Words and photos by Howi Bakunawa
Just down from Commonwealth Avenue, La Mesa Eco Park, one of Manila’s last green spaces, may be familiar to most of us but it is entirely new territory for the Malasimbo Music and Arts Festival. Last February 29 to March 1, 2020 marked a full decade since the festival first began. Malasimbo has seen its share of changes within the span of those 10 years but has likewise managed to keep the same sound and soul that make it one of the most recognizably unique music festival experiences in the country today.
Named after the Malasimbo Amphitheater in Puerto Galera, this year’s festival does a great job in bringing that experience closer to home. The natural acoustics of La Mesa Eco Park’s Amphitheater make for amazing sound quality and even better atmosphere. The crowd was singing and dancing all day and all night to the soulful stylings of acts like Marga Jayy, Uncomfortable Silence, Laneous, Brigada, Mike Love along with many other performers.
Marga Jayy blowing us all away with her voice and incredible stage presence.
We couldn’t ask for a better opening act than Marga Jayy. Playing in a mix of neo-soul, funk, and blues, the crowd immediately rushed toward the stage when they heard the pounding bass of her cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love”. It was definitely a song to sing along to — though admittedly none of us could come close to matching Marga Jayy’s powerful vocals.
Marga Jayy’s resident saxophonist, Nicole Tejedor.
I also really have to hand it to her band’s saxophonist, Nicole Tejedor. She looks like she’s just about ready to be lifted off the ground by the sheer force of her music. Marga Jayy brought things to a strong start by belting out tracks from her growing discography including her stand-out single, “Mananatili”.
As their name implies, music improvisationalists Uncomfortable Silence are clearly at their most
comfortable playing it fast and loose with their sound.
Uncomfortable Silence is a band that I can only assume was named after how they, being so discomfited with silence, burst spontaneously to fill it with their jazz-like sound. Music comes naturally to them. Literally. They improvised their whole set alongside Laneous who wrote chords with a whiteboard marker which Uncomfortable Silence then used to make a whole new song right there on the spot.
Laneous in a trance-like focus, writing down the first chords that come to his mind.
Malasimbo is already a one-of-a-kind experience and performances like this are part of the reason why. On that stage, Uncomfortable Silence and Laneous played one-of-a-kind songs that had never been heard before and would likely never ever be heard again. Laneous followed things up with a special solo performance, trading in his whiteboard marker for a guitar but keeping much of the same improv-jazz sensibility. That’s talent!
With drums their in tow, Brigada brought the beats that to get people on to their feet.
In my opinion, one of the best performances came from the drum-line act Brigada. They managed to make the most of what they had. With intense heart-pounding percussion, they managed to bring everyone to their feet and dancing. Many, many terrible attempts at tribal dancing were made, but it was terrific and absolutely fun.
The conductor of Brigada going through what I’m fairly sure is some kind of religious experience.
After more than an hour of dancing, sweating, and living in the moment, I was certain that no other performance could beat (pun intended) Brigada. Malasimbo usually keeps its best performances for the last, so I was curious to see who would be playing next.
After Brigada’s performance came the spectacular headliner for Malasimbo 2020, Mike Love.
Mike Love plays in a blend of reggae, rock, funk, soul, and a whole host of other genres. He refuses to be pigeonholed into a single, prepackaged sound. Instead, the heart of Mike Love’s music centers on messages of spirituality, nature, and love. It results into exceptionally liberating performance that was perfect for the Malasimbo stage.
Closing off the first day, the crowd sang along to songs like “Permanent Holiday,” “No Regrets,” and “Barbershop” as he played them alongside his band. Just before dawn came on the second day of Malasimbo, Mike Love reappeared on stage carrying nothing more than a guitar and a loop pedal for a solo performance, delivering a message of love, peace, and change for the world.
It just goes to show that no matter where or when, you can always expect the same, unmistakable kind of magic from Malasimbo. After 10 years, we still definitely have more things to look forward to.
Did anything memorable happen to you at this year’s festival? Are you looking forward to next year? What kind of things do you want to see next year? We’d love to hear it!
Malasimbo Music and Arts Festival