Monday, July 28, 2014

AAIFF ’14: The Cotabato Sessions (short doc)

Experimental percussionist Susie Ibarra is as comfortable playing with downtown stalwarts like John Zorn and Dave Douglas as she is with the indigenous Maguindanaon musicians of Cotabato City in Mindanao. However, she plays the role of an Alan Lomax field recorder, documenting the music of Danongan Kalanduyan and his friends and family in Ibarra & Joel Quizon’s short documentary The Cotabato Sessions (trailer here), which screens before a special concert collaboration between Ibarra and her subjects during this year’s Asian American International Film Festival.

The heart of the Maguindanaon music Ibarra records is the kulintang, a series of eight tuned gongs, but it also incorporates the lute-like kutiyapi. It rather follows that percussion is a critical component to this form of music, predating Christianity and Islam in the Philippines, given Ibarra’s interest. Somewhat surprisingly though, it has been integrated into Maguindanaon Islamic social customs, despite its traditional association with women musicians.

Ibarra and Quizon capture some passionate performances, but the pulse of percussion-driven ensembles is always best experienced live. Still, it is quite a cinematic presentation, particularly the performances filmed in the open courtyard of a local mosque (but not technically inside, because that would be forbidden).

Ibarra’s commitment to musical preservation is laudable and Quizon and cinematographer Maya Santos make it all look great on-screen. Yet, we cannot help wondering what it sounds like when she jams with her Maguindanaon colleagues, which is why Cotabato is probably best screened in conjunction with a live performance, much like its upcoming AAIFF presentation. Recommended for fans of so-called “World Music” and percussion ensembles beyond category, the Cotabato Sessions screening, performance, and Q&A session will commence this Wednesday night (7/30) at the Asia Society, as a programming highlight of this year’s festival.