This is how Frenchman Hubert d’Aboville described the annual Malasimbo Music and Arts Festival in Puerto Galera, Oriental Mindoro. He is co-founder and president of the well-known extravaganza, which is slated from February 27 to March 3 this year.
Why so? Because the festival—for those who have yet to discover it—is most unique in the Philippines for infusing music, the arts, the ways of indigenous peoples and love for the environment at the Malasimbo Mountain from which it is named.
Only on its fourth year, the Malasimbo Music and Arts Festival has already gathered a strong following from both local and international audiences, making its 2014 outing a highly-anticipated event.
The beginnings of Malasimbo can be traced as early as 1981 when d’Aboville, then a young backpacker from Europe, first discovered the virgin island of Puerto Galera. Moved by the beauty of its mountains, the traveler fell in love with the site at that very moment.
“That was in April 1981. I remember it very, very well,” the Frenchman told The Sunday Times Magazine in an exclusive interview at the Paris Manila Technology Corp. offices, a power distribution company that he eventually established in 1988.
“I first arrived here in [the Philippines]in 1977 and I came back in March 1981 to become a businessman. One month after, I went to Puerto Galera with a friend of mine, discovered the place, and fell in love,” he continued.
That same year, d’Aboville found love again when he met his Filipino wife, Araceli Valenzuela, with whom he built a family and a home in his special place.
“When my wife and I got married in 1982, we wanted to have four children and plant seeds for them. We needed soil, earth. Naturally, we chose Puerto Galera and we built our home there. I invested all my savings in a small property that got bigger and bigger,” d’Aboville related.
Eager to show the world the beauty of his beloved home for many years, he agreed to an idea from Croation Miro Grgic, a sound engineer and president of Volume Unit Entertainment Inc., to organize a music and arts festival on the island. The year was 2010, and no one had done anything like it before.
With energy and enthusiasm, d’Aboville rushed to Puerto Galera Mayor Hubert Dolor to see how the festival can be done.
“I asked Hubert, my good friend and katukayo, ‘I’m sharing this idea from Miro, who happens to be my daughter’s boyfriend, to mount a festival with 1,000 to 2,000 people? Where can we have it? Give me three places in the vicinity of Puerto Galera where we can organize it’,” he recounted.
The mayor said he would look into it but when d’Aboville took a brief trip to France, he was disappointed to return to the verdict that there was no site to accommodate 2,000 in the municipality.
“Miro and I were very disappointed. We thought that was it—the original idea did not push through,” d’Aboville continued.
“But every day in Puerto Galera, I made a tour of my property. And as I was at the top of what is now the amphitheater, looking down, I said, ‘My God this is the place! Why I am looking elsewhere? The best place is here, right under my eyes.’”
Bringing the good news to Malasimbo co-founder Grgic, they began preparations with only seven weeks left to their chosen date.
“We had a lot of work to do, prepare the road, carve out the terraces [for the natural amphitheater], and so on. By Christmas Day, all my family was there and they told me it was impossible to finish everything before February 17, and that we had no choice but to cancel,” d’Aboville recalled.
“But I said, ‘No. We will roll up our sleeves; we will wake up earlier in the morning and sleep later in the evening; and we will work harder.’ And we did it.”
And so on February 18 and 19, 2011, d’Aboville and Grgic—with the help of their family and friends—successfully mounted the very first Malasimbo Music and Arts Festival from February 18 to 19, with an impressive 1,500 attendees.
The debut featured art installations from local artists, the Mangyan tribe and their culture, and world-class concerts from both local and international acts, with the majestic backdrop of Mother Nature at her best.
The Malasimbo Festival comprised of what d’Aboville calls “the four pillars.” These are music, the arts, indigenous people (IP) and the environment, which are all very close to his heart.
He explained, “Miro is the brains behind the music. As I have said, he is a music expert so he has always been in charge of the selection of musicians for the two-night concert. My daughter Olivia, who is a recognized artist here, takes care of the exhibits. She is the one who chooses the artists. And then my wife is responsible for celebrating the indigenous people as she is very knowledgeable about their culture.”
Last but not the least, d’Aboville, is in charge of preserving the beauty of Mount Malasimbo.
In the last four years, these principal organizers of Malasimbo devotedly nurture and propagate their advocacies, and in fact have also been recognized for them.
For example, in December 2013, Grgic was invited to talk about the Philippine festival at the Electronic Music Conference in Sydney, Australia.
“The theme was ‘Asia in Focus’ with music representatives from all over the continent and Australia,” informed d’Aboville. “We were cited as a ‘standout model’ for thinking outside the box and setting up a record label called Malasimbo Recording, and a band called the Malasimbo Orchestra.”
As for the arts, d’Aboville shared that her daughter Olivia tries to discover more local artists every year to fill up the open fields with their work.
“I want to dedicate five hectares in the middle of nowhere to receive the artworks of Filipinos. Every year, we’ll have more and more art works and installations to be left there. Year after year, the art multiplies. In three to five years, it will become an open museum,” he enthused.
D’Aboville added that Malasimbo exhibits two types of artwork, one that is natural and vanishes through time, and the artificial kind that lasts longer.
Citing the indigenous people element, he went on to talk about the Mangyan houses that were built in 2012, an now stand as a community for the Iraya Mangyans and Hanunuo Mangyans, as well as South Cotabato’s T’Boli. There, the tribes are able to interact with guests by presenting their local dances, showcasing their unique artifacts, selling their handicrafts, as well as holding weaving workshops.
A true guardian of the environment, d’Aboville refrains from promoting the festival with the use of tarpaulins or any other kind of marketing materials that would classify as visual pollution. He keeps the mountain grounds in its purest form, and also supports the provincial government of Oriental Mindoro in its environmental projects. In fact, festival proceeds were used for tree-planting and mangrove reforestation in 2011 and 2012, respectively; and in 2013, the festival took part in the celebration of Earth Day in April with another tree-planting initiative.
This year, through the d’Aboville Foundation, Malasimbo will participate in the protection of the tamarraw, a critically-endangered species endemic to Oriental Mindoro.
Learning and growing
When the very first Malasimbo concluded in February 2011, founders d’Aboville and Grgic were floored by the response of 1,500 festival visitors over the course of the weekend. Year after year, they are even more amazed with figures that continue to double.
“Indeed, the first festival was very successful and so were the second and third. In 2012, we had 3,000 people, and in 2013, 6,000 in the two-day festivities,” exclaimed d’Aboville.
Nevertheless, he was quick to add, “But I do not know if bigger is always better.”
He explained that he has to impose a “limit” to Malasimbo.
“Malasimbo will always be a kind of ‘boutique festival.’ I don’t want it to be overcrowded. For one night, the maximum is 4,000 to 4,500 [attendees for everyone]to still be comfortable. I will definitely put a limit, but I don’t know if in 2014, we will reach the limit.”
If ever Malasmibo continues to attract figures over d’Aboville’s estimates, he may consider opening a second stage.
“Every year we learn. It’s only been three years since the first festival and we are still learning. But I am very proud to say that we are growing nicely. I do not want to be very mayabang [boastful]but it is successful.”
The success of Malasimbo is even more evident especially now that the festival has turned into a five-day affair.
“Normally, the festival runs on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. We added one day before and one day after to make it cheaper for people who cannot afford to buy a P2,000 or P3,000 ticket,” d’Aboville explained.
He continued, “Even though they do not see Jimmy Cliff [Jamaican musician who topbilled] in 2013 [concert]. On the Thursday of the festival this year, we will be installing everything. Students are encouraged to see how we actually prepare the festival. And then on Monday, musicians from Puerto Galera will be featured for the people to enjoy a local concert.”
d’Aboville sees ticket prices going down to P500 for the first and last days.
“[We did this] so that nobody will say, ‘Oh I cannot go there, it is too expensive.’ I hope everybody can come and experience Malasimbo with the help of his eldest child Emmanuel.”
The five-day festival this year will be test of sorts for d’Aboville to decide on whether the concept is feasible for them and attractive to the festival’s patrons.
As for the solo musicians and bands slated to perform at the upcoming Malasimbo 2014, the initial list on the official website (www.malasimbofestival.com) includes Jose Gonzalez, Robert Glasper Experiment, Roy Ayers & Lonnie Liston Smith, Mad Professor, Osunlade, Omar, Greg Wilson, Mark De Clive-Lowe, Low Leaf, June Marieezy, Jordan Rakei and Heavy Boogie.
The main international acts set to headline Malasimbo 2014 have yet to be announced on January 16 at the festival’s official media launch. In the past foreign acts who topbilled the festival were reggae legends Joe Bataan in 2012 and Jimmy Cliff in 2013. Soul siren Joss Stone, meanwhile, sold out the 2013 festival.
“We are making our own dreams come to a reality. We are not in the mold of this industry’s players. We have some knowledge, but more than that, we have the drive, we have the dream. This is what is pushing us to do it,” d’Aboville concluded.
* * *
The Malasimbo Music and Arts Festival will run from from February 27 to March 3 at Puerto Galera, Oriental Mindoro. It is presented by Volume Unit Entertainment Inc. and the d’Aboville Foundation with the Department of Tourism and Visa as major sponsors. It is also supported by Ticketworld, Sofitel Philippine Plaza Manila, Ticketworld, Shell, Royal Cargo, Lafarge, and Stagecraft International, among others, with The Manila Times is an official media partner.