Malasimbo Music and Arts Festival 2014: Putting Puerto Galera in the Limelight
For a festival to succeed, even not in terms of profit but with regards to the experience it was able to provide its attendees, certain elements must be present. It is the inherent responsibility of the organizers to create something that will provide value for the money spent by festival-goers on the tickets. One must choose a good venue, which should not only be attractive and practical, but should be suited for what the festival is all about. Of course, the venue would be nothing without an awesome lineup of performers, regardless of being local or international acts. In today’s time, art also becomes a staple in music festivals, which is one way of being able to attract a sizable crowd. With art and music combined in one festival, there is no doubt that you are in for a treat. These are exactly the things that make Malasimbo Music and Arts Festival worth experiencing. If there is one thing that sets it apart from the growing number of festivals held all over the country, it would be its advocacy. It is created not only for the sole purpose of fun. It also seeks to promote awareness about the environment and indigenous groups.
This year’s Malasimbo Music and Arts Festival, its fourth installment, was held last February 27 to March 3. Unfortunately, Madel and I had to miss the last two nights because of an important event we had in Manila. We were supposed to be there with the people we met last year. Two of them were not able to make it. They were already in Puerto Galera but they had to travel back to Manila for an emergency. Brian, on the other hand, flew all the way from Taiwan and came with his cousin Mark from Seattle.
On our first night, we stayed at Tamaraw Beach Resort, located at Aninuan Beach. We chose this resort because it is pretty cheap, which we booked for only 2,000 pesos a night. While it is cheap, the resort is promising as it offers a relaxing stay and good sleep. We had a huge room that can actually fit 6 people. It has a swimming pool and its own beachfront area. The beach is perhaps what you will like most about Tamaraw. It is very clean and water is clear. The best thing is that it is not crowded at all. I have written a separate review of the resort here.
For our second and third night, we booked our stay at VM Beach Resort, which was located at White Beach, just about five minutes away from Tamaraw. This is also were Brian and Mark stayed, who arrived on the festival’s third day. Staying at White Beach is a good idea if you want to be close where the action is. The beach is lined with restaurants and bars, giving you an amalgam of choices on where to eat and drink. This goes to show as well that the place is crowded and noisy. Aside from staying within the proximity of bars and restaurants, we also chose VM because of its very affordable price. We booked a room for 1,700 per night. There were two of us in the room but it can fit up to four people. With its price, make sure to keep your expectations low. The room has AC but it lacks hot and cold shower, as well as a fridge. It also has no swimming pool but located at the beachfront. It has its own small restaurant. It is pretty much basic, which is exactly what we needed.
Ask anyone who has ever been to Malasimbo Music Arts and Festival, I am sure that you will get words of praises with regards to the venue. It is held at Mt. Malasimbo in Puerto Galera. Since it is in Puerto Galera, this means that attending the festival will also mean having the opportunity to enjoy the beach.
From White Beach, there are jeepney stations that will take you to the festival area. There are also stations in other parts of Puerto Galera. The ride from White Beach to Mt. Malasimbo was approximately 15 minutes. You have to pay 200 pesos for a roundtrip ticket and an additional 50 pesos if your return trip will be past 2am.
I had the chance to visit the festival ground on a Friday afternoon, even before the start of the performances slated for the day. I was there at around 3pm. First, I was not granted access and informed that entrance of guests will only be allowed by 5pm. I insisted to be allowed entry but was repeatedly denied. Fortunately, someone has been kind enough to entertain me and to allow me to explore the area. He was expressing his apologies with how some people handled the situation wrong. As a sign of being sorry, he gave me 500 worth of free credits that I can spend during the festival. One thing that I liked the most about this year’s installment of the festival is that they changed the way how you will pay for the purchases made during the event. Last year, you need to buy coupons printed on paper, available at 50-peso denominations. This year, they issued RFID tags in bracelets, which also serve as your passes. You can have it loaded with any amount, though I forgot the minimum requirement. To pay, simply tag the wrist band on the terminals that are installed at each store. This cashless payment system is not only convenient, but also eco-friendly.
Last year’s performances of Jimmy Cliff and Joss Stone are tough acts to follow. I can still remember how Cliff made the crowd high and how Stone reacted when a bug got inside her dress. I assume most of those who attended last year’s event were raring for performances of such caliber, or something better than what they did. When the organizers released the line-up of this year’s performers, I saw how excited people were. I am not a fan of music and I do not know the names they have included in their list. The beauty of Malasimbo is that you can start off not knowing anyone but you can turn into an instant fan once you have heard them play. This is a case I know many could relate to.
It was already past 10pm when we checked-in at our hotel and I had to go to the festival area on my own. I was there around 12 midnight and a team of medics walking in the dark informed me that the opening ceremony has already ended. Sadly, my 500-peso ticket was put into waste. As per the program, the performances for the night include Malasimbo Mamas & Ukelele Ensembles, Billie Bonnevie, Jungle Boys, and Miro.
On the second day, before we headed to the main stage, we passed by Illac Diaz and the booth of Liter of Light. On your way up to Mt. Malasimbo, the road is lit by their lights and they also held a workshop on the third day. When we stepped in the natural amphitheater, we were greeted by the music of Crowns Down, a local band from Mindanao. The band was one of the favorites for the night, judging from how people asked for more from them. They were followed by Lowleaf, a Filipina based in LA who happens to remind us very much of Grace Nono and Bob Aves Group’s performance last year. She began with chants that made us all silent, trying to feel the intensity of her performance. After her spellbinding set, Mark De Clive-Lowe took over the stage with his upbeat mixes and got us off our feet to begin dancing.
Based on how the tickets are priced, I assume that the third day is the main night as it is the most expensive. It was already Omar playing when we arrived. Flown all the way from United Kingdom, Omar did not disappoint the crowd. He was followed by Roy Ayers, who was another favorite. He reminded us a lot about Jimmy Cliff. Robert Glasper Experiment, a Grammy Award winning group also delivered a performance that is not to be missed, and which I am sure has set higher standards for the years to come. DJ Badkiss soon started spinning to heat up the crowd and to keep the party going. Similar Objects, Jordan Rakei, and June Marieezy also performed that night, but we were not able to see them live.
If there is one thing that I regret about this year’s Malasimbo, it would be missing the last two nights. I had to go back to Manila for my cousin’s 18th birthday. Sunday performances were highly-anticipated, especially because of Jose Gonzalez, who has also been popular because of the soundtrack of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Kooi, Osunlade, Good Leaf, Liquid A, and Mishka Adams were also among the performers slated for the said day.
The last day of the festival was highlighted by dub legend, Mad Professor. It is also a day that showcases local talents including Toto Delgado, Japoy, Cocojam, Unlimited Rise, and Mellow Submarine.
With the abundance of festivals organized all over the country, Malasimbo found its niche not only through its one-of-a-kind venue, but also through the art installations that can be found all around the area. Most of the installations were the same ones as last year, with a few additions. I planned to visit the area during daytime so that I can appreciate art more. As expected, I was not disappointed with what I saw. While these art installations will look good at night, they looked even better when seen in broad daylight. During the time I was there, I saw some artists doing last minute works to finish their works before being revealed to the festival-goers.
Last year, the Coast Guard had to cancel the Malasimboat DJ Party because of the assumed over-capacity. Fortunately, we were able to finally experience such this year. The ticket costs 950 pesos, inclusive of two cans of beer and 4 hours of party aboard the boat. It took quite a while before the boat docked by the pier where we waited. When we were finally sailing, DJs Badkiss and Gavin Boyd added life to the party with their familiar mixes, having heard them last year as well. The boat isn’t packed, but exudes an environment that encourages you to have fun. After about an hour of sailing, the boat stopped by somewhere and this is where the fun part starts. People started jumping off the boat and enjoyed the water. There was even a slide. As for us, we just stayed inside the boat, had our drinks by the bar and enjoyed music from the DJs. They also have grilled burgers and hotdogs if you need some stomach filling. The boat party is indeed one part of the festival that should not be missed!
MORE THAN MUSIC
One thing that I like Malasimbo is that it is more than just music. There are messages that the organizers would want to convey, and they are relayed through various means. There are different workshops that are held throughout the festival. This will allow one to learn more about indigenous groups, especially the Mangyans. They have a Mangyan Village in the festival ground and it will provide you with a glimpse of how their life looks like. They also have yoga classes set amidst a very inspiring backdrop. Illac Diaz held a talk about Liter of Light.
EATING AND DRINKING
It was already around 9pm when we arrived in Puerto Galera last February 27. We needed to take a boat’s special trip since we were late for their regular schedule. The boat docked in Sabang, where we immediately looked for a place to have our stomachs filled. After a few minutes of going around, we found Bella Napolli. We ordered Bismark Pizza, Carbonara, Penne Arabiatta, and drinks, all for 1,240 pesos.
Our stay at Tamaraw Beach Resort for our first night gave us free buffet breakfast. Like in most free breakfasts, there is nothing much to stay about what we had. It was good, but not exceptional. The same thing goes for their buffet lunch. Before checking out, we saw posters showing the hotel’s buffet lunch offered at 300 pesos. We did not hesitate to give it a try. Some of the selections include Pork Sinigang, Chicken Adobo, Sautéed Vegetables, Fish Fillet, Beef Steak, and Pancit canton, among others.
On our second day, as we transferred to White Beach, we had a bigger selection of restaurants. We had dinner once at a place called Food Trip sa Galera. I ordered their pecho liempo, which was surprisingly good and cheap. We had breakfast twice at the same place. I liked their meal called Almusal ni Boss, which has a varied and filling selection.
Drinking around White Beach should never be a problem. You will have a lot of places to consider. Once, I had beer on my own at Pirata and Rioo, both by the beachfront. We also had beer with some new found friends at the White Beach Bar and Restaurant.
Most of the time, we were drinking at the festival area. Each bottle of beer is 100 pesos at the festival grounds, which you have to pay through their RFID bracelet. They also get a lot of good choices, although the most notable would be what they called Daba-Dobo, which is their take on the classic Adobo dish. Another favorite would be the pandesal with Malasimbo kesong puti.
After attending Malasimbo for two consecutive years, I promise to be there every year as it happens. It is an event that has found its niche in many ways. With a crowd composed of mostly foreign spectators, it is commendable how the event was able to put Puerto Galera in the global scene. It draws one of the friendliest crowds I have ever seen. The performers were able to deliver acts that will create a hangover, not just for days, but for a longer span of time. The visual artists have excelled in their own ways, showing how one can commune with nature through art. Of course, the advocacy of the organizers should be also lauded as it sets it apart from many other festivals. Malasimbo Music and Arts Festival is indeed one-of-a-kind. It is enchanting in every sense and it can take you in a natural high.