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Malasimbo 2014: The hills are alive…

The crowd of music and art lovers at the Malasimbo Music & Arts Festival (photo from www.malasimbofestival.com)

The crowd of music and art lovers at the Malasimbo Music & Arts Festival (photo from www.malasimbofestival.com)

Last year’s Malasimbo Music & Arts Festival had its most mainstream, so to speak, headliners: English R&B singer/songwriter and Grammy Awardee Joss Stone and Jamaican singer, musician, multi-instrumentalist Jimmy Cliff (of “I Can See Clearly Now” fame). This year, one of the festival’s organizers Miro Grgic notes, “The lineup has been regarded by taste-makers as the best lineup to date in Asia, ever.”

Indeed, if your taste in music goes beyond what is heard on mainstream radio or, simply, if you are a jazz music aficionado, the Malasimbo festival would be your heaven on this piece of earth. The glorious Mount Malasimbo in Puerto Galera will be awashed in music this weekend from such acts as the Swedish indie folk singer/songwriter and guitarist José Gonzáles; UK’s dub legend Mad Professor who has collaborated with the likes of Sade and Massive Attack; the young Australian Jordan Rakei who is often described as a mix of Stevie Wonder, d’Angelo, Bob Marley & Fat Freddy’s Drop; and the Manila-born, London-bred Mishka Adams, among others.

This year The Robert Glasper Experiment is also in the lineup – featuring Ron Ayers, touted as the founder of Neo Soul; and Lonnie Liston Smith, known to many as Miles Davis’ keyboard player. Artists as varied as Mos Def, Jay-Z, Jill Scott, Nora Jones and even Stevie Wonder have had the pleasure of working with Robert Glasper himself. That list of artists, among others, is just the beginning.

“I don’t want that lineup to be why people come to the festival. I want the people to come to festival because of the Malasimbo experience, which is not just the music but the culture, it’s the arts; it’s the environmental part of it,” Grgic says.

Held in open air at the foothills of Mt. Malasimbo, on the property owned by the D’Aboville family that overlooks the Puerto Galera bay, the attendees of the first three years of the Malasimbo Music & Arts Festival describe it as an adventure. Under the blanket of stars, experiencing the music drifting up the natural amphitheater and the camaraderie among attendees make the Malasimbo festival one of a kind.

More than the music though, three other pillars form the foundation of this passion project shared by Grgic, the Croatian-Australian musician, sound engineer and DJ who founded Volume Unit Entertainment, and the company’s partner, the D’ABOVILLE Foundation led by its president Hubert D’Aboville, who is also president and co-founder of Malasimbo Music & Arts Festival Inc. The foundation sees to the sustainable development of the area and the preservation of indigenous peoples’ cultures through part of the festival’s proceeds.

Art figures heavily in the Malasimbo experience, wherein attendees will be among stunning art installations all over the venue. With over 30 artists exhibiting their work since the festival’s inception in 2011, this year will see more pieces that promise to delight, like the masks of “Disenchantment” by Hiyas Bagabaldo, and add to the mood come nighttime like Agnes Arellano’s “Haliya Mantra,” the pregnant Moon Goddess half buried on the ground. (The festival happened on a Full Moon on its first year and the effect is nothing short of eerie and magical.)

Hubert D’Aboville’s daughter, Olivia, herself an artist that exhibits her work at the festival, notes, “The (artists) pick a spot that they feel comfortable with and they get inspired by the area and they can choose the material that they want (to use for their artwork). All artists are very different. So far our theme was nature, Puerto Galera, what you want to express when you’re there. So it’s very free. This year we’ll have installations like Illac Diaz’s the ‘Liter of Light.’”

The environment is also important to the organizers of the Malasimbo festival. “It’s hard to put something superficial in that venue when it’s gorgeous,” Grgic says. “We’re just visitors to that mountain. So we’re just grateful to have the opportunity to utilize that mountain; make something of it. Malasimbo is a magical experience because there’s something happening there that has nothing to do with us – it’s the place. We are grateful to be able to express ourselves on it.”

The core ethos of the festival is sustainable development, which is being supported by the D’ABOVILLE Foundation, which itself is already helping provide electricity to the Mangyan people that call the area their home. Giving due importance to the indigenous people, the fourth pillar of the festival, the event helps preserve the indigenous culture of the Mangyan tribes of Mindoro by highlighting by a life-size Mangyan Village exhibit on festival grounds. “I want the people and the Filipino that has never seen a Mangyan hut or house to understand how these people live,” says Hubert D’Aboville.

As such, the festival lineup includes heritage workshops and even performances from the T’boli people of South Cotabato, Mindanao, showcasing their various traditional musical instruments. T’boli items are also being sold on festival grounds. Listed on the festival’s website are the different ways that proceeds from the event contribute to the eco-cultural development and sustainability of these tribes, including the preservation of the Mangyan’s traditional poetry and written language.

The Malasimbo Music & Arts Festival opened on Feb. 27 and will run until March 3. For more details, visit www.malasimbofestival.com or http://www.puertogalera.org.