When MassKara Festival organizers began looking for a new artist to create this year’s official music, they didn’t have to search long and hard.
In fact, they didn’t have to look far.
For it was perfect timing that musical legend Bob Aves – who created and developed the unique Philippine jazz – has just came home to Bacolod, and decided to stay for good.
“I’ve been dreaming of applying my music here in Bacolod,” says Bob in our interview.
So when his friend Gerry Grey, who himself used to do several official MassKara music, approached him, he readily said ‘yes.’
“I would like to thank the MassKara Festival and Gerry Grey for asking me to do the music for this year’s MassKara. I am very privileged to do it,” Bob adds.
Born Roberto Yulo Aves in Bacolod, Bob spent his early years at Don Bosco Technical Institute in Victorias City, where he “pioneered” the forming of a “combo band,” and at La Consolacion College, where his group would often accompany the music for Mass.
While having a piano lesson, he realized one thing: “It was obvious that my life was going to be a musician.”
So he went to the University of the Philippines to study jazz, and later convinced his mother to send him to the famous Berklee College of Music in Boston.
“When I came back in the 1980s, I got involved in recording studio because of my arranging skills, and everybody wanted me because I’m, like, fresh from the US and I sounded new,” he recalls.
So for the next 30 years, Bob spent his life in Manila as a composer, arranger, record producer, and musical director.
His long career has always been marked with excellence, producing a number of award-winning albums in a wide range of musical styles.
His works have even crossed to other genres such as musical scores for documentaries and films in international festivals, and special collaborative projects with local and international artists for small ensembles to full orchestra, theater and music for contemporary dance.
In the 1990s, Bob embarked on a quest for rediscovering Philippine indigenous music – fusing traditional instruments, rhythm and chants, forms and improvisation techniques with contemporary music genres.
After 30 years, he eventually put up his own home studio and contunued his production. Thereabout, he met Grace Nono and they started a new path together – advocating traditional music.
In doing their research, Grace’s focus is on chants, while Bob’s is on the instruments. “For us, it’s always a fusion of indigenous and contemporary. So our role is, is to take this traditional piece to the 21st century,” he adds.
“Medyo na-dislodge ako sa mainstream music industry dahil naging ethnic na kami, but that helped me a lot because we were able to develop ethnic music, tapos, kinontemporarize namin,” he adds.
“I think yong achievement namin ni Grace is very significant talaga, I mean, internally, we made an impact… Breakthrough talaga yon, it just went around the world, we were performing around the world sa mga music festivals,” he happily shares.
After that, Bob started creating and developing Philippine jazz – an integration of our gong culture with the mainstream jazz that created a new musical experience.
“A lot of people also explored indigenous instruments with jazz but sa akin talaga it was talagang a major effort. It was not like one piece or two pieces, it was the whole,” Bob explains.
He says his works on Philippine jazz was also a breakthrough in its own way. “For the first time, nadinig ng mg tao, ‘wow, jazz with kulintang,'”
Bob says when he came back to Bacolod, he and Gerry Grey contacted each other regularly to do some collaborations.
He considers Gerry as “one of the prominent musicians in Bacolod.”
When Festival Director Eli Francis Tajanlangit contacted Gerry to help in the creation of the MassKara music this year, Gerry then approached Bob.
“When the MassKara Festival contacted him and they started giving him these requirements, parang sabi nya, bagay sa iyo to because they want it to have more international flavor,” Bob says.
So that is exactly what I did – giving traditional music an international standard, kasi sa amin ni Grace, it’s all international standard, he adds.
Bob underscores that the MassKara music he created was a collaboration with Gerry Grey. “FIrst of all, I have to say, si Gerry has been the co-producer of this. Although, of course, ako lahat ang gumagawa nito, he was the one who was advising me because nakagawa na sya nyan several times.”
“I would do a study, I would send it to him, he would give his feedback, and then balik dito, and then, ‘ito i-improve natin. Ito yong hahanapin nila.’ Until finally, sila na ni Eli (Tajanlangit) yong pumunta dito and i-finalize na namin,” he says.
So how does the MassKara music this year sounds like?
“First and foremost, the music beat is for streetdancing. Gusto ko ng mabilisam dahil, you know, it’s streetdancing,” Bob says.
“We also agreed that yong genre ngayon that’s trending is EDM – electronic dance music,” he adds.
“That’s the format na ginamit namin and that, there should be a lot of indigenous music in between,” he explains.
“I have to point out na yong mga indigenous na mga styles na ipinasok ko doon sa piyesa, these are true culturally correct pieces – indi ni ya palagpatanay [not a shot in the dark]. These are the real instruments that they use, the real music that they use – that’s what I applied,” he says.
Bob says he incorporated the indigenous instruments of ethnic groups like Kalinga and Panay Bukidnon, and even from Palawan and Negros.
“Then of course, they also wanted to put in ASEAN flavor. I’m familiar with that because I’ve been doing a lot of different kinds of music around Sotheast Asia,” he adds.
“And most important of all – world quality. World-class. Parang when you hear it, pwedeng ma-appreciate ng nasa labas [foreigners]. Hindi yong, ‘Pang-Bacolod lang talaga ‘yan!'”
Bob says they did three versions of the music. One runs two and a half minutes for the radio, the second runs five and a half minutes for the main piece, and the third is the extended version that runs more than seven minutes for the streetdancing competition.
“I have a lot of experience in this kind of music, and I’m just glad that I can apply it here. I hope you guys like this music. Sayaw kayo pag madining nyo,” Bob concludes our interview.*
Bob Aves being interviewed at his residence in Bacolod./CITY PIO