Toronto-based band Pantayo, heading to Folk on the Rocks 2022, features ancient instrument the kulintang – a series of gongs that you strike, originating in the Philippines.
Formed 10 years ago, Pantayo began creating their own music in 2015. “At first, it was to connect with Filipino identity, what it means to be Filipino in Canada, not in the Philippines,” said Kat Estacio of Pantayo.
“If we don’t live in the Philippines, does that make us less Filipino?”
Estacio said these questions, and the emotions that came with them, resulted in the all-woman band’s first album, released in 2020. That album will form the basis for this summer’s Folk on the Rocks performance in Yellowknife.
Below, read a transcript of Cabin Radio’s full interview with Pantayo’s Estacio and Eirene Cloma.
The following transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Megan Miskiman: How did Pantayo form?
Kat Estacio: We formed 10 years ago, in 2012, but the current configuration of the band started in 2015, and the decision to record and create our own music started thereafter.
We started out as a workshop group, where everybody was interested in learning more about the kulintang and finding out more about our culture, because playing the instrument wasn’t something that was part of our experience when we were growing up, even though we are Filipino and the instrument is Filipino. It was during that point of our lives where we all wanted to connect back to our culture and create something new from our learnings.
At first it wasn’t a band. At first it was to connect with Filipino identity, what it means to be Filipino in Canada, not in the Philippines, with questions like: if we don’t live in the Philippines, does that make us less Filipino? Navigating these questions, navigating where we stand as people, I guess there’s a lot of emotion that’s connected to those feelings. I think that’s what came out. That resulted in the album that we released in 2020.
How did you know each other?
Kat Estacio: We all met at a Filipino art centre called the Kapisanan. It’s this little organization based in Kensington Market in Toronto. Having access to a space like Kapisanan, that’s where we learned early on that having an actual meeting place is very central to us, because a lot of our work and our ideas come out of being in the same room with each other and bouncing ideas off of each other.
It makes sense because the kulintang is a community-based instrument and it’s something that our ancestors would play in the fields. It’s played for self-relaxation and for amusement, and I think the intention to come together as a group, and our motivation for forming, was that we formed for ourselves first, and then the audience came afterwards.
How was the process of learning the kulintang? Was it self-taught or did somebody teach you?
Kat Estacio: Being an instrument that is from the Philippines and being a music tradition that is largely oral tradition, we started out teaching ourselves. We didn’t have access to a teacher because a teacher was either in the Philippines or in the United States, where there are a lot more Filipinos that are either second or third-generation.
We were pretty lucky, early on, that we had sheet music and scans of notes from teachers and friends, so we could get started on playing the very best pieces.
Where do you think Pantayo belongs as a genre?
Eirene Cloma: It’s really hard to pin it down to one genre because our sound, especially on the first album, covers different genres, which is why we have an audio diary and we talk about our sound being influenced by our experience of diasporic people.
We talk about it being R&B, gong punk… some people classify us as world, we’re also considered pop. We are also part of a Canadian indie music landscape, and we also say contemporary music. We can play anywhere from art galleries to sit-down theatres and dive bars.
What’s the motivation behind your songs?
Eirene Cloma: Our take on kulintang music is to talk about our experiences as queer diasporic Filipinos. In a way, even existing as a band is the desire to connect to culture, but really, the songs that we make are our personal expressions.
What can we expect from Pantayo at Folk on the Rocks this year?
Kat Estacio: It would be a version of the album that we created in 2020, the result of a process that was four years long. We are incorporating live drums and a bass player for Folk on the Rocks. It will be different but hopefully more energizing, because we have those rhythmic elements that will be there in person.
What are you most excited about for Folk on the Rocks?
Kat Estacio: For me, it’s being in a place that the sun doesn’t set. I’ve wanted to see that for myself. The vibe that I’m getting about Folk on the Rocks is it’s kind-of like a summer camp. I think that’s really interesting to see. I’m really excited to see and connect with Kimmortal again. I’m also interested in seeing what the Queer Songbook Orchestra is doing.
Is there anything else upcoming for Pantayo?
Kat Estacio: We’re playing Sled Island in Calgary on June 23 and Coastal Jazz in Vancouver on the June 25. After that, we’re doing a fundraiser with F*cked Up in Toronto. That was supposed to be in February this year but, because of Omicron, we had to reschedule. We’re also recording right now.
Eirene Cloma: We’re working on our next album to be released some time next year. It’ll be slightly different than the last album – there are going to be more guitar-based songs – but we’re working with the same producer, Alaska B.