More than a band: Pantayo’s take on traditional Filipino music
By: Vivian Nguyen
Published on: September 14 2022
Based in Tkaronto (Toronto), Pantayo is a quintet comprising of queer members of the Filipino diaspora. “Pantayo” in Tagalog means, “for us.” The all-woman group formed in 2012 and its members describe themselves as a collective instead of a band.
What makes Pantayo stand out is their incorporation of kulintang—an indigenous instrumental form of music from the Southern Philippines—with modern R&B, punk, and electronic music. In addition to their music, Pantayo organizes musical and cultural workshops to teach kulintang. This is Pantayo’s take on traditional Filipino music.
Meet the members and their musical instruments
Pantayo is made up of bassist and keyboardist, Eirene Cloma, agung player Michelle Cruz, and gandingan and sarunay player Joanna Delos Reyes. While the agung refers to a wide-rimmed gong from Southeast Asia, the sarunay is a metallophone of eight metal plates strung together and suspended over a frame.
The gandingan is a set of four large gongs that are part of the kulintang, a gong and drum instrument among the Maguindanao, or “people of the flood plain,” who are the largest Muslim minority in the Philippines.
The other two members of Pantayo are twins, Kat Estacio and Katrina Estacio. In addition to the kulintang, Kat Estacio plays the dabakan, a single-hand drum also among the Maguindanao. The musical instrument is usually struck with two bamboo sticks and accompanies the kulintang ensemble. Katrina Estacio also plays the kulintang as well as the sarunay.
Music with Indigenous roots
Kulintang music “was once used for communicating long distance messages from one village to another.” It has origins among the Maguindanao peoples and the T’boli tribe. These indigenous communities reside in south-central and southwestern Mindanao, Philippines, respectively.
According to a myth, T’boli’s ancestors created musical instruments to replicate the sounds of the souls of those who have perished in the deluge.
Also called “talking gongs,” the kulintang represents the voices of ancestors in pre-colonial Philippines. According to an article, kulintang is “story-telling. It is healing. It is celebrating. […] Each pattern interprets voices chanting over the years.”
Bridging traditional sounds with contemporary music
Through merging kulintang with contemporary genres like pop and R&B, Pantayo describes their music as “lo-fi R&B gong punk.” Since they formed, the collective has released two albums: Severed, an original soundtrack with Yamantaka // Sonic Titan (Yt//St) in 2016 and Pantayo in 2020.
Their self-titled album was produced by Alaska B of Yt//St with Canadian record label, Telephone Explosion. It features disco-inspired and upbeat songs including “V V V (They Lie)” and “Heto Na” along with slower, calming tracks like “Eclipse.” The album was also nominated and won the Polaris Prize in 2020.
The “They Lie” music video experiments with abstract, naturistic imagery and psychedelic—bright—colours. With its karaoke-style format, the video embraces a Filipino culture that loves music.
“There are a lot of Filipinos who share a love of music,” Estacio says in an interview with Tom Tom Mag. “[M]usic traditions are part of our DNA.”
Their song, “Heto Na” begins with a steady and deceiving percussion. As the beating sounds of the agungs, gandingan, and the kulintang join, the song picks up pace like a chant. “Umindak ka na kaya (Ready, set, go strut your stuff),” Pantayo sings. The lyrics are filled with hope, fun, and empowerment. The song and video were inspired by 70’s Filipino disco songs and features fellow Filipina Canadians under the group name, “The Tita Collective.”
The Tita Collective is a group of multidisciplinary artists who created the podcast, “Chika Chika with the Titas” to discuss Filipin* art. They also use the platform to share their experiences as women in the Filipino diaspora.
Cultural appropriation refers to when a group with privilege adopts cultural elements of a minority group, leading to exploiting and disrespecting them. As the members of Pantayo are part of the Filipino diaspora, not Maguindanao nor T’boli who they borrowed music from, the group underwent criticism for appropriating Indigenous culture.
The collective sees kulintang as part of a bigger culture connecting to the Philippines’s colonial history. According to Vice, kulintang connects Pantayo to their experiences and heritage. Former member, Christine Balmes, describes kulintang music as “very healing. It’s decolonizing.”
Pantayo acknowledges their privilege and makes it their goal to use their music as a way of giving back. “We’re taking this culture,” Estacio said to Vice, “but we need to also give something back.”
More than a band
Both their workshops and music promote education and preservation of the traditional sounds of the Southern Philippines. Through their unique songs, Pantayo reminds us just how powerful music can be. It can make you dance. It can empower. It can heal. Music also brings people together, both within and outside any culture.
Thus, Pantayo’s innovative fusion music transcends time, language, and space.
Not only does the collective disrupt the status quo by incorporating traditional music with modern elements, they contribute to creating a world that prioritizes the voices of the oppressed. As queer, Filipinx women, the members of Pantayo represent a message of hope, community, and strength. And they’re just getting started!