Waway Linsashay Saway: Music from Beyond the Clouds

Talaandig Tribe (Mindanao)

The Talaandig Tribe is comprised of some 10,000 people. Their home is deep in the heart of the mountainous, easternmost Philippine island of Mindanao. Waway Saway is a man committed to keeping the traditions of this sometimes troubled-island alive, a tribal musician, artist and co-founder of the Enigmata Culture and Art Centre in Camiguin.

"I would like to help our original culture to re-emerge, help people to understand who they are and what they were."

He persuades me that the right place to conduct this interview is in a tree hut, some fifteen or so metres above ground, a place built for creativity and contemplation. As bars of sunlight stream through bamboo walls, he looks relaxed playing his two stringed, Katyapi, an instrument handed down to him by his father who created the instrument. Often he journeys to Manilla to perform with other distinguished musicians and singers, including Grace Nono, another Mindanao artist whose musical style is also deeply steeped in the culture and rhythms of the Philippines.

Article/Interview: Gary Hurlstone

His Talaandig Tribe musicians include his son, RJ Saway, in his twenties and

already a distinguished songwriter and guitar player, with considerable technical ability. Other musicians include, Balingto Necosis (drums, percussion), Raal Bendit (drums, shaker, rainstick and flute), Soliman Poonon (drums and bamboo percussion), Sultan Cruz (flute and drums), and Ashiong Asio (bass guitar and drums).

Q: So what drives you to work so hard to maintain your musical heritage?

SW: I’m trying to create a musical narrative to help people appreciate and understand the indigenous music of the area, to help keep it alive, vibrant and most importantly, to have it performed. I want to help young people to widen their consciousness in music. I believe that if mainstream commercial music and art is allowed to dictate, then people here will lose their tribal ancestry. The soul of the people will be subsumed in the global, mass produced homogenous sounds of the radio and TV.

Q: What do you think music can do for people? What are you trying to say to them?

SW: Music binds people. Even the bad people listen, they cannot escape. We want to make peaceful music, germinate the kind of music that visits the most silent corner of the heart. People tend to hide, they don’t reveal. We hope to make music that communicates with them, help them to appreciate the magic of the melody. Music helps you to relax, dance, but it can also disturb you. Playing the music of our tribe helps them to see other ways of expression.

Q: But isn’t this quite a sophisticated process, getting someone to interpret music in a way that it ‘speaks’ to them and evokes some kind of emotional response?

SW: It does not have to be difficult, it can start with a few notes. Music can be heard in the movement of a river. Simple things like this can help people to appreciate the beautiful things around them, a natural harmony expressed through the sound of water. The sound of the flute is used to express sadness, the notes sound sad and thus help to release sadness by association. The traditional musician takes inspiration from the sounds of birds, animals-the traditional style interprets these sounds which provide inspiration for music and art. I take this approach, but I have listened to many other genres as well, jazz, blues, rock and this also impacts upon the way I play and write songs.

Q: Is song-writing a consuming passion for you?

SW: When I write songs I re-evaluate my musical statement many times. It’s not a rush. Commercial music is sometimes rushed, readied for fans. I don’t have fans as such. My songs might take years to perfect. I rely on my feelings to decide when things are right., when something is complete. For me the most important thing is to, hear when things are right. Melodies and lyrics are like the furrows of the plough, the clouds moving across the contours of the hills and valleys, it takes time.

Q: These themes reoccur in your paintings as well, earthy colours, pastoral themes, history. You seem to have a unique way of expressing the zeitgeist whilst interpreting your past.

SW: Our tribal artworks are produced using colours mixed from soil, the ochre, russet and yellow of clays, the very soil which supports our community and the colours which bond our lives. I started to teach young people how to make these paintings in 1996. Art is an important tool in every human’s development. Young people hope to be recognised, identified through their work, they sign their names in spray paint on walls in the cities. Young people here sometimes feel inferior when they go to visit the cities. They don’t have nice clothes. Art is a powerful tool to build their confidence, they write their names on their work. If people like their work they don’t care about nice clothes, they see your soul instead, recognise your ability. This makes our young people feel as though they belong. Art is magic!

Q: So what would you like to be your legacy?

SW: My mission, my legacy? I want our art and music to be recognised. I would like our people to be able to be economically more independent, to prosper. I would like to help our original culture to re-emerge, help people to understand who they are and what they were. This is not about wholesale rejection but about re-birth of our own past, its glory and expression. I would like a window into the world for us, a window that would allow us to trade and share some of the wealth.


Waway Linsashay Saway has produced several albums including Sona: River Cloud and Images from the Earth, languid, evocative, fragile and starkly beautiful pieces. He has played the Smithsonian Festival (Folklife Festival) in Washington DC, in the Netherlands and Belgium (to showcase Philippine culture), and in Singapore (with Grace Nono). Live a Talaandig performance brings together the driving percussive sounds that link them with their past― joyous

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