Kathara Collective breathes new life into traditional songs of history, home, and community

Feb 27, 2023

With over 20 years of cross-cultural creativity and collaboration to its credit, and with the entirety of Turtle Island (known to some as ‘Canada’;) as its platform, Kathara is an artist collective comprised of musicians, dancers, actors, multimedia artists, storytellers and healers. The group is dedicated to centering the traditional and creative expressions of Pilipinos – people Indigenous to the archipelago named “The Philippines” by Spanish colonizers.

In 2019, the group received a Demo Recording grant from the inaugural cycle of the Vancouver Music Fund to record an original work: “Lupa ay Buhay”, an original piece composed by Elenita Boots Dumlao, Kathara’s founder. Acclaimed BC-based musician, composer, and music educator Russell Wallace served as the track’s producer.

A still from the “Lupa ay Buhay” music video shoot.

Three years after this initial project phase, this song has found new life through its subsequent adaptation into a music video. Made possible thanks to support from Vancouver Foundation, this new iteration of the work is helping to expose the song – and, Kathara, as a collective – to an even broader audience than before.

As Kathara co-founder and artistic director Babette Santos explains it, The song title translates to ‘Land is Life’, and speaks to the sense and awareness Pilipinos uphold in sharing ‘Kapwa’. This translates to a sense of collective understanding, wherever in the world they may find themselves as Indigenous or diasporic Pilipinos.”

As a collective, Kathara’s roots can be found in authentic cross-cultural collaboration and artistic exchange. The group champions Reconciliation, right relations, and global efforts to bring an end to colonialism. What began in 2002 as a cultural exchange between members of Kathara Davao Mindano (in the Philippines) and members of the Plipino diaspora living in Coast Salish Territory (Vancouver, BC), has grown into a thriving movement of individuals passionate about the promotion and protection of people, land and culture. In creating new artistic projects, the group draws inspiration from many disparate sources, including contemporary artists like Kimmortal, Davey Calderon, and Alvin Tolentino.

A still from the “Lupa ay Buhay” music video shoot.

Babette continues, Shared histories and journeys of self-discovery as diasporic people through music, dance, martial arts, and theatre are what continue to drive us in a variety of paths – from circles, ceremonies, cultural sharing, and community building, along with embodiment practices of remembrance and performance.

As with all things the Kathara collective undertakes, the decision to give “Lupa ay Buhay”, specifically, a new context for performance was deeply intentional.

Co-founder and musician JR Guerrero clarifies, Like watching a child grow and change, this song, and our collective, have been expressed through many hands and voices. Every relation, collaboration, expression, ritual, ceremony, and movement within our collective works and network, intend to build upon previously created containers for collaborative yet autonomous growth in community with Kapwa. This is a way of knowing that translates to seeing ourselves in others, including land, water, sky, and all beings.”

The group at a recent event in New Westminster, BC.

This new music video release marks the latest in a long line of meaningful initiatives from this group. Over the years, additional projects of Kathara’s that evoke special pride have included:

3rd Babaylan Conference co-hosts – bringing together community from across Turtle Island for a weekend of pre-colonial Pilipino spiritual and cultural exploration and celebration, Gulf Islands, 2016.

Dance collaborations in honour of MMIWG2S with Butterflies in Spirit and Lilian Howard, Winnipeg, 2017.

Kapwa Fest: The Art of Our Relations showcasing original works by Indigenous artists of Turtle Island, sa Pinas and diaspora, of many generations and intersections, Scotia Bank Theatre, 2018.

Banyan: An Intercultural Ceremonial Performance, Dance collaboration with SEACHS, Granville Island, 2019.

International Women’s Day at MOA ceremonial dance collaboration at Museum of Anthropology, 2020.

Traditional dance in honour of Elder Kat Norris, Grandview Park Vigil, 2022.

Kathara members at an event held at the now-closed Heartwood Cafe on East Broadway, in Vancouver, BC.

When asked to offer advice to others contemplating similar creative undertakings, Kathara member Emerald Asuncion’s response is simple.

Often, the projects youre most proud of are the ones that bring community together. Find your community.”

You can learn more about Kathara here.

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Photos courtesy of Rodrigo Caballero and Kathara Society.

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