to massed polyrhythmic drums, Europe the symphony orchestra and North Americas, the jazz and rock bands, but no musical ensemble typifies this part of the world – its mysticism and timelessness, its grandeur and beauty, its heritage and feeling of community the way the gamelan does. The wonder of it is that while the tradition may be shared by many cultures, each has evolved a style, a sense of  aesthetics, and a manner of presentation unique to itself – a mirror of its people, ecology and climate, history and lore, perceptions and values.

The Kontemporaryong Gamelan Pilipino draws inspiration from this ancient and profound source nurtured and sustained by the depth, wealth and cultural diversity of the Philippines and her Asian roots. Widely identified by its acronym Kontra-Gapi, the group strives to express music and kindred arts from indigenous well-springs, reaping from the people and giving back to them in new form “as magical as the moonlight and constantly changing as water.”

Kontra Gapi had its beginnings when Prof. Pedro R. Abraham, Jr. of the Department of Arts Studies of the College of Arts and Letters in the University of the Philippines (UP) in Diliman was asked in 1989 to compose a score for “A Dream Play” by August Strindberg. Produced in Filipino translation by Dulaang U.P., the resident repertory theater company, the director had only one guideline: that the music be distinctly Filipino and Asian. Throughout the run of the play, the music, for its ‘stunning exotic appeal,’ consistently received excellent reviews by critics, academics, students and regular theater-goers alike. This encouraged the then ad-hoc band to transform itself into an independent performing group. Soon after, they were invited by the Heritage Arts Center in Quezon City for their very first concert performance.

In February 1993, Kontra-Gapi was appointed resident gamelan or ethnic music and dance ensemble by the Dean of the College of Arts and Letters. For their significant trend-setting and visionary contribution the group was awarded in February 1996 the U.P. Diliman Chancellor’s signal plaque for Outstanding Achievement in the Arts (Performing Arts Category).

The word gamelan derives from the Javanese “gamel” which means to hammer. Characteristically, a gamelan consists of percussion instruments such as gongs and drums of graduated sizes, wood and metal xylophones of varied timbre, flutes and whistles, assorted bamboo, wooden and metal percussion and voices for expressing vocables and for singing. Kontra-Gapi uses ideophones such as the kulintang, gangsa, tongatong and kalutang; chordophones like the hegalong, kulibet, gitgit and kuritang; aerophones such as the diwdiw-as, esmi, tonggali and suling; and membranophones like the debakan, solibaw and Cordilleran drums of varying sizes and shapes. The human body itself by way of applause, stomping, chest pounding, clicking and other means turns into a producer of myriad sounds. There are, too, quaint pieces like the kuribaw or mouth harp and the tambi or zither-drum in a store of over a thousand instruments. The collection is more than sufficient for the ensemble which performs with artists as many as fifty and as few as five. A full evening programme  assembles fifteen to twenty performers.

In Kontra-Gapi, music is dance heard even as dance is music seen. A performance is an event where the artists in turn sing, dance, mime and play as many as ten instruments each. This total-theater approach also takes in the audience not as a conventional crowd but as an essential participant in the creative process transforming the occasion into a unity – a tribe as it were, in primeval ritual. The ensemble thrives on the assumption that every human being, by definition, is creative, whether all alone or as part of a community. Creativity is not the exclusive preserve of ‘experts’ and excellence can be attained by individuals who possess varying levels of artistic ability. No auditions are held to recruit members. Any student, faculty, or worker from the university or anyone from anywhere else interested may join to discover for themselves how far and how deeply they can go as instrumentalists, singers or mime-actors. Each one makes a valuable contribution according to their ability with discipline and dedication, responsibility and enterprise, and love for the nation’s cultural heritage.

Gapi” means to shackle. The group takes a firm stand contra what stifles freedom, individuality and inventiveness. It also takes a strong position contra the idea that Filipino excellence in art and music must derive from the West. Instead, Kontra-Gapi asserts even as it proclaims, that the artistic traditions of the Philippines and South-East Asia including the gamelan are every bit as deserving of the highest renown and adulation the world over as those of other traditions – confidently, a true and resounding source of pride.

Over the years, the ensemble has presented more than a thousand shows for audiences of all types and age-groups in all kinds of venues, much more if one includes lecture-demonstrations and workshops in music, dance and mime. From the state of the art theaters of the Cultural Center of the Philippines, hotel pavilions and lobbies, school auditoriums and yards, church naves and parks, to make-shift stages, barangay or community all-purpose halls, basketball and other sport courts, private residences, ricefields, market places and the streets, Kontra-Gapi has brought its art to where the people are or to where they can choose  to come together.
The troupe has gone on road tours to virtually all the regions of the Philippines…
From April to October 1997, Kontra-Gapi went on a concert tour of Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Swizerland in Europe, and the United States and Canada in North America, with a stop in Hawaii before returning home. Tours of Laos, Vietnam and, again, the US took place in 1999. A half-a- year return tour of Canada and, for the third time, the US in the year 2000 proved to be resounding success as all the others were. In 2003, Kontra-Gapi concretized in Australia to equally rave reviews while in 2009 their tour of Thailand represented UP in the Asean Youth Cultural Forum. All international engagements were arranged upon the invitation of festival organizers, government bureaus, international organizations, Philippine diplomatic missions, Filipino expatriate communities and friends.

Text taken from University of the Philippines, College of Arts and Letters
Kontemporaryong Gamelan Pilipino (Kontra-Gapi), Resident Ethnic Music and Dance Ensemble

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