29 Aug 2016

Angelic Acapella - The Wellington Filipino Community Choir

From Voices, 3:30 pm on 29 August 2016

Bahay Kubo is the first of three specific folk songs the Wellington Filipino Community Choir are rehearsing tonight. Arranged acapella-style especially for the choir, Bahay Kubo is sung in the Tagalog language and celebrates culture and Filipinos' other favourite subject – food!

Bahay Kubo is made out of bamboo and nypa – a type of palm.” Meia Lopez tells me. “Traditionally you’d be self-sustaining, so you’d plant your own vegetables and fruit trees around the house – it’s very popular, especially with kids; it represents idyllic life in the province.” 

The twenty strong choir gather once a week for rehearsal at the Wesley Centre in the heart of the capital and as I arrive, the aroma of home cooked Filipino cuisine reaches me at the same time as the music. The choir, who are funded by the Bulwagan Foundation, eat together and sing together and I'm told there would be even more home-cooked food available but the group are missing their favourite cook – Flora Nogoy’s mother. “My mum is 83 and she loves cooking for the community, but she’s touring the U.S. at the moment.”

The Filipino Community

Well over 40,000 Filipinos live in New Zealand’s population, making up 1% of the population and comprising the third largest Asian migrant group after Chinese. Around 5,100 live in the Wellington region. Filipino festivals are renowned for their celebration of food, dance and song. It’s the song part of their culture which spurred the creation of the choir to mark the state visit to NZ of former Philippine’s President Fidel Ramos in 1995.

We want to encourage people to join us, if you love food and music!

The Wellington Filipino Community Choir

The Wellington Filipino Community Choir Photo: RNZ / Lynda Chanwai-Earle

The second folk song the choir are practicing tonight is titled Maya. Dinna O’Meara explains that it is about their original national bird, the small and industrious sparrow.

“The essence of the song is saying that your life will be better if you are industrious, a hard-worker like the Maya, the sparrow.” Sadly the little Maya was usurped by the Philippines Eagle in 1995, when President Ramos decided the tiny bird was not impressive enough to be their national icon.

The choirs' final song, another acapella work called  Paradiso – Smokey Mountain, was composed by Ryan Cayabyab and commemorates the children living in the infamous rubbish dump slums of Tondo, Manilla. Shut down in 1995, Smokey Mountain had operated for more than 40 years, consisting of over two million metric tons of waste. Decomposing flammable substances led to numerous fires which resulted in many deaths.

“It’s really like a protest song;" says Flora. "It’s the reality of life. It’s the other side of beaches and nice cosmopolitan Manila, it’s the Filipino spirit of positivity, that despite the fact you have nothing, there is still dignity. It’s a really good song for realising that there is hope.” 

As the rehearsal winds up for another week, the choir wish each other goodnight in as festive a manner as the evening began. Happy Birthday rings out in honour of three members of their choir and then everyone tucks into a very large, purple cake; the servings as generous as their songs.

The Choir’s next public performance will be in November this year at the Filipino Community Centre in Petone, Wellington. For more details check out the Bulwagan Foundation.