Cultural activism in Iloilo City

07 Nov

Cultural activism in Iloilo City
By Rhea B. Peñaflor
The News Today
Updated April 11, 2008, Iloilo City, Philippines

After watching the benefit concert of Jamie Rivera at the Kalantiao Hall, Sarabia Manor Hotel on March 29, there was only one thing that came to my mind. I realized that cultural activism is still alien to this city. And why am I saying this? It’s because so many Ilonggos do not know who Jamie Rivera is but they know Britney Spears or Avril Lavigne. There is still a sort of pseudo-appreciation of the arts, culture and music here. It could still be a residual effect from the time when the Spaniards colonized our country. There is that colonial mentality which lingers, but we cannot blame everything on the past, right?

Isn’t it a weird idea that when a product is imported, the perception is that it tastes better or that it is unarguably better than the local product? Although it could be true sometimes, this idea does not follow at all times. The same is true with talents, like when the singers or talent groups are foreigners, there is also the impression that they are better performers than our local performers. That is false sense of pop culture which makes us victims of the Britney Spears craze.

That is why I think, there is a need to reform or at least educate ourselves again of the truest sense of cultural activism. Cultural activism may come in many forms. Others sing in protest of unfair labor practice, dance in the streets against a corrupt government, or the latest was a performance of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in Pyongyang, in the hope of softening Kim Jong-il, a deliberate effort to improve relations between the communist country and the Western world. Indeed, there are many forms of cultural activism. You can use culture such as music and the arts to air your grievances or disgust with something socially or politically relevant. One can inform the public too by writing about certain culture, arts and music as observed or experienced and if one cannot write about it, maybe one can do it by word of mouth when one converses with friends or acquaintances. Also, one need not be an artist or musician to actively support music and the arts, or culture in general. As I said there are many ways to involve one’s self either directly or not. I would say that that is also a form of cultural activism when you patronize your own local artists before foreign artists like Air Supply or Matt Monroe. Why then not just support your own local artists? Why bother flying in already popular foreign artists when our local artists need the support more? I simply don’t get it. If the intention though was to bring in foreign artists for Iloilo City as a way of priming the local artists through exposure, then that is an excellent idea. But if it isn’t, then, is this all about money again? Or false sense of prestige, perhaps? There are lots of local artists here, some waiting to be tapped and others no longer care because anyway, it is useless since there is just no support shown to them. So why bother, right?

As Jamie Rivera’s concert is a benefit concert where proceeds will go to the Philippine Academy of Ophthalmology in Guimaras and Iloilo, members of the Iloilo Youth Orchestra (IYO) were guest performers as part of showcasing Ilonggo talents which is an excellent idea. I think that the organizers did a great job in tapping and introducing the city’s local talents such as IYO and Sol Fernandez’s School of Dance. This is a clear manifestation of the support which I just mentioned—prioritizing our very own local artists.

Aside from the fact that IYO’s bulilits (little kids) were really cute, their way of playing their violins although they are as young as 4 years old was commendable considering that the piece Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star is a long one, they managed to concentrate and play very well.

Kudos also goes to the senior trainees of IYO when they played their Canon by Johann Pachelbell and the Palladio. With all the pieces that I’ve heard the group play, the most recent piece which is the Palladio is my favorite. I like the beat and the rhythm and to me, it actually tells a story. Hearing the piece would create images in one’s mind. Indeed, it is one stimulating piece.

For about a year now, I have witnessed how the Iloilo Youth Orchestra, a community-based, non-profit organization which just marked its first anniversary as an incorporated entity last January 3, 2008 is slowly achieving its mission of training and developing local musicians, creating performance opportunities for musical artists, promoting collaboration with local artists and encouraging the involvement and support of the local community in the artistic endeavors.

Somebody has to have the balls to start something like an orchestra in Iloilo City. And that was what IYO did—to form an orchestra with a legal entity. And I think this is one big boost to the city’s cultural tourism.

Analyzing and observing what the group has done so far, it is remarkable that in a span of more than a year, IYO already had 12 performances in different venues like malls, restaurants, hotels, and private halls. I would say that is cultural activism on their part utilizing the only resources that they have, since all of the trainees only play the violin as they only have a violin instructor at the moment. I believe that this group is sending an obvious message to the local community that they exist in Iloilo City and maybe we can also do our part as a local community by supporting it.

An orchestra is a large group of musicians who play together on various instruments, usually including strings, woodwinds, brass instruments, and percussion instruments. For the past performances, IYO has to bring in professional players from Manila and Cebu even before the organization was incorporated as well as other performances, in order to respond to the lack of players using other instruments aside from violin. A good example of this was during their participation in a major production which is an opera for children entitled “Mozart’s Magic Fantasy—A Journey through the Magic Flute.” This opera was officially endorsed and financially sponsored in part by Austrian Embassy in the Philippines from November 25-30, 2006 at St. Anne’s Hall, Assumption School, Iloilo City

In the article which I wrote in Consumers and Business Forum magazine, a national magazine which just came out this month, I mentioned how business blends with culture. That is why there is a need to support it because it is cultural tourism in itself. And tourism, be it ecological, recreational, food, cultural, or whatever tourism, in general, is good for a city or any place. It always spells a good economy, which is an investment in itself.

Now that Iloilo City has an orchestra it can call its own, with Ilonggo talents playing their violins, I think it is high time for Ilonggos to show that they also believe in cultural activism . A good start would be to help these local artists as a part of realizing the Iloilo City Government’s goal of making the city a Premier City in 2015.

Of course, for any orchestra to develop and improve, the acquisition of other instruments will certainly help in expanding IYO’s training offerings. Once the instruments are available, qualified instructorswould be brought in to Iloilo City from Cebu, Manila or even abroad. Gradually and maybe just slowly, now starting with the violin, with the help of donations or sponsorships of other instruments to the organization, it will no longer be impossible to achieve the goal of having a real orchestra—that is a group of musicians playing various instruments.

Wouldn’t anyone or any group want to sponsor this orchestra and may be the proceeds can buy other instruments which the group would need? Or can anyone donate their instruments which are only put to waste because of their non-use?

Wouldn’t you want to watch a complete orchestra here in Iloilo City?

I certainly would want to watch an orchestra here.

I think that it would be great.

Seeing and hearing Ilonggo talents play as an orchestra would be great.

As an Ilonggo, I would be proud.

But how about you?

(For comments, please email me at

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Posted by on November 7, 2009 in Opinions


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