‘Folk Week’ kicks off with Rondalla concert

IT was “Folk Week” at the National Library of Australia, said senior staffer Kevin Bradley as he introduced the annual folklore concert preceding the National Folk Festival, which kicks off tonight.

It was also, he told those present at the lunchtime concert, the 24th such event put together by folklorist Rob Willis, who said he’d been “suck, sucking up energy from these people”—members of the visiting Darwin Rondalla (string) band.

Rondalla players, he said had from the outset interacted with local Larrakia people and the famous singer Seaman Dan was heavily influenced by this mix.

Canberra had its own Rondalla band too, Willis explained, but the initial movement came when Filipinos, and especially patriarch Antonio Cubillo, migrated to Darwin and brought the music there.

Notable in today’s black-hatted band of string players were two of his descendants, Donny and Brenda, celebrating a lifetime of music for members of the extended family, who, band member Donny Cubillo explained, had learnt to play at an early age, both at home and in church.

Early colonial Darwin, the library says, sported the usual array of musical societies, choral groups and even a brass band but by included the Manila String Band, Thursday Island String Band, the Darwin String Band and Joe Ponce Band, mentioned in the novel “Capricornia” by Xavier Herbert.

The Darwin Rondalla group at the NLA

Current band member Gaybe Hazelbane played with his uncles as a teenager until the Bombing of Darwin, in 1942, put a temporary end to the musical fun. But Rondalla resurfaced in the 1990s and the group on show, now directed by Felino Molina, is going strong.

On hand was senior musician Bong Ramilo, who told how he had collaborated with playwright Gary Lee in the 1990s to stage the play “Keep Him My Heart: A Larrakia-Filipino Love Story”. He met Lee by accident at Australia Council, which eventually funded the project, for which Ramilo sourced the music.

Molina introduced the audience to a range of typical songs and dances and Willis was soon up on the floor being taught the “Shake Hand Dance” (otherwise known as the Filipino Barn Dance) by band member Brenda Cubillo.

But Rondalla musos typically replenish their stock, so along with traditional Filipino numbers, we also heard Santana’s “Black Magic Woman”, almost unrecognisable in the Rondalla style, a hula dance, “Never on Sunday” and a Beatles medley.

The Rondalla concert was part of the Australian Folklore Conference running at the NLA, and the band will be seen playing at the Folk Festival, over the Easter weekend.

THE National Folk Festival, Exhibition Park in Canberra, March 29 to April 2. Bookings and program details to folkfestival.org.au or tickets at the gate.

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