Last Monday's benefit concert at Reggae Grill for the indigenous Manobo school children was described by its host Fil-Am hip-hop artist Pele Navarro as a “bridge uniting artists and Fil-Ams to the people of Davao and to the cause of helping indigenous peoples children.”
Indeed, the concert “Rise 4 Education” was a bridge in many ways: local reggae and hip-hop artists took on the same stage with Manila rap sensation BLKD and Cebu-based DJ Mackoy as they dished out grooves and rhymes that whooped up the crowd, including 22 Fil-Ams who were here for a solidarity mission in Tacloban and with the Manobo evacuees as they savored the local flavor of Davao reggae and hip-hop.
The concert flowed with music and video messages asking support to some 300 Manobo children from Talaingod, Davao del Norte whose community have been driven out since last April by militarization. It also flowed with a box full of donations including money, notebooks, pencils and other school supplies.
It was a unique concert bringing two genres with radical origins: hip-hop, which originated from the American black community as a cultural protest; reggae which exploded with Bob Marley's music of emancipation and struggle of Jamaica and African countries.
Both found fusion here among these young Davao artists which made the music their own. The music from the opening act, the ethnic fusion group Kuntaw from Tagum City, energized the crowd with frenetic drumbeats and chants like “Tayo'y nag-iisang dugo” and “Magkaisa, sama-sama”. Their parody song of Jessie J's “Price Tag” tickled the crowd with these lyrics: “Daghang bayronon to the left, daghang bayronon to the right, tubig ug tuition fee, hospital ug pang-light. Wala na mi money, money, money, buslot na among bulsa, bulsa, bulsa...”
The reggae band Nairud sa Wadab delivered their signature bouncy grooves including covers of The Jerks 'Reklamo ng Reklamo' and Bob Marley's “Soul Rebel”. The next band Tortang Talong performed a unique fusion of reggae and ambient genre with turntable and guitar scratching with their signature songs 'Positive' with the lines “Good vibes, positive thinking” and their last song had Dj Mackoy and BLKD joining in that made the crowd jammed on front of the stage.
Davao's hip-hop duo South Breed gave a good performance with their fast rhymes. That prepared for BLKD's performance with DJ Mackoy which got the audience more energized. He belted out three songs which he later announced would be included in his first album coming out in September. BLKD earned fame from Flip-Top battles shown on YouTube, but the original songs he performed shows his real artistry that is filled with biting social commentary and passion.
“Tayo'y inaaliw upang tayo'y maabala, at upang huwag maalala sa pagsasamantala, hanggang ang pagmamalasakit ay nasaid, tayo'y naging manhid sa sakit ng ating mga kapatid... Pagmasdan ang bayan tayo ang nasasakupan, nasaan ang katarungan para sa lahat na may kagutuman?” he warned in his opening song.
His lyricism and Mackoy's groove effectively blend protest lines into songs such as “May kabuluhang pagbabago, aaligid basta sama-sama, may pag-asa may pag-asa” and “Itaas ang kamao, para sa pagbabago”.
The last band Kamaggong came out with its local humor of going organic in one's backyard, and a strong rap message about “sa lahat na nagmamahal, mga nasasaktan, mga nalaspatangan, nagmahal uli kahit napakasakit” that actually refers to love for one's mother country.
“Ang tula na ito’y inaalay sa mga namatay na walang malay, na ang alay naman niya’y pinagpatuloy sa kasalukuyan.”
The finale was two sets of jams of all performers with a half dozen local rappers taking turns on the mic with BLKD.
It was a night that brown hip-hop and brown reggae rose up with songs of change, unity and hope. The music became universal and also very local, all at once.