After some years in college and pandemic isolation, I knew that my eventual return to the world of music performance would be different. I wanted to incorporate the full extent of my skills and ideas as a designer, visual artist, and filmmaker. This is the impetus behind the multimedia shows I have been doing so far this year.
Last Saturday night, I mounted my second multimedia show of 2023 for an enthusiastic audience of over sixty people. For this latest round, I gave it the name that it needed to inhabit, replaced a few visuals, added newer songs and covers, and incorporated a dramatic opening Filipino folk dance.
Ancestral Tongue will be an evolving and shape-shifting work of performance art. As it currently stands, there are elements of storytelling, live music, film, photography, and dance. With each new performance, I will be enhancing what is already in place and changing various elements along the way. It will delve deeper into the themes of colonialism, immigration, queer and trans liberation, heartbreak and longing, relationships (familial and otherwise), defiance, and a smattering of whimsy (dancing pianos and a magical giraffe for the win).
This show featured a guitarist, drummer, a mandolin player, and two dancers, in addition to my main vocals and keyboard work. We performed a total of twelve songs in the set. I sang three ballads. Two of them were solo on my keyboard, and the final one I sang accompanied by MaxZine on mandolin (with my lively instrumental on the organ). All but two songs were originals of mine. I covered Fiona Apple’s Never Is a Promise and Bruno Mars’s When I Was Your Man.
Five film vignettes were used in this production, and a lot of my photography was featured in the mix. These were all displayed on a large TV screen that carried its own audio.
Here is a shot of the stage just before the evening’s show. (In the daytime, you do not see the lighting design I created. Backlighting, along with white and red accent lights along the front created a vibrant framework for all the lush greenery.)
Since the show happened in my home, I was able to utilize our full collection of indoor tropical plants. Our large, vintage area rug defined the stage and the extremely high ceilings accommodated a full drum kit.
Guitarist Andrew Weitze, drummer Joe Allen, and I have diligently worked on the music across several rehearsals by now, and we have become much more fluent in this beat-driven, synergistic language we have been learning. MaxZine, despite a demanding schedule of his own, has composed lovely accents on the mandolin that add more color to the songs.
My friend Spiky played three songs in his opening set that showcased his sweet tenor voice and his mighty ukulele. Without any amplification, he managed to ground the space and the audience with his graceful performance.
I spent a whole month leading up to the show preparing a little of everything. Just a week before, over half of our octagon-shaped performance space was given a fresh coat of paint with the use of scaffolding and endless reams of protective tape to preserve the new window trim our friend Leopard had installed. Windows were cleaned. Furniture was rearranged, and a big yellow truck was borrowed to haul away a few large items we did not need anymore.
I oversaw the costumes for the dancers Kubby and Bashi, including my own. I wore a gorgeous barong that my mom got for me from the Philippines that had sparkly gold highlights along its chest panels, collar, and back. It was paired with wide-leg, gold-colored pants and a blue fabric wrapped around the waist. The goal for the evening’s look was to be bold, regal, and elegant.
My friend Dami corralled my hair into a lovely French braid, and some simple makeup was applied to our faces to highlight the eyes and lips.
Overall, this show walks on the coastline between being soft and intimate and raucous and rocking. I am trying to find a balance between my authentic gentle self and the bold showmanship that a show of this caliber demands (and that I am capable of). I understand that one show cannot be everything all at once, but it can have glimmers of variation, highs, lows, intimacy, and audacity. I am certainly not going to hold back from pursuing this fullness.
Ancestral Tongue aims to embody the entirety of life—its intergenerational struggles against trauma and oppression and life’s capacity to embody so much beauty, joy, and richness. The show’s next outing happens on June 2nd at a large private event in front of a crowd of wonderful people.
With each new iteration, it will become itself more fully. It will grow stronger limbs, longer hair, and a glowing smile, with its heart beating ever louder to its own pulsing rhythm.
All photos by Roqué Marcelo except where noted.
A barong is a collared shirt made of high-quality fabric that is typically worn by men as formal attire in the Philippines.
Special thanks to my Mom for acquiring this amazing barong from the Philippines for me to perform in. I genuinely felt confident and beautiful as I wore it on stage.
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I really enjoyed reading about the experience. I had a rescue mission to Memphis to get my sister 🧚🏾 Otherwise I would have been there!
That's wonderful, Roque. Congratulations!