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Interview with Kokoy Severino of kayumanggi (Pinoy rock band)

By Howie Severino
Pasig City, Philippines

Howie: Did you have any influences from the Philippine music scene, and who/what were they?

Kokoy: We have been significantly influenced by the Philippine music scene. The work of Joey Ayala has both inspired and enlightened us, as far back as during the peak of the Presidents' creative energy in the early 1990's, Joey Ayala showed us that Filipino traditional musical motifs can be successfully weaved with outside cultural elements. Asin has also been quite significant. Of course, every Pinoy rocker has to have been influenced by the Juan de la Cruz Band, Freddie Aguilar, Sampaguita. Not to mention Apo Hiking Society, Rico J. Puno, Hot Dog, Cinderella, and Yoyoy Villame.

Howie: How would you classify your music -- ethnic rock?

Kokoy: We leave the duty of classifying to record-store managers and their teams of clerks, with whom the responsibility of musical classification has been entrusted.

In the United States, we would venture to guess that they would put the kayumanggi compact disc in the "world beat" section. The more knowledgeable stores here would even place a "Philippines" sub-sub-section in their "Asian" sub-section.

A "Philippines" section in your local record store is virtually non-existent in the United States, however. The only such store I have ever encountered with a section specifically labeled as "Philippines" is the Topping and Company revolutionary bookstore on National Avenue in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Among the numerous vinyl recordings of Bayanihan traditional dance music Mr. Topping has placed in the Philippines section are various 1970's publications by Filipino left-wing figures and years-old newspaper clippings. Two years ago, I found there the January 5, 1987 Time magazine issue with Cory Aquino on the cover as Woman of the Year and the album Philippines: BANGON! ARISE! Songs of the Philippine National Democratic Struggle, released in 1976 by Paredon Records based in Brooklyn, New York. According to the insert, the recording is a "joint project of the Revolutionary Workers from the Preparatory Commission for the National Democratic Front (Phil.) and the Union of Democratic Filipinos (KDP)." Topping and Company is on top of the kayumanggi list of retail outlets to distribute product to.

Howie: Do other Filipino or Fil-Am musicians in the U.S. convey images of the Philippines and/or their sense of cultural displacement in their music?

Kokoy: I cannot speak for other Filipino musicians in the United States. I can speak only for my own experiences with the Filipino artists I have had the honor of working with. It seems that in much of their work, musical and otherwise, our culture of origin is at least a major element, if not the central focus.

For example, in the compositions of Eugene Jaceldo of East Babylon Symphony, based in Austin, Texas, the collision of diverse cultural conventions is driven by Philippine traditional instruments often providing the rhythmic framework in and through which the different cultures intermingle. (Contact East Babylon Symphony at

In the films of the Eclarinal brothers, Rommel and Oliver, Philippine cultural imagery abounds. In "Joe In Ecuador", a recent work written and directed by Rommel and shot by Oliver in Houston, Texas, I play the character of Heavy, a Filipino tough guy with a strong Tagalog accent going about trying to find the loser who stole my money. In one scene, I am on the cell phone discussing the balikbayan box and its contents which I have just sent to family back in the Philippines. I also use a lot of Tagalog profanity. (Contact Rommel Eclarinal at and Oliver Eclarinal at

From kayumanggi's November 1999 cyber-release:
Swee Sekhon of Berlin, Germany sent Kokoy this question: How do you manage to combine your teaching job and your music?

Kokoy: Interesting question. I've been a teacher for a total of 12 years now, and for ten of those years, I've also been a musician. In retrospect, it has not been easy, and the experience has honed my skills in time management. I've had to plan way in advance, at least a couple of months.

But really, planning is the only part that has proven to be difficult, as I consider my teaching and my music to be components of the same movement. As a human being, my mission is to increase cross-cultural understanding and in so doing, I hope to contribute to the development of a more compassionate society. Teaching is one of the tools with which I work towards this goal. Music is another, and indeed so are my writing and soccer coaching. The vision is the same; the only things that vary are the medium and the audience.

Kayumanggi, a Houston band with a Philippine-centric rock sound, is a manifestation of the search for Filipino cultural identity. Their e.p. "nagsilipat ang lahat sa Amerika" ("everyone has moved to America") on compact disc presents Philippine traditional instrumentation in the context of a diverse multicultural world with a modern Pinoy rock format in five compositions and two spoken word pieces, all original and in Tagalog (English translations provided with c.d.).

As members of the Presidents of Crucial World Rhythms, Filipino musicians Ted Jaceldo, Oliver Eclarinal and Kokoy Severino helped to spearhead the world beat movement in Texas from 1988 to 1993, taking their message through the southwestern United States and as far north as Michigan. Born in the Philippines, Ted, Oliver and Kokoy emigrated to the United States traversing diverse paths. Through meditation upon their own artistic identities, they have rediscovered their culture of origin at its heart, the diversity of their global home enriching their musical expression.

Kayumanggi's lyrics address issues crucial in this search for a Filipino identity, such as the painful longing for the homeland, the political violence that permeates Philippine society, and the enigma of nationalism. Inserted among the tracks are several candid recordings Kokoy made of sounds in his surroundings while travelling around Manila and the Philippine countryside in 1996 to accompany the visual imagery of some of the photographs he took there.

There will be a record release party for kayumanggi's "nagsilipat ang lahat sa Amerika" on January 29, 2000 at Magnolia Park Design Studio, 719 E. 11th Street in the Heights. Call (713) 861-2330 for information.

Email any questions or comments to kayumanggi at

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