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The Mebuyan Peace Project

l-r: Gauss Obenza, Sheila Labos, July Onas, Geejay Arriola,
Kaikai Lamanilao, Gina Suelto; photo courtesy Musika del Sur TV coverage

The Mebuyan Peace Project (MPP), an all-women music and theatre group based in Davao City, Philippines, is a dynamic composition of musicians, singers, and dancers who bring their artistic skills from various musical, theatrical and personal backgrounds. The group came together formally in 2001. The founding visionaries struck out for the future driven by three pillars of intent: First, to have the power to make artistic decisions in the fields of music and theatre as directors, choreographers, production and tech designers; second, to come together to nurture their creative skills and expand their artistic sights; and lastly, to spread peace through women's (and children's) stories.

Although attempts at setting up an all-women music and theatre group started in the early 90s with all the members coming from Kaliwat Theater Collective led by Mindanao theater guru Nestor Horfilla, the concept blossomed into what is now MPP soon after Geejay Arriola, Lyndee Prieto, Gauss Obenza and Malou Tiangco attended a workshop by the Tracking Project in Davao. The Tracking Project is a non-profit organization led by John Stokes based in Corrales, New Mexico, which provides workshops that "connect individuals directly to the natural world." The workshop by the Tracking Project provided basic tracking skills, firemaking, storytelling, dream-sharing, music, dance and natural movement training. Spiritually inspired and artistically driven, the foursome gathered more women from various theater and musical backgrounds. A year later (2002), the group broke ground with the dance musical "Panaw."

l-r: Kaikai Lamanilao and Nona Botohan rehearsing for "Panaw";
photo by Gauss Obenza

"Panaw," (Journey) co-written by Malou and Geejay, directed by the latter and choreographed by Agnes Locsin (former Artistic Director of Ballet Philippines) wowed audiences in India at the Asian Women Directors' Festival and Conference in January 2003. "Panaw" was hailed as "one of the best plays" at the conference organized by the National School of Drama, Natarang Pratishthan, and the Indian Council for Cultural Relations.

Theater critic, Wahengbam Tiken of The Manipur Mail, India wrote:

The musical presence is so powerful that there are moments when one almost felt as if the whole auditorium is enveloped in musical notes...As the chant of "...deyin de..." rant the auditorium signaling the end the spectators didn't quite leave their seats as if they haven't quite had their fill of the "spectacle."

l-r: Gauss Obenza, Bayang Barrios, Geejay Arriola;
photo courtesy of National School of Drama, New Delhi

Also from dancinsider.com's Flash Review Dispatch, author Maura Nguyen Donohue had only praises for Mebuyan Peace Project. She wrote:

The ensemble of six women uses rousing music employing indigenous vocal and instrumental techniques and Mindanaoan inspired dance to transport the viewers into a truly visceral response. My response was so physical I can still only describe it as an encompassing rush of homesickness for an unknown place.

"Panaw" also represented Mindanao in the Asian Women's Festival of the Arts in Manila organized by the Philippine Educational Theatre Association (PETA) in March 2003.

After "Panaw," some members of MPP co-founded EarthMusic Foundation, which produced, mounted, performed and toured "Salima," (name of a child, meaning, enlightenment) the long-running concert theater production about war, peace, and evacuation in Mindanao written by Arnel Mardoquio and with music composed by various Davao musicians. "Salima" was concocted during the "Musikalinaw" peace concert organized by Gauss and Lyndee after the attack of Iran by the U.S. and the bombing of parts of Central Mindanao by [Philippine] government soldiers in February 2003. The concert gathered Davao musicians to call for peace in Mindanao and global peace.

l-r: Maan Chua, Geejay Arriola, Gauss obenza, Kristy Lim, Maree Contaoi

MPP's major 2006 opus was its musical composition for "Uwahig" (Water) a dance theatre suite written by Steven Patrick Fernandez and produced by MINDULANI for the International Theatre Institute Congress in May 2006 in Manila. Playwright Fernandez in his piece "Uncovering 'Uwahig'" for the Philippine Daily Inquirer wrote:

Music-atonal, multi-rhythmic and idiosyncratic, keeping the 'tribal' character of Mindanao-was composed long-distance by Geejay and her Mebuyan group, with nary a music sheet to base the work on except for my flimsy scenario. But by strokes of artistic ingenuity, the music snugly fit into parts of the scenario.

MPP is also immersed in a CD recording project to produce the soundtracks of "Panaw" and "Salima" (with EarthMusic Foundation) and "Kuwentong Bata," songs written in preparation for its concert tour of schools with Bantay Bata 163 in Davao City for 2007. The group's future productions include an original drama-comedy entitled "June Brides" scheduled for production in June 2007; and they will compose the music for, and perform in, the rock opera "Jesi: Ang Kristo sa Bagong Panahon" by Arnel Mardoquio for 2008.

l-r: Maya Tampoy, Gauss Obenza, Geejay Arriola;
photo courtesy of Musika del Sur TV coverage

The motley members of Mebuyan Peace Project is led by its Chairperson Lyndee Prieto, a peace and development worker. Geejay Arriola, MPP's artistic director is also a development worker and ICT (information and communications technology) specialist. Gauss Obenza, a math graduate turned folk singer and jazz singer is MPP's music director. Bayang Barrios, the powerful voice singing alongside icon Joey Ayala during the musical zenith of Bagong Lumad, has struck out on her own and carved a name for herself. Maree Contaoi taught fine arts and played drums before she decided to pick up the guitar and hit the djembe and cajon. Maan Chua was singing Alanis Morisette and Cranberries with her own guitar at 14 and then studied nursing. Maya Tampoy learned to play the keyboard when she was 9 and started hitting pop tunes when she was 12. Sheila Labos was a former health worker who turned theatre artist. Kaikai Lamanilao, a theatre performer, trained under Japanese lights master Naomi Matsumoto and is now one of the most sought after lights directors in Davao. Donna Celebrado, a percussionist, currently works in indigenous people's education. The elders in the group are Ditz Villas, now a UCCP pastor in Dumaguete City, and Malou Tiangco, who has done cultural work for more than three decades and teaches social work in Davao. Other active members include dancers-movers-percussionists July Onas, Kristy Lim, Dotai Aquino, Nona Botohan and Gina Suelto. Aileen Fermalino is Production Manager, and Linda Montañez provides legal and financial wisdom. On-call musicians include Lablab Gomez who plays bass and Joy Herrero, who plays lead and bass.

l-r: Maan Chua, Kaikai Lamanilao, Maree Contaoi, Kristy Lim, Dotai Aquino, Sheila Labos, Donna Celebrado;
photo courtesy of Mindanao Commission on Women

The women artists play various indigenous and western instruments, including the kulintang (8 gongs), agong (gong), kubing (bamboo jew's harp), djembe, cajon, an assortment of wooden and brass bells and chimes, wooden and bamboo percussion instruments, guitars, bass, and keyboard. Their music is a merry mix of various genre including folk, reggae, R&B, pop, world, and new age, although friends have insisted their music is difficult to describe and put into categories.

MPP is currently raising funds for a concert-cum-workshop tour of California, U.S.A. in March 2007. The US trip is a collaborative endeavor between MPP and California-based dancers of the Alleluia Panis Dance Theater (APDT).

More information about MPP and downloadable photos and music are at http://www.mebuyanpeaceproject.ph

< Download music from "Uwahig" to listen to
Mebuyan Peace Project (4 mb)

< Download music from "Panaw" (3.8 mb) >

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