POLARIS PRIZE SHORTLIST 2020
Pantayo by Pantayo CONTENTS
THE LO-FI R&B GONG PUNK OF TORONTO’S PANTAYO
Feminist themes and sociopolitical commentaries mingle with love songs
Pantayo – which means “for us” in Tagalog – bases its intriguing sound on Kulintang music, a centuries-old traditional form typically played by all-women Filipino ensembles.
In an interview with Panm360, band member Kat Estacio describes it as, “a group-based form of atonal metal percussion and drum music that originated in Southeast Asia, and the specific tradition that we borrow from – and are inspired by – is from the Maguindanao and T’boli tribes from the southern part of what is now known as the Philippines.”
The band calls its sound “lo-fi R&B gong punk”.
Pantayo formed in 2012 and their self-titled debut album has been in the works for several years under the direction of producer Alaska B, a co-founder of Yamantaka // Sonic Titan a Canadian experimental music and performance art collective.
In a review for Allmusic, Timothy Monger writes, “the quintet’s eponymous debut sounds unlike anything else on the modern musical landscape. Refreshingly guitar-less and resonating with the unfamiliar – to Western ears, at least – frequencies of hammered metal, there is an eerie and deeply resonant quality to these eight songs…”
“Feminist themes and sociopolitical commentaries mingle with love songs, the group’s celestial harmonies creating a strange dichotomy with the dark-toned clamor of the kulintang,” he adds.
Pantayo was released in May this year and is nominated for the Polaris Music Prize.
About the Polaris Prize
Since its founding in 2006 the Polaris Music Prize has courted controversy with its unpredictably fluid criteria and sometimes idiosyncratic winning choices. The $50,000 prize is awarded by jury to the best new Canadian album of the year based on artistic merit alone.
The 10 acts on this year’s shortlist feature a gender diverse group evenly split between men and women and including seven BIPOC artists. Five of them have been shortlisted previously with three of them winning. The other five artists are all newcomers.
The nominees are Jessie Reyez, Kaytranada, nêhiyawak, Pantayo, Backxwash, Caribou, Junia-T, Lido Pimienta, U.S. Girls, Witch Prophet.
The innovative Toronto kulintang ensemble’s debut album is a hybrid of traditional Philippine gongs, electronic production and Western pop influences
by Max Mertens / Pitchfork
In the southern Philippines, kulintang music is played by multiple Indigenous groups, including the Maguindanoan and T’boli peoples, during ceremonial and everyday events like weddings and village homecomings. Named after its main instrument, a set of eight knobbed gongs laid on a wooden rack similar to a xylophone, it’s often accompanied by other gongs (gandingan, sarunay, agung) and a drum called a dabakan. Traditionally considered a women’s instrument, kulintang ensembles in the country today include both men and women. When the music was introduced to North American audiences in the 1970s and ’80s, though, it was played primarily by male artists like Danongan “Danny” Kalanduyan and Usopay Cadar.
For the Toronto-based all-women collective Pantayo, who describe themselves as “lo-fi R&B gong punk,” kulintang is a vehicle for exploring their identities and experiences as queer diasporic Filipinas. The group’s five members—Eirene Cloma, Michelle Cruz, Joanna Delos Reyes, and sisters Kat and Katrina Estacio—switch between instruments and share vocal duties, delivering lyrics in English and Tagalog. Produced by Alaska B of Canadian operatic rockers Yamantaka // Sonic Titan, with whom Pantayo previously collaborated on the soundtrack to the 2016 indie game Severed, the quintet’s self-titled debut is the result of several years spent honing their sound in Toronto’s arts centers and music venues. Blending atonal traditional percussion, electronic production, and Western influences including synth-pop, R&B, and punk, these eight tracks are joyful, resilient, and wholly contemporary.
In the hands of lesser musicians, the hybrid of styles might come across as gimmicky, but over an economical 28 minutes, Pantayo prove adept at deconstructing genres and building something new with seemingly disparate parts. These songs never rest in one place for long, frequently shifting tempos midway to encourage spontaneous movement. Pantayo’s gongs often feel like additional vocalists, thrumming and conversing with one another as they oscillate between meditative and frenetic rhythms. Opener “Eclipse” begins with a simple kick drum, bass, and gently chiming gongs, before introducing cooing R&B harmonies. Instrumental centerpiece “Bronsé” creeps and reverberates, and the first half of “Bahala Na” floats like an Angelo Badalamenti dream and then descends into a cacophonous psychedelic freakout.