Fil-Am singer gives kulintang music a modern twist in ‘Sirena’
 
 
 
 
 
 

Fil-Am singer gives kulintang music a modern twist in ‘Sirena’

Filipino American singer-storyteller Leslie Damaso has released the album based on the musical, 'Sirena'
/ 03:22 PM June 24, 2024

Leslie Damaso

Filipino American Leslie Damaso has released the album of her staged musical performance “Sirena.” CONTRIBUTED

MINERAL POINT, Wis. — Filipino American Leslie Damaso has released the album based on her staged musical performance “Sirena,” which tells the tale of a mythic love triangle between a mermaid, the sun and the moon.

With Damaso as singer-storyteller and kulintang player accompanied by a seven-piece band, the work features contemporary arrangements of kulintang (Philippine or Southeast Asian gongs) pieces and kundiman (torch songs) of love and freedom. Classical and jazz elements are combined with traditional music of the Philippines.

“There is also poetry,” says Damaso. “‘Sirena’ blends a personal story and family secrets … [it ends] in the beginning of a nation, the displacement of its people, an individual’s perspective of belonging and a spectacular celebration of community.”

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The show has been performed in Wisconsin, the Bay Area, Seattle and Chicago. The album is digital release and will be followed by a double vinyl release.

In addition to original works, the album’s 15 entries include rearrangements of Nicanor Abelardo’s “Mutya Ng Pasig,” “Ang Aking Bayan,” and “Nasaan Ka Irog;” Mike Velarde, Jr’s “Dahil Sa Iyo;” and Constancio de Guzman’s “Bayan Ko.”

Leslie Damaso

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“The inspiration for this album has been to connect with Filipino culture in the Philippines and in the diaspora. Being a singer, I simply wanted to sing the beautiful kundiman songs and to find a way to preserve them,” says Damaso.

“Singing is definitely my favorite way of expression. I was trained classically and there’s just something about the music where I was born that gives me a different kind of pleasure and rootedness.”

“There’s even an Ilocano folk song in this project since I’m Ilocana,” says Damaso, who moved to the US from the Philippines when she was 11.

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Her album “May Laya: Kundiman art songs of the Philippines for the soprano and piano,” recorded with Jason Kutz, received the 2019 Best World Album Award from the Madison Area Music Association.

Her other recent performances include “Reimagining Horizons” for the Asian Pacific Islander Cultural Center’s Festival and at Gongster’s Paradise, the only kulintang festival in the US.

Kulintang

Damaso’s relationship with kulintang is fairly new. She had signed up for online Tagalog language classes with Lydia Querian during the pandemic. “She would play gong music before class. I asked her about it and ended up meeting her husband, Ron Querian.”

The Querian couple oversees House of Gongs, which is focused on Philippine tribal music  and instruments. They also own Gongs Away music label and are the organizers of Gongster’s Paradise

“I said that I might end up using [kulintang] for a project and that … I hope I would do it justice and pay respect to the makers and the history of the instrument.

“Soon after, I ended up with a gorgeous kulintang set and studied with Ron.”

Collaboration

For the final result, Damaso is all praises her collaborators. “There’s Jason Kutz on the piano, who I first premiered a couple of kundiman with several years ago at the Mineral Point Opera House.

“Ben Ferris, who plays bass, did a large part of the arrangements and composed new music for the story. Mike Koszewski on drums, worked on the kulintang pieces.

“Other personnel involved include Filipino American Jon Irabagon, an awe inspiring saxophone player; Janice Lee, who lends these fabulous musical glimpses of the mermaid through her improvisational work; and José Guzman on the guitar, giving the ‘harana in the province’ vibes.”

Visit lesliedamasomusic.com. Walter Ang is the author of Barangay to Broadway: Filipino American Theater. Available at Amazon, Bookshop and other online booksellers.

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TAGS: Fil-Am, fil-am music, Filipino American artists
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