Three years ago, Croatian-Australian DJ Miro Grgic was restless. A director of entertainment job with a five-star hotel had brought him to Manila, but he could no longer deny the vision of organizing his own music festival.
Much earlier, in 1977, Hubert d’Aboville first visited the Philippines and fell in love with the country, and with Puerto Galera in particular. In the 36 years since, apart from resettling to the country and raising a family, d’Aboville has headed several organizations benefitting the business and tourism of his adopted country.
A meeting of visions
The Malasimbo Music and Arts Festival is where their visions intersect.
The two met through d’Aboville’s daughter, Olivia, whom Grgic met in Paris while she was studying textile design at the Ecole Supérieure des Arts Appliqués Duperré. By the time Miro was working in Manila, the idea had already percolated in their minds: Miro had the music, sound engineering, and production management experience in international musical events; d’Aboville had the local connections in business, non-profits, and government, and property on Mindoro’s Mount Malasimbo.
International bookings, local art
This vision took shape as a festival of soul and roots music—organic sounds to match the mountain’s grass amphitheater—that would be the next destination musical event.
Much like Singapore’s Laneway and Mosaic music festivals, it would draw both local and foreign tourists to Puerto Galera, already a tourist destination, but not usually associated with events like this, unlike Metro Manila, Cebu, or Davao.
So they went to work.
Miro established Volume Unit Entertainment, the company that books the performers and suppliers, arranges the logistics and setup, and promotes the festival in the media.
The d’Aboville Foundation, on the other hand, sees to the sustainable development and preservation the local Mangyan tribes and the reforestation of Mount Malasimbo, partly through the festival’s proceeds.
This is likewise supported by Olivia d’Aboville’s art exhibit, which she curates, featuring the work of local artists side-by-side with indigenous handicrafts. The exhibit has so far showcased work from artists like Kawayan de Guia, Risa Recio, Niccolo Jose, Agnes Arellano, Nikki Luna, and Billy Bonnevie, and d’Aboville’s own work.
The learning curve
It has been three years since the first Malasimbo Festival, and the organizers’ learning curve has been steep.
On its first year, the festival’s ticket sales were around 1,500 tickets, which doubled in the second year. This unexpected—though welcome—development led to another equally good problem to have: the beverages sold out. Pre-event ticket sales hardly predict the number of actual attendees, making it equally difficult to estimate the quantities of food and beverage needed; Miro says that the majority of ticket sales are same-day purchases.
Moreover, many prospective event backers are very cautious in lending their support for the festival, despite the support given by Mindoro’s local government and the Department of Tourism to the d’Aboville Foundation. For the 2013 festival, for example, the backers joined only after Malasimbo was able to sign soul singer Joss Stone, who fortunately is also touring to promote her latest single early this year, along with reggae legend Jimmy Cliff.
Into the future
In addition to Jimmy Cliff and Joss Stone, the Malasimbo Festival 2013 includes performances by Freddie Joachim, the Grace Nono-Bob Aves Group, Quest, Jeck Pilpil + Peacepipe, Bambu Spliff, Similar Objects, the Mar Dizon Quartet, Flippin’ Soul Stompers, Yolanda Moon, the Blue Rats, Ivan Theory, Jaziglaba, Late Sessions II, DJ TO-RU, Gavin Boyd, Kristian Hernandez, Erwin Edralin, Ms Badkiss, Supreme Fist, Mark Zero, and Miro himself.
Through all these challenges, the Malasimbo Festival still manages to tap into a growing environmental awareness among tourists and festival-goers. It defies the monotonous mainstream by carving out its own niche: earthy, elemental music set in an organic venue.