Sinking in a boat loaded with rock stars wouldn’t be a bad way to go. It would probably be the stuff of legend: a Puerto Galera-bound ferry carrying around 140 people, many of them musicians performing at the second Malasimbo Music & Arts Festival, disappeared beneath the waters of the Verde Island Passage this March.
The watching crowd lounges hippie-style on the grass; Deoro -- Renato Valenzuela Jr.
Morbid, yes, but the thought couldn’t be helped considering that the boat bound for Oriental Mindoro was weighed down by big black boxes protecting amplifiers and instruments more valuable than its human passengers. "Ingatan ninyo ‘yan! Mas mahal ‘yan kaysa sa buhay namin! (Take care of that! That thing costs more than our lives!)," shouted one visitor to a dockhand.
Plastic sheets were rolled down to shield the equipment from splashes; never mind the oxygen requirements of those onboard. Thankfully, distractions were plentiful. The suffocating heat was (sometimes) forgotten at the sight of these ill-at-ease musicians -- their profession given away by the abundance of dreadlocks, black clothing, and clinking "mewelry" (man jewelry) -- squirming in their seats. A leather jacket was doffed when it became stupid to keep up rock-star appearances.
The incongruous image of a graying bloke in a Grateful Dead T-shirt poking his head out between the boat’s plastic sheets, much like a dog would, was soon replaced by the wonders in Villa Malasimbo, a 40-hectare property that served as the backdrop for the three-day festival.
Site-specific installations by Filipino visual artists lit up the bowl-shaped depression, adding to the strobes that colored the coconut trees flanking the grass amphitheater. Audiences had to shuffle between two stages throughout the night, making occasional detours to a bar located atop a rather steep hill, a strategic move that prevented alcoholically uncoordinated folk from drinking themselves into a coma. Near the main stage, stalls hawked food and bric-a-brac.
The air was fresh, tinged with the green scent of April 20th. LED hula hoops swirled in the night. People lazed on the steps carved into the hillside and lay on malongs (shawls) spread out like multicolored sails underneath the stars.
More than 300 artists from the Philippines, the United States, France, Germany, Australia, the United Kingdom and Japan were in the festival lineup. It doesn’t get any more international than two Caucasian women dancing to reggae music performed by a Japanese band in a mountain in Puerto Galera.
Back in their element and away from smothering boats, the musicians regained their swagger.
Joe Bataan, the event’s headliner, was part of the advance crowd that partied during the opening; the bulk of festival-goers arrived on the second day, March 3.
In a press conference held earlier, Mr. Bataan, a Filipino-African American-Latin soul musician from New York who refers to himself in the third person, said that returning to his father’s homeland was fate.
"For some time, Joe Bataan did not know who he was. My father didn’t tell me anything. He had to find his own way and a lot of that rubbed off on me," he said.
"My father’s dream was to come back home. It’s not an accident that Joe Bataan is here. It’s time for Filipinos to rise up and take their place in the world."
His words, strange when he first uttered them under the fluorescent lights of a conference room, seemed prophetic as he walked in the shadows, past guests bopping to electronic music.
(Photography by: Renato Valenzuela Jr. )
EVERYONE IS WATCHING
Organized by Hubert d’Aboville and Miro Grgic, the Malasimbo Music & Arts Festival is an attempt to position Puerto Galera as an A-level destination.
"We can be the best tourism spot in the Philippines, better than Boracay. I am not kidding," said Mr. d’Aboville, who is also the President of the European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (ECCP).
A festival usually needs five years to get on its feet and the potential of Malasimbo, inaugurated just last year, is huge.
"We’ve built something new. No one’s done this before and everyone is watching us," he continued, adding that the real cost of the three-day event was around P12 million-P13 million.
"This is our communication to the world of what we can do."
A French national who fell in love with the Philippines while he was backpacking around the world, Mr. d’Aboville is committed to making Malasimbo work.
He cited the festival as the kind of Public-Private Partnership that should be pursued.
We’re doing this for the 38,000 people who live in Puerto Galera. We want them to be proud," he said.
Right now, the event is small enough that Mr. d’Aboville’s daughter Olivia manned the ticket booth herself, along with several volunteers.
The team behind Malasimbo is about a hundred strong but that will change once the festival attracts the maximum carrying capacity of Puerto Galera -- around 10,000 guests.
This edition was expected to attract 3,000 tourists and generate at least P20 million in revenue.
It remains to be seen whether these goals were met but organizers can rest easy knowing that the festival fulfilled Mr. Bataan’s expectations.
"Everyone’s gonna get up and dance," he predicted, "because you’ve come to the wrong place if you’re just gonna sit down."
(To learn more about the Malasimbo Music & Arts Festival, visit malasimbofestival.com)
Source: Business World; Special Feature; 16 Mar 2012