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Saturday, October 17, 2015

Out of the Shadows and Into the Light: Songs of Hope at the Ginsiyaman Music Festival in Leyte


It was like a hand from heaven came out of the sky and pointed to a spot in the middle of the vast Leyte farmland, and out appeared a spacious campsite and festival grounds encircled by towering trees and green pasture. In the middle stood the main stage waiting to be rocked by the night’s list of musical artists. All around from where I stood, I saw people lying scattered in small groups all over the greens. Almost instantly, I felt the vibe at the The Farm in San Miguel, Leyte mirroring the strong camaraderie harnessed together by the Yolanda survivors, the Leyte residents, and the many volunteers from all over world.


THE WARAY SPIRIT

Tacloban residents and festival organizers, Palami siblings Trixie and Jacques, have seen scores of volunteers come and go. In the heels of these series of bittersweet parting, a noble idea of staging a send-off party was formed. After brainstorming sessions accompanied by guitar jams, it morphed into an ambitious question: “Why not stage a music festival?” Channeling true Waray spirit of derring-do, the short span of preparation and planning did not become an obstacle to the organizers. Instead, it escalated into something bigger until the Ginsiyaman Music Festival transitioned from an intimate farewell party for the many NGO volunteers, to a coming-out shindig for the entire province of Leyte.

“It has been two years since Yolanda, and we are starting to see an influx of NGO workers and volunteers leaving for good, so we wanted to have some sort of a despedida to show our appreciation for their help,” 
says Jacques Palami, tracing the motivation behind the music festival. As the idea snowballed and more friends pitched in to help, it became apparent for the Palami siblings that they were not only organizing a simple send-off party but an occasion that will can also signal Leyte stepping out of the dark days of Yolanda. Trixie says, 
“We wanted it to be two-pronged, for it to be a big farewell party but at the same time as a start of something new, an invitation for everybody who has left, to come back.”

The Palami siblings—without any logistic resources and, more important, a venue to hold such event—talked to a few friends who themselves are equally passionate about helping their own community. It started with an out of nowhere early morning Facebook correspondence between Trixie and Kay Veloso, whose family owns a farm in the town of Guinciaman in San Miguel, Leyte. Kay recalls, 
“I’ve been friends with the Palamis since I was young, but I think our sense of community and affinity to Leyte was really strengthened in the aftermath of Yolanda because we all tried to help rebuild our hometown in our own way. In the Pintados festival in June, I went to the Yellow Doors’ Hostel “Paint for Good” event, featuring local artists and musicians. In July, Trixie bounced off the idea of holding the music festival as a sendoff to the Yolanda NGO workers who were leaving Tacloban this October. It sounded crazy then, with only two months left to organize the event, but I told her I was game.”

NO GOODBYES, JUST SEE YOU LEYTE

The music festival also became a platform to launch a renewed tourism campaign in the province of Leyte. Since Yolanda, a string of new hostels, hotels, and restaurants have opened in Tacloban to serve NGO workers from all over the world who visited Leyte. This generated a wonderful effect to the local economy by infusing much needed revenue, especially to the tourism industry. Businesses opened left and right creating more employment opportunities. For a province ransacked by the wrath of nature, this proved to be a welcome blessing in disguise. But since the NGO volunteers will not stay here forever, the province needed to sustain the growth it has achieved in the tourism industry to continue its recovery. Kay adds;
“When Trixie, Jacques, Dan Matutina, and I were thinking about it, we felt strongly that this festival should be a tribute to Waray strength, resilience, and rebirth. The festival is the start of ‘See You Leyte’—a tourism movement encouraging others to travel to and through Leyte."  
Declares a very excited Jacques as we talk to him a couple of hours before the first act kicks-off the Ginsiyaman Music Festival.
"It’s nice to see people come back and I think that is what ‘See You Leyte’ is about,”

We are all a witness to the overflowing help and support the worldwide community hurriedly sent our way in the immediate aftermath of Yolanda. To this day, I still feel goosebumps just remembering it. While going around the booths set up around the farm, we met some volunteers from All Hands, a US-based non-profit volunteers’ organization that was one of the first NGOs to be on the ground digging through the debris. We got the chance to talk to its engagement coordinator Andy Vantrease, who told us about her organization’s timeline of volunteering in Leyte. The group arrived December 2013 and immediately started with debris clearing operation, deconstructing buildings, and distribution of relief goods. The next phase, she tells us, was spent on building temporary shelters in a number of barangays such as Sto. Nino and Tagpuro, as well as permanent houses in other parts of Leyte. For most of them, Tacloban has been home.

GINSIYAMAN MUSIC FESTIVAL

As the sun shone beautifully to reveal a blue sky and everybody waits for the music festival to begin, the afternoon mood is filled with bonhomie and a certain oneness; a prevailing characteristic now noticeable in a lot of places in the province. Especially in Tacloban City, where many people lost a family member or a friend during Yolanda, the tragedy drove people to stick together and form jovial bond among the members of their own community.


Colorful tents dots the tree lines located a hundred meters away from the concert grounds. Images of music festivals I’ve only read about, such as Woodstock comes to mind, and although this is an obvious miniscule version, I feel fortunate to experience it all. An hour later when the first guitar riff was sounded from the main stage, I spot figures coming out of the tents making their way to their own spots on the concert ground.


The grounds of the Ginsiyaman Music festival was big for a crowd that numbers only a couple of hundreds, definitely not a big gathering one might expect for a music festival. Nonetheless, it created a more intimate setting. As one by one the music artists took the stage, it finally sinks in for everybody in the farm that night; the Ginsiyaman Music Festival has just etched its part in Leyte’s history—something the organizers are planning to repeat next year.

UNDER THE FULL MOON

The Ginsiyaman Music Festival blended together a perfect fusion of musical styles from myriad artists, who also included local bands such as Lady Suzette, whose powerful performance further amplified the energy of the music lovers at the Farm. Also in the lineup were The Bandang Shirley, Strangeness, Yolanda Moon, Pulso, Skymarines, The Ringmaster, Aimee Delgado, Kulahig, plus a few more supporting acts.


Acoustic singer and songwriter Bullet Dumas was a revelation that night. His indigenous, folk musical style reverberated throughout the vast field like a wave of electricity, and had most of the festival-goers grooving and jamming to his guitar riffs, while singing “Ninuno.”


While the full moon crossed the midnight apex of the nighttime sky, Up Dharma Down came on stage. When finally they climbed the stage, vocalist Armi Millare immediately apologized to the crowd for being under the weather. At first I thought the band would play a shortened set, but Armi and the band were such troopers that they finished their set at two  in the morning.


The first ever Ginsiyaman Music Festival achieved more than it set out to achieve. It not only delivered great music, but celebrated relationships built in the darkest days of Tacloban.


Ginsiyaman Music Festival was held last Sept. 26, at the Farm in Guinciaman, San Miguel, Leyte. Among the sponsors were Air Asia Philippines who flew us there to cover the event. 

*This appeared in the Lifestyle section of the October 18, 2015 issue of Manila Bulletin*



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