And then there was music.

Photo by Frank Callaghan

Photo by Frank Callaghan

Back to regular programming…Queue the candles, dim the lights and gather a small group of friends who’ll sit in silent astonishment as another friend plays her heart out. That’s what we did in January when Stella was here. A night hasn’t passed without me listening to her voice. She sings of a home she’s only begun to find and though being only part Filipina, her songs sound as if they’ve been stewed in soy sauce, vinegar, laurel leaves and pepper all her life. Her music is comfort food for any weary soul hungry for connection and rootedness.

One song that particularly sticks is this one called Landslides. Listen to it.

This means everything to me right now. Thank goodness for Stella and her magnificent music. Come to think of it, it’s really all this music that keeping me afloat. When Stella and Sam left, February rolled by and Andi and Lisa whom I’d met two years ago in Vietnam flew over from Austria with the gift of gypsy music! They worked on a farm back home with one of the last remaining shepherds in Austria. When he wasn’t with his sheep, he was making music, or so they said. Can you imagine how it must be like to be a nomad speaking only to your sheep and yet reaching this audience through this incredible music? Tantslider–songs to dance to, literally translated from the German–this is what the album is called and though not all the songs invite dancing, they have a quality to them that adds rhythm to my step and visions of herding sheep become a reality. They left pictures too which are amazing. I promise to hang them all over the apartment when I manage to frame them.

As if that weren’t enough, I met this band by accident and developed a deep connection to their sound. Dave Eggar’s cello and piano skills come to life along with Chuck Palmer’s drums/percussion and Ariel dela Portillo’s bass/viola to make up the group Deoro. After three successive nights of watching them live there was finally room to talk and wow, all of this music comes from a really sacred space. All the gimmickry and bullshit of being in the scene aside, I can really respect people who make honest music that’s worth listening to over and over. The cello might have lured me in at first but now, seeing all these elements combined, I’m grateful to have discovered that Yo-Yo Ma isn’t the only one playing around with the instruments. Yeah, limited exposure tends to make us assume all sorts of wild things about what we love. But yay to be proven wrong! I just wish the guys stayed longer or lived nearby. New York is too far beyond the sea and I can’t swim very well.

Their last show was a real treat. I hardly ever go to Manila Hotel unless something comes up but even when it does, I don’t enter all sorts of rooms and that night was all about new rooms. I’d never seen this bar and their clinic (C and I were both wheezing) but wow, whatever with the cold! This last gig was hot! Punnu Wasu, the seated guy on the right even came with his brother to jam with them. Spectacular show. This is my favorite photo too. Everyone’s in their element playing like there’s no tomorrow! I mean look at all those eyes! Closed and locked into this beautiful sound that you can imagine they had played on their last night in Manila.

This adventure couldn’t contain itself either. One morning three weeks ago, I got over my fear of calling strangers (because I’d much rather meet in person) and spoke to this guy who had just hopped on a jeepney to explore old Manila. Vincent (as he has called himself to disguise I don’t know what) finally arrived in Manila after what seemed like an epic-long string of emails. If it didn’t mean so much to me, I wouldn’t have gone out of my wits to reply because at the time I was on the road and there was hardly any internet. But I’m happy to have done it. We met the same day he leapt onto the jeep. Had a few drinks, exchanged sentiments about life and film, talked about spirituality and unfinished business–all in the span of two days. I wasn’t especially endeared to him prior to his arrival and it felt a bit stupid to not know about all his works but I knew we were good the night we hopped out of a bar in search of cigarettes. We walked aimlessly in a dimly lit corner only to find ourselves drawn to music that was being played at a school next door. He looked at me and we both instinctively knew that we had to enter so we did. Voila! We walked into prom with everyone dressed to the nines and all the boys huddled into one corner observing the girls who were in turn whispering about who looked best tonight. On stage the emcee was calling out prom king and queen and we both stood there, smiling like idiots, grateful to have been welcomed into wonderland! Outside the streets were quiet and the street lamps softened his accent. He was telling me about music and films. Those two things he loves the most. The next day he went off to Zambales then scuttled over to the North and then got lost in the South. It was a flurry of messages and missed calls and even of long discussions over plans and shooting. He came back again to busy Manila on a Sunday and there was a meal waiting for him at home but he was out of sorts, too tired and sleepless to really talk. The next day he had a screening. We met, we watched, scuttled off to another location to shoot then parted ways for now.

This is my favorite so far among the things he’s already shot.

We’re both pretty sure we’ll meet on the road again. The road is long and rough to take, if I might quote Stella, but it’s the falling rocks and the landslides that keep me awake.

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