With the current and rightful idolatry of Filipinos for Jessica Sanchez, the spotlight is focused on gifted Filipino singers like Charice, Arnel Pineda, and others of Filipino descent like Anna Maria Perez de Tagle. I would like to add to this group, a singer I have admired for almost a decade, and has totally carved out a niche unequalled by anyone - Grace Nono.
I know Grace professionally and personally - she is a close friend of my sister, I have watched several of her performances, I was ballet teacher to her daughter and we performed together in Berlin for the Philippine Department of Tourism. Just recently, visiting the same sister in New York, I had the pleasure of being part of Grace’s birthday celebration.
Grace Nono is known for her interpretations of Philippine traditional music, rhythms, oral traditions and for advocating women’s issues, environmentalism and spirituality. She has created original Filipino music, not as a derivative of Western influences, but of singing authentic Filipino, rooted in ethnic traditions. “The act of singing is in fact one of the few things that generate hope, healing and redemption in the midst of destiny’s misadventures,” says Grace, whose musical journey ran parallel to uncovering one’s spiritual essence.
Born and raised in Agusan, Mindanao, Grace is a performing artist & producer, researcher, author, teacher, cultural worker and administrator. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in Humanities and Master’s degree in Philippine Studies, at the University of the Philippines. She is currently pursuing her doctoral studies in Ethnomusicology at the New York University. She has also had training via the Asia-Pacific Performance Exchange residency, the Asian Cultural Council residency, the Asian Institute of Management Arts Management Program, and the Asia-Pacific Cultural Center for UNESCO’s training on Intangible Cultural Heritage.
Grace has six critically acclaimed solo recordings and five other albums produced by her Tao Music Records. She has represented the Philippines in world music festivals, performances and conferences: at the House of World Cultures in Berlin; Mercat de les Flors in Barcelona; Circulo de Bellas Artes in Madrid; the Music Village Festival in London; the Lincoln Center’s La Casita Festival in the US; concerts in Paris and Monte Carlo; WOMAD in Yokohama; the Exposition on Nature’s Wisdom in Aichi; the Asian Fantasy Orchestra tours of New Delhi, Bombay, Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka, Miyazaki, Bangkok, Vientiane, Yangon, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh; the Hong Kong Asian Arts Festival; the National Museum of Singapore and the Singapore Arts Festival; and performances and conferences in Huairou, Bangkok, Jakarta, Nanning, Shanghai, Seoul, Penang, Taipei, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Chicago.
She has won 40 awards including: the prestigious Ten Outstanding Young Men (TOYM), The Outstanding Women in Nation's Service (TOWNS), numerous Catholic Mass Media Awards, Katha, Awit, National Press Club, and other awards for her artistic and cultural contributions. Her book, The Shared Voice: Chanted and Spoken Narratives from the Philippines won in the 28th National Book Awards, Arts category. A second book on the music of the Philippine babaylan (Visayan/Philippine shaman) is in the works. She elaborates, “Aside from being drawn to matters of spirit and healing, and of course, music, this study came about because again, we observe the trend of our medical professionals simply mimicking trends in the west in the emerging fields of music therapy, or our religious shunning our rich musical heritage in most of their rites. Yet, if one takes a good look at our traditions, we have always used sound and music in our rituals which invoked spiritual sources and healing of body and soul... I myself have all these years experienced the healing power of music, which never fails to lift the spirit, transforming whatever negative energies we carry in our hearts and bodies (stress, fear, doubt, anger, etc.) which could eventually lead to illness, into a renewed sense of clarity, vitality, bliss.”
In collaboration with composer Bob Aves, Grace has produced an audio and print series on Philippine oral traditions and instrumental music, which are being used by a number of teachers and students in the study of Philippine music, arts and culture. She has also taught Philippine Traditional Arts at the University of the Philippines-Diliman, and Philippine Oral History at Miriam College.
As cultural worker/administrator, Grace serves as Founding Director for the Tao Foundation for Culture and Arts, a non-government organization engaged in cultural regeneration and holistic development initiatives, for which she has been granted support by the the Cultural Center of the Philippines, the National Commission for Culture and Arts, Toyota Foundation, the Ford Foundation, UNESCO, the British Council, Advocates of Philippine Fair Trade, AusAid, and local communities and institutions.
Grace Nono is a cultural icon and role model. She is credited for breaking new grounds in the understanding of Filipino identity through her research in oral traditions. Her scholarly research bridges the past to our future. When she sings, she imparts pain, loss but at the same time healing and redemption. Her commitment to indigenous cultures, the environment and spirituality is compelling. Go and know more about her - google her name, check out her youtube videos, listen to her music in iTunes, learn more about the Filipino and be proud of the Filipino artist.
* This was written for and published in the July 2012 issue of Pinoy Times.