At last year's Penang World Music festival I had the opportunity to talk to Grace Nono, a most versatile singer, researcher and writer from the southern Philippines. After the event she sent me a copy of her first major publication, The Shared Voice (Anvil Publishing, Philippines), and I enjoyed reading it immensely. The book is about 10 traditional chanters, whom she terms "oralists", and Nono's 15-year journey to find her "own" voice.
She recently completed her course work for a doctoral degree in ethnomusicology at New York University and has just published another fascinating book entitled Song of the Babaylan: Living Voices, Medicines, Spiritualities of Philippine Ritualist-Oralist-Healers (Institute of Spirituality in Asia, Philippines, 2013). Her previous book was based on work she did for her master's degree, while much of this new book has come from research done for her doctorate.
Song of the Babaylan is a detailed report and re-evaluation of the role of traditional healers called babaylan. Nono begins the book with her journey of discovery, from her early desire to become a priest (an ambition of which she was quickly disabused; the priesthood isn't an option for Catholic girls), to her dissatisfaction with a tertiary education system that did not tell her anything about her own people or the indigenous traditions that were marginalised by colonial powers who dominated the Philippines for centuries. While she was studying at a university in the Philippines, she made a trip during which she first heard a traditional oralist perform for the first time; it was a life-changing experience that led her to drop her previous attachment to rock- and blues-style singing and develop her skills as a chanter and oralist. (Since she had to learn these traditions as an adult, partly from some recently rediscovered matrilineal relatives, she refers to herself as a "secondary oralist".)
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