There was a vile and persistent rumor that swung among the towering coconut trees in the sprawling hillside property of the d’Abovilles: that this would be the last Malasimbo Music and Arts Festival. The signs were ominous as they were obvious: gate attendance has been waning over the last few years, and on the Sunday that I was too lazy to peel my back off the ground while June Marieezy sang, the audience was thin, like the mist that threatened to send us scampering for cover.
But this rumor isn’t new. I first heard about it in 2013, while I limped to get a drink in Talipanan Beach, and a person involved in the festival asked how I injured my ankle. I explained my story, and he asked whether I was planning to sue the organizers. I said no, because my intoxicated state at the time was the main contributor to the accident, rather than a failure on the part of the D’Aboville Foundation to exercise diligence and care. “Good”, the man said, “because they’re not making any money.” And this was the year where Malasimbo managed to stir the most interest by bringing in Jimmy Cliff and Joss Stone.
Possibly the most telling among the signs is this: so many tickets were being given out for free, that when I lined up, there were more people getting complimentary passes compared to those who paid. In fact, there was an announcement on the first day encouraging everyone who got in gratis to buy drinks, which were ridiculously priced at anywhere between 50 and 150 pesos.
I am a habitué of the Malasimbo Music and Arts Festival. I have attended the last six of the seven 3-day affairs on the slopes of Mt. Malasimbo in Puerto Galera. In all of these festivals, I camped not far from the natural ampitheater that curves in front of the stage. I go there not so much because I consider myself a fan of the artists or the musicians that get featured every year. In fact, apart from Joss Stone, I confess to be ignorant of the discography of most of the performers. I don’t know who they are, where they’re from, and what their music intends to convey. In the last 6 years, however, I’ve found not only new bands to admire and new genres to listen to, but also new sounds that leave me furrowing my brows. I admit to the pretense, but I also confess that I could not understand how one person could have so many talents, too many perhaps for me to actually appreciate.
This year was no different. I bought my ticket during the first wave, in mid-November, when the 3-day pass was at its cheapest. Without waiting for any familiar names to be announced, I knew I would again be going to Puerto Galera to take an expensive ride up the mountain, and bask in the dancing spotlights of the Malasimbo Festival. A few days later, a few friends decided they’d hitch on my ride. This was a happy development, of course, although either way, I knew that I would make the most of the festival experience even if I was alone. March could not have come sooner, in fact. I purposely overpacked, and hauled my hulking Osprey Atmos to the bus station, hoping to catch the last boat to Muelle. The next three nights could best be described as muted fun.
I’m not sure if it was the nasty rumor that pulled me down. Perhaps it was the lineup: I would have wanted Brigada to be there, along with Crowns Down. But at least Jeck Pilpil and Peacepipe was slated to spread some reggae love, and they got me to stand up and dance. Heck, even Teejay was dancing. This year’s discovery was of course Eli Buendia’s new band Apartel. It was my first time to hear them, and first time to learn that there was such a group — a testament to how divorced I am from the music scene. It was also a new sound — something I probably would not have associated with the former Pupil and Eraserheads frontman. But their songs got me up on my feet, and as I stared at Eli, I remembered first seeing him at the UP Fair, over two decades ago. He’s aged, as I have.
A sober Kat Agarrado returned to perform with Brass Pas Pas Pas Pas, which probably had the most original introduction in Malasimbo history: most of the musicians started from the audience side, and played their instruments without the aid of microphones. Last year, the vocalist of SinoSikat? was visibly intoxicated when she went up the stage, so much that she often missed her cue, and fumbled the lyrics of several songs, leaving many festival goers dumbfounded. At the end of their set, she wanted to oblige an encore, but her musicians walked out on her. When I approached her for a photo, she asked if I saw her last year, and I said yes. Oh my, how embarrassing. The minute she went up the stage, she announced: I’m not drunk.
I will be sad if I just attended my last Malasimbo Music and Arts Festival. Thinking about it, I now realize why I attend: I support the idea of gathering mostly independent artists and musicians and the civilized, cultured crowd that they attract. I go because it is an opportunity for me to kick back, relax, and pass good vibes around, all while good music is playing. I go because it has become a habit, hard to break, and oddly satisfying. I go because it is threatened by its own independence and it is largely ignored for not going mainstream. Happy Malasimbo everyone!