In Pursuit of Freedom and Escape at Malasimbo 2017

By Lex Celera. Photos by Tristan Tamayo

Escape was what I was after. Escape from the routines of the commute, escape from the trivialities of four walls and a cubicle, and an escape from myself. Fueled by stories and rumors of Malasimbo, that’s all I had wanted to do: run away, albeit just for the weekend.

I brought with me two bags with clothes, a lighter, and all sorts of toiletries and other miscellany I could stuff in the many different pockets of my luggage. Other than that I just had the clothes on my back and a few wads of cash. I had no sleep.

There, the festival begins in the afternoon and ends in the early morning. Wide awake in the mornings I would go to the beach with my newfound friends. The rumors were true, at least the rumors that I had heard: the venue was a rolling grasslands and the people were all smiles. It was a happy place carrying a sense of freedom that I may not find in the city, and that I wanted to feel so bad.

I’m not good with remembering specific details, only memories of moments that make sense in my head. In Malasimbo it was like that. I remember dancing, half-stumbling down a hill to catch a certain performance. I remember standing in front of a speaker to feel the music on my palms. I remember taking a nap below a coconut tree.

All the performances I witnessed were great, but what sticks to my mind are these performances: Jack Pilpil and Peacepipe caught all of us in a daze with the sound of reggae. No Rome’s set was a real treat, and I wish him all the best with his future endeavors out in London. Hearing June Marieezy for the first time was a real treat, and to know that it would be her last time to perform under that name made it more special, and also a little sad.

There were two distinct times I felt shivers up in my spine: during Skarm’s set and the tail-end of Tennyson’s. Hearing someone’s music for the first time is a much more rewarding experience when they perform it to you live.

In Malasimbo, I felt like the air of freedom I craved for so much was only but secondhand breath. Sometimes I felt like an intruder disturbing the peace of the locals. I felt like I was a tourist to my own country. But is that really surprising considering the experiences found here are so much different from my own?

There was only one sobering moment that occurred during the third day I was there. I remember very clearly someone, Manu Schulz, an expert on tamaraws in Mindoro, telling me and others in the audience about the history of Mindoro, how geologically it was different from the rest of the Philippines. The land of Mindoro originally came from Taiwan. It has a very different history, he tells us.

“Mindoro is very special because as it was in the 18th, 19th century, totally forested, almost nobody was living here. It was a wild place. It was a place for people to escape from the Spanish, Muslim, and Chinese. They ended up in Mindoro to escape slavery. That’s why the Mangyan tribes escaped to Mindoro. To remain free.”

“The last free men of earth,” he called them. “Because these guys don’t need anyone else. They manage by themselves. They decided to not be part of lowland society. They have many things of knowledge that we don’t value.”

More than a getaway, Malasimbo was a gentle reminder, a tap on the shoulder, a casual nod: the world is so much bigger than we can imagine. We do not know everything.

This affixation with the beauty of the rural and the untouched is almost always distanced with the burden of keeping it that way that the locals carry on their shoulders. Individual freedom means nothing. Perhaps, it isn’t attained just because we want to, and escape doesn’t fully realize itself except as an afterthought, which is the easiest kind of wisdom.

I was too keen on preoccupied with being in the moment, with trying to pursue a weekend I could never forget, that I never truly appreciated what was in front of me. It was only in coming back from the warm idyllic white sand and cold beer beach of White Beach in Puerto Galera did I appreciate the beauty of my comforts, what we call the megacity which is Metro Manila. I’m still tired. But I feel a little bit better.