First of two parts
“I would rather be stricken blind, than to live without expression of mind.” – Tupac Shakur
One of the songs that Kokoi Baldo wrote was of his existential musings about his – and humanity’s – role in the universe which he composed when he decided on a pre-gig trip and went skimboarding in one of the beaches of Panay.
It was a scene straight from a romanticized White Man’s view of the Pacific: White dude goes to an island to surf, meets locals, befriends native children, and keeps his abs while subsisting on nothing but coconuts. Kokoi’s experience is more grounded, however.
No hammocks between palm trees for him; he slept on a jacket-cushioned skimboard, and woke up the next morning to see young children ogling at his dreads and tattoos. Later, he would hitch a ride home, to come back to fellow artists to perform but that side trip was absorbed in his subconsciousness, nay, his being, that the experience became the bedrock for his song, Panugod.
“Art will continue to exist; it just needs a little push.”
Jae Espino of 13th Parea Deep Talks with reggae demi-god Kokoi Baldo, who is as compelling to watch live as he is on screen, he who can make symphonious music out of guttural syllables. With them is DNX Executive Editor Julius Mariveles as they talk of art that inspires, of existentialism, of freedom and introspection. And pan de coco (pancho)bread.
From whence comes great art? The question was posed by Julius as they discuss about the malleability and subjectivity of people’s experience, and the audience’ vicarious experiences that would make them feel that the artist is a kindred soul.
Good times, bad times
What inspires artists to create an aesthetic piece that could disturb, inspire, shock?
Pearl Jam’s Jeremy was inspired by a piece of news that Eddie Vedder read that day about a young boy who shot himself in front of the whole class. Red Hot Chili Peppers’ song Under the Bridge speaks of the loneliness of Anthony Keidis as he feels more and more isolated from the band. Would Brick even exist if Ben Folds’ girlfriend didn’t have an abortion in high school?
Tibaks would have to find another anthem to rally behind if there’s no Tatsulok, the anti-establishment rant of Noel Cabangon. And what kind of world would it be if Stephen King is not afraid of the dark?
Artists have what we call hugots, the emotional well-spring where inspiration gets pulled out (thus the term hugot).
For some, it’s their imaginations, their fantasies, their thoughts. For Kokoi Baldo, it is his experiences. If a song requires him to feel homeless and hopeless, all that Kokoi has to do is tap his memories at 13-year-old and channel what he felt then when he was a homeless pedicab driver, with his pedicab doubling as his home.
Yup. Kokoi has been as low as low can get. But the man has no regrets. Both the highs and the lows in his life had contributed to what he is now, he muses.
“It has kept me grounded,” he says, “my head might be high up in the clouds, but what is important is my feet are firmly on the ground.”
In fact, simple things keep him happy: a chance to sing, to talk, and eat a plate of pancho bread.
Kokoi has had a taste of the good life.
The year was 2014, when he gave a rousing rendition of Matisyahu’s One Day, earning turns from all four of the judges.
He must have been quite a sight to behold: dreadlocked, tattooed, towering over all other contestants. And he was barefoot. It could have been a shtick, that barefoot thing, but Kokoi tells DNX it’s more than a shtick: it is a tribute to foot-shaped Negros Island, and when he performs unshod, he feels a psychic connection to his home island.
Which is why, despite his success, he still comes back home.
Kokoi swears his music has done a lot for him: he was able to have a family, build his own home, go to places that he only sees in pictures.
Until tragedy struck. And gig after gig started dwindling until Kokoi himself has to resort to selling chorizo.
It is a mark of the man’s humility that he would not consider doing something that a lot of others with his success would consider utterly degrading.
“That’s the thing about Kokoi,” Jae concurs, “he is so grounded, he doesn’t mind selling chorizo to get by.” Head on the clouds, but feet firmly on terra firma.
For those about to rock, we salute you
Growing up in a small village known for its illegal drug trade has helped Kokoi develop that thick skin, that resilience, that cat-like ability to land on his feet after falling.
But not everybody has that resilience.
This is something that Jae tacitly observes as he and like-minded individuals – specifically Headrush’s Ryan Saez – organize Buhat Paglaum, a digital concert that will make sure that music mavens will continue rockin’ the stage.
“I don’t think that the music scene is ever going to go back to what it once was,” Jae says.
Which is why Buhat Paglaum, a digital concert-cum-fundraiser directed by Juno Oebanda, exists to begin with. It is platform for artists deprived of their platform because of the pandemic.
Buhat Paglaum is, more than just providing and avenue for established acts, an opportunity for the next Kokoi Baldo, those whose drumsticks were prematurely set aside, whose mics were forced into retirement, whose music sheets had been gathering dust and cobwebs in that forgotten baul somewhere.
“This is an entirely new dimension,” Jae says. “If we have created a revolution, we certainly hope we have achieved what we have set out to do.”