Pantayo - Pantayo (Telephone Explosion Records)

Pantayo – Pantayo (Telephone Explosion Records)

Kulintang is for self-relaxation and expression, is meant for everyday activities from the mundane to ceremonial, and is open to be played by everyone.” was said in an interview by Kat Estacio, the lead Kulintang player in new and unique Filipino-Canadian quintet Pantayo. But just what is Kulintang anyway? Firstly, it’s the name of an instrument which consists of a horizontal formation of around eight gongs in the shape of bronze pots, struck by wooden beaters. The instrument is special because there’s no set tuning structure, each set sounding different due to their variation of size and shape. Kulintang is also the name given to a type of music from Southeast Asia, importantly in this case the Philippines, that includes the titular instrument but is also accompanied by other types of gong-chimes that vary in size from the bigger hanging gongs called gandingan and the much smaller collection of embossed xylophonic metal plates called a sarunay.

Pantayo (A Tagalog expression meaning ‘for us’) are five queer female musicians with a Filipino heritage that live in Toronto. Performing all of the aforementioned instruments, they deconstruct the tradition of Kulintang in a manner that’s both educational but also delightful playful. This is because their debut self-titled album stretches the Kulintang to its most eclectic and eccentric limits. Pantayo fuse it with other genres (in particular electronic, lo-fi, rock, R&B and punk) to display the group members dual upbringings of Canada and Philippines. In effect creating their own self-invented fusion genres. Furthermore, the importance of the Kulintang to each track varies, sometimes being noticeably at the forefront, while other times it shadows the lyrics and is upstaged by more western sounds.

Opening track ‘Eclipse’ takes listeners immediately into the Kulintang environment, with a focus on the bigger gong gandingan instrument. This is known as the ‘talking gong’ by the Maguindanao people – natives of a province in the Philippines – and in the past it was used to communicate long distance messages from one village to another in a method called apad. Pantayo wanted the gandigan to talk with the group’s minimal vocal parts. It’s a slightly mysterious introduction both lyrically and musically, sounding the group are guiding you carefully into their music jungle.

Bronsé’ is the most traditional song. It’s an instrumental track that’s exclusively concentrates on the hypnotic tendencies of the Kulintang instruments. It’s also easy to imagine it soundtracking Filipino weddings and sacred rituals. In contrast, the sweet love song ‘Divine’ prioritizes the R&B vocals more – Pantayo’s close connection is shown by the sharing of vocal responsibilities – while the still-present traditional instruments are pushed to the background.

‘Heto Na’ begins as a sort of Kulintang-house as the chime percussion is lifted with some pulsating bass. It’s both spiritual and nightclub-ready. But then out-of-nowhere around the two minute mark an experimental Deerhoof style vocal appears singing in Filipino. “Umindak ka na kaya. Kaliwa dalawang paa. Pakapalan no mukha.” In English it means: “Ready, set, go strut your stuff. To the left, lock in both your feet. Own up to that funky shit”. It’s all very quirky and memorable because of the trippy warbling sounds that accompany the vocals.

VVV (They Lie)’ seems slightly out-of-the-place on Pantayo’s debut album with a lack of audible Kulintang instruments and as the lo-fi blurry synthpop takes centre stage. However, the lyrics could be the most important on the LP. It suggests discriminatory harassment has taken place, perhaps on the street. It’s likely that the band were the target of the abuse because of their queer status. But the abuser won’t admit it. “One day we was walking by / They lie, they will never tell the truth.  No they never tell the truth/ ‘Cause it don’t look good.”

The band’s punk attitude that rebels against ignorant and abusive behaviour continues on ‘Taranta’. The most energetic track on the LP, this is Pantayo showing that they won’t take crap from anyone. It starts with a sarcasm-sprinkled rap: “Not your regular misses, we are your everyday witches, not conforming to your wishes. We will resist your bullshit/we will be your enemy if you fuck up, here we go.” The track is so excitingly diverse as the vocals later take an R&B and malfunctioned tone. The ever-present Kulintang instruments are now paired with a speedy and shifting drum beat that’s reminiscent of David Bowie’s Blackstar.


The record climaxes with the dramatic ‘Kaingin’ and the ghostly ‘Bahala Na’. The former introduces a gloomy progressive chamber rock environment, springing to mind the Russian duo iamthemorning, but the kulintang instruments still lurk within the intoxicating layers. ‘Bahala Na’ (Eng: It’s Up To You) is deceptive, as it begins rather soothingly and harmonic, showcasing the band’s unity and melodic charm, before the drums start crashing and the atmosphere becomes chilling. A track that sums the whole album really, a whole range of emotions are felt.

The majority of albums pass by without standing out or meaning anything. This is not one of them. This is a record that’s so educational and fun that it’s perfect schooling. In just eight tracks, Pantayo have not only taught us about the existence of a rarely known style of Filipino music but also how cleverly you can intertwine a traditional practice with the personality of modern genres.


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