The Malasimbo Music and Arts Festival
A saxophonist plays his heart out until he on the floor at center of the stage. A group of artists huddled around a bonfire exchanging inspired thoughts. Audiences gathered beneath coconut trees illuminated with a kaleidoscope of lights. No VIPs, no special seats—just families, friends, and new acquaintances coming together to bask in creativity.
These were the scenes at the 4th Malasimbo Music and Arts Festival at the top of the magical Mt. Malasimbo in Puerto Galera, Oriental Mindoro. Held from February 27 to March 3, the highly anticipated event gathered some 6,000 festival-goers this year 130 kilometers south of Metro Manila.
An annual labor of love by Frenchman Hubert d’Aboville, his family and Croatian-born Australian Miro Grgic, the Malasimbo Festival is their way of giving back to the Philippines—their adopted home—through the fulfillment of four important advocacies: art, music, the promotion of indigenous peoples, and the preservation of Puerto Galera’s natural beauty.
“It took us 12 months to prepare for this event. Every year we improve slightly, and our Malasimbo experience becomes better and better,” informed Grgic, a sound engineer by profession, and capably in charge of the festival’s music line-up and sound design.
Husband and wife Hubert and Ara, meanwhile, are yearly in charge of promoting the talents and handiworks of the Mangyan community, as well as Malasimbo’s environmental preservation projects.
The d’Abovilles’ daughter Olivia, finally, takes care of gathering the works of local visual artists for a one-of-a-kind exhibit whose backdrop is no less than Mother Nature.
Together with 20 hard-working volunteers, the d’Abovilles and Grgic, are the behind the success of this unique festival that has again put the Philippines on the map of world-class artistry.
The world at Malasimbo
According to TicketWorld president Robert Sewell, this year’s ratio of festival attendees was comprised of 60 percent foreigners and 40 percent locals, most of them music and art lovers.
Milo Oropeza of the Department of Tourism’s (DOT) Tourism Promotions Board, in turn, was very pleased. “We are looking to promote the Philippines as the music destination of the world. We see a lot of local and foreign acts come together in various music festivals and we have a wide variety of interesting venues to hold these events. We see this happening now with Malasimbo, and we want to be able to promote this further,” Oropeza said.
For his part, d’Aboville enthused, “It’s the first festival in the country where 30 different nationalities all come together in one event. It’s like having the whole world in one place.”
The mix of Filipinos and foreigners were just as evident among the musical performers and visual artists who came from across the country and different corners of the globe.
“The music and artwork were on another level altogether this year,” Grgic observed. “I was personally impressed with some of the local shows, namely Crowns Down from Butuan City and Late Session II from Puerto Galera.
“Our Jungle Boys family even had a great jam before Erwin Edralin and Jack Bates—something I want to have more of in the future [as performances like this] really showcases the local culture. he added.”
Besides the well-received local singers and musicians, international acts Robert Glasper Experiment, Roy Ayers, and Lonnie Liston Smith also took to the stage, and set off a dancing spree that had the mammoth audience swaying together like waves in the sea—all moved by the power of spontaneous music.
Soulful rhythms later mellowed the energized crowd from artists like Swedish singer-songwriter Jose Gonzalez and Mishka Adams. The world-famous Gonzalez, who was this year’s main act in the festival, delighted Malasimbo’s visitors not only with his music, but also with his easy going ways as he was often spotted hanging out with other artists around the amphitheater, or chatting with fans.
It was during Mishka Adams’ samba set that a random spectator decided to strip down his clothes and go bare naked in the middle of the crowd. While the audience went wild with cheers, also part of the team was Emmanuel d’Aboville, who was quick to act with the help of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) auxiliary team of 45 men who made sure the incident did not get out of hand.
“Thankfully, we have had no major accidents in the last four years of Malasimbo. Since we started in 2011, we always had the PCG with us to ensure safety and security, which is my No. 1 priority. It is good to know that a group of trained men are in the area at all times,” said d’Aboville.
The show went on as if nothing happened.
“You stole my thunder,” Adams joked as the stripper was escorted away from the crowd.
More surprising than the random scene stealers, however, were the sheer number of performers and musical genres that were featured. There was funk, hip-hop, reggae, soul, ska and folk music, among many others, which raised everyone’s awareness on what world music has to offer.
Another d’Aboville, Olivia, who is a known designer and artist in the country, wonderfully curated the art installations from both renowned and up and coming visual artists. She also exhibited her own works—hanging post lamps— called the “Stars of Hope” and the “Giant Dandelions.”
Among those whose works were featured included Leeroy New, Agnes Arellano, Billy Bonnevie, Dondi and Grace Katigbak, Troy Silvestre and Iya Regalario.
“The art has expanded, there are more artists this year who have all taken on the challenge of exhibiting in the outdoors quite imaginatively,” said Regalario, who has joined Malasimbo’s visual arts component for two years running.
“I was amazed by how beautiful the entire place has become. We have individual works, but in the end, the exhibit feels more like a collaboration—a shared feeling of accomplishment that makes everything more meaningful,” the young artist added.
It is no easy feat to exhibit at Malasimbo. Artists have to transport their canvases and other materials up the mountain, after which they have to contend with the wind and weather changes in installing their works. But no one ever complains because the chance to exhibit against the magnificent mountain is just priceless.
“All of the artists needed to work up and down the hills while carrying tools and materials for days prior to the event. I had to drag a bunch of freshly cut coconut leaves from the bottom of a steep hill to my installation area. Though it was windy, we had to work all day long under the sun, and by the time the event started, most of us had bigger biceps and calves, with a mountain man tan to boot,” Regalario happily shared.
A place called ‘home’
As in the past years, everyone who attended the Malasimbo festival was bound together by a magical force, which no words can ever describe. To be surrounded by enormous creativity amid a breathtaking view certainly does something to one’s soul.
On the fourth day of the festival, the d’Abovilles hosted a workshop that featured the handiworks of the indigenous tribes at the Mangyan Village within the Mt. Malasimbo grounds.
There was also an exhibit devoted to the Iglit-Baco National Heritage Park, where the Mindoro Tamaraws were the focal point, and how their number have declined from 10,000 a hundred years ago to a meager 300 today. This particular part of the festival is the brainchild of d’Aboville Foundation partner Emmanuel Schutz who is passionately devoted to saving Mt. Malasimbo’s creatures.
“We are working hard for the preservation of the tamaraws which used to be all around Mindoro. Now these wild animals prefer to stay within the park area, because they feel more protected and secured. We want to push this advocacy to stop the poaching and killing of tamaraws, and to create a better environment for them,” Hubert said.
The family, and everyone behind the festival, truly considers Mt. Malasimbo their home so that they strive to address as many issues as they can, not only during the five-day event, but throughout the year.
“We also help create jobs for the local community. In Puerto Galera, their main business is tourism, so these kinds of events help small businesses to earn and boost the province’s economy,” Hubert added.
The family’s admirable passion to care for everyone and all things on the mountain is so strong that it also rubs off on festival-goers and participants. As Regalario expressed, “Most spectators are lured by the great line-up of foreign and local music acts, the partying, and the people, but Malasimbo is more than that. It brings people together and it puts the Philippines on the map. It is a place where everyone, regardless of place or origin, can feel very much at home.”