“Pantayo was born out of a necessity to learn about our roots,” says Katrina Estacio, one of the founding members of the all-women, Filipina music collective – whose eponymous debut album was just recently short-listed, on July 15, among the 10 finalists vying for the 2020 Polaris Music Prize.

Pantayo, which means “for us” in Tagalog, formed from kulintang workshops in late 2011. Traditionally played by Indigenous groups in the southern Philippines, the kulintang is a percussive instrument made up of a rack of knobbed gongs that are hit with wooden mallets.

The songs that they learned in the workshops eventually became the basis for the tracks of their album, which mixes kulintang instrumentation with modern pop, R&B, punk, and electronica. The group – comprised of Estacio, Eirene Cloma, Michelle Cruz, Jo Delos Reyes, and Kat Estacio – worked on the album from 2016 to 2019, de-constructing and re-building songs by playing with various components like raw gong hits, textured vocals, and layered samples.
“We would jam for hours to find a groove,” says vocalist Cloma, who also plays keyboards and bass. “I love re-visiting early versions of songs and hearing how our sound changed, and how we became more confident as performers as we grew closer as a band.”

While workshopping songs, the band recruited Yamantaka//Sonic Titan’s alaska b to produce the record; she also guided the group in recording, arranging, and mixing.

The resulting album’s influences are diverse and vast: the pulsing “Heto Na” riffs on OPM (Original Pilipino Music) disco songs from the 1970s, while the vocals for the ballad “Divine” were influenced by Blue Rodeo’s “Try” and kd lang’s “Save Me,” songs that Cloma loved in her childhood.

Yet each song remains grounded in kulintang music from the perspective of the FilipinX diaspora.

“The Philippines has been colonized by the Spaniards, Americans and Japanese. One of the results of colonialism is erasure of culture,” says Cruz. “We’re privileged to be able to play, learn, and share our version of kulintang music. I’m happy the traditions live on.”