Friday 21 June 2013

A Profile on Professor Pedro R. Abraham, Jr., Founder and Leader of Kontra-Gapi

What's gamelan? What's Kontra-Gapi?

Edru and his "kids" of Kontra-Gapi demonstrating Angklung

Introducing our musical instruments to a school in Landquart, CH.

Explaining Philippine music and its beats to the teachers of a school for children with especial needs

During an interview done in the home of a friend, Marilu S. before the despedida concert

In his element, always inspired to share his knowledge

Edru explaining about the mat being designed by a national artist...Banig, banig kayo dyan!

Edru and his fellow Cagayanons during a performance in Bad Homburg

One great man with equally great women!

Photo taken by Weni Gamboa

Our first meeting was what one terms back home as bullillaso. I was in Chur to attend the 20th year celebration of our Babaylan country network, Balikatan. My dear host friend KaBabaylanes, Adora F. requested me and another kaBabaylanes, Judy J. from Denmark to wait for the arrival of Kontra-Gapi in the hotel and accompany them to the office of Balikatan where lunch would be served.
To make the story short, we didn’t wait long for the group and went straight to the lunch venue thinking the group must have found the place without us. So you could imagine what followed. It was so embarrassing to have left them driving around looking for the venue and hungry.
For the next days in Chur, I was hanging around with Kontra-Gapi and had the luck to be near Edru during his performances and workshops. I watched him talk to his troupe during breakfasts like a doting father to his kids. I watched him explain the meaning of gamelan and the different musical instruments with the same passion whether it be a huge gala performance or workshops with school children. I watched him do a jamming with another locally known pianist in Chur. I watched him and heard him all over again and again that their troupe is for creation and not simply imitation. I watched him and got fascinated by his passion and devotion to our indigenous culture. I felt so lucky to have been given this chance meeting this great Filipino founder of this unique cultural group, Kontemporaryong Gamelan Pilipino (Kontra-Gapi).

Mabuhay ka Edru!

A short video of the despedida concert of Kontra-Gapi in Bad Homburg, hosted by Ms. Marilu R. Scheich.

Below is a detailed info on his background as provided by the University of the Philippines. 

Professor Pedro R. Abraham, Jr.
A Profile
Professor Pedro R. Abraham Jr. Graduated with the degrees of Bachelor of Arts in Speech and Drama and Master of Arts in Art History from the University of the Philippines in Diliman (UPD). He holds the rank of Associate Professor in the department of Art Studies of the College of Arts and Letters (CAL) where he teaches performing arts history, visual arts history, and Philippine culture and arts studies.

Known professionally as Edru Abraham, he is a familiar figure in the university as the leader of the Kontemporaryong Gamelan Pilipino which he founded in 1989. Popularly known as Kontra-Gapi the troupe was appointed resident ethnic music and dance ensemble of the CAL in 1993. From its beginnings to the present, they have been rendering engagements including performances, lecture-demonstrations, and workshops in music, dance and mime as often as three times a week for a wide variety of audiences and institutions in all types of venues in the Philippines and abroad.
Prof. Abraham began his career as a performing artist with the Filipinescas Dance Company: Philippine Life Legend and Lore in Dance, founded by Leonor Orosa Goquingco, a Republic of the Philippines National Artist for Dance. He was part of the company as dancer, musician and mime-actor from 1965 to 1971. He started his career as an academic in UP at Los Banos in 1976 where he served as instructor in Speech, Theater Arts and Humanities. In the same year, he began work as choreographer and stage-director of “Himig ng Lahi-The Story of the Filipino People in Song,” an ensemble founded and directed by Felipe Padilla de Leon, yet another National Artist but in the field of music. Prof. Abraham was part of the ensemble on several tours of Canada and the USA from 1979 to 1981. He joined the UP Filipiniana Dance Troupe, UPD’s resident folkloric company, from 1982 to 1983 on South East Asian tours. In the second half of 1983, he studied Indonesian arts in Jogjakarta under Bagong Kussudiarja. With Kontra-Gapi, with other performing groups or by himself alone, he has traveled extensively to Asia, Australia, Europe and North America for concert engagements, lectures and demonstrations, music, dance and mime workshops, and consultations on Philippine culture and the national heritage.
As a human rights activist, Prof. Abraham did residency in 1986 in London, UK with Writers and Scholars Educational Trust, an organization defending freedom of expression worldwide. He continues to this day his advocacies of human rights, the rights of indigenous peoples and ecological conservation by networking, lecturing and performing, at times taking to the streets in rallies and demonstrations. In 1989, shortly after founding Kontra-Gapi, he formed another troupe - Alay-ani: Tula at Awit sa Bayan at Bayani, highlighting poerty, song and Philippine social realities. Under the auspices of the Cultural Center of the Philippines, this troupe toured all over the archipelago.
From the start of his professional performing career in the mid 1960’s to the present, Prof. Abraham has participated in various capacities as actor and director, dancer and choreographer, musician, singer and composer, voice talent, narrator, and presenter, conceptualizer/writer and producer in several hundred productions on stage, film, radio and television. In 1996, he and his brain-child Kontra-Gapi were awarded the Gawad Chanselor ng UPD signal plaque for exemplary achievement in the performing arts. On several international missions, Kontra-Gapi under his mentorship was appointed “Ambassador of Goodwill for Culture and Arts,” both by the UPD Chancellor and the UP System President. For his relentless pursuit in bringing the arts of the Philippines to the world, he was awarded the UP International Award for the Arts for the year 2000. He has received awards of distinction for outstanding achievement in culture and arts as a “favorite son” of his hometown, Tuguegarao, and Cagayan, his home province. In 2005, he was honored with the title “Defender of our Cultural Heritage” by Fookien Times, a yearly national review, and Star Publications, one of the nation’s leading publishing houses. Prof. Abraham sits in the committee on culture of the UNESCO-Republic of the Philippines, Department of Foreign Affairs United Nations Commission. His wife, Rebecca, their son Apollo, and their daughter Astarte, are all successful performing artists.

Contact Particulars:
Pedro R. Abraham Jr.
Faculty Center 2003
College of Arts and Letters
University of the Philippines
Diliman, Quezon City 1101 Philippines

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