By Pablo A. Tariman, VERA Files
ONE of the newsmakers in the recently concluded Cinemalaya film fest was musician Diwa de Leon who won the Best Original Music Score citation for Raymund Red's "Kamera Obscura."
The citation captured the essence of De Leon's unique musical endeavor: "music that evokes the time and culture of the past as a setting for man's journey through a society marked by pretense and deception in the struggle for power and ascendancy…"
The young awardee is indeed deeply rooted in his musical past as shown in his unique recording, "Memories of Two Strings," using an indigenous musical instrument called the hegalong which he considers the most melodic and an 'underdog.'
"The instrument is overshadowed by the tourism poster item that is the kulintang. But the hegalong (or kudyapi) can go toe to toe with India's sitar and Japan's shamisen in terms of musical versatility and appeal. That is the reason I created "The Hegalong Project" which is a lifetime series of musical pieces geared for the modern consciousness and which highlights it as a versatile melodic instrument," De Leon said.
The young musician is no stranger to awards as early as 2008 when he won Cinema One Originals Best Original Music for the film "Kolorete" directed by Ruelo Lozendo. Aside from the fact that it was his first ever solo film scoring project, it was made memorable by the confusion that resulted in the trophy given to the wrong person.
It was corrected a week later; De Leon was presented the award on TV in a special broadcast announcement by Cinema One.
His second award was in Cinemalaya 2011 where he won both Best Original Music and Best Sound in the Director's Showcase Category for Auraeus Solito's "Busong".
"I was back in my natural music element in 'Busong'which was reflective of ethnic and/or world music, "he said stressing that it was first time he heavily featured the hegalong in a film score.
He considers Raymond Red's "Kamera Obskura" in 2012 his most massive effort yet as it was conceived and executed in silent film style of the 1920s era.
"Film scores nowadays only comprise about 30 to 40% of the film's duration which is maybe around 20-30minutes of music. But for 'Kamera Obskura', I had to score the whole thing. Luckily, my classical training and background made it easy for me to look for music sources that hark back to that era," De Leon recalled.
If the surname is familiar, it is because Diwa is the grandson of National Artist for Music Felipe Padilla de Leon and son of another nationalist musician, Felipe Padilla de Leon, Jr. who is now chair of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts. His mother is writer/poet Anna Leah Sarabia.
A product of the Philippine High School of the Arts where he graduated valedictorian, Diwa admits being associated with a very distinguished family of musicians is virtually like a double-edged sword with the other side quite blunt.
For the less complicated side, he said being a De Leon gives him the ease of not having to explain why he chose to be a full-time musician.
"The music career, is still a bit frowned upon by the older generation (read: the parents) for the false argument that there is 'no money in music'. I just have to say that music has been in my family's bloodline ever since and that would shut the cynics up. I also enjoy a certain degree of respect from my peers especially those who have recognized my family's contributions in Philippine music," he said.
While some finds comparison a burden, the young De Leon said he is "very honored" to be compared to his grandfather. On the other hand, there is a high level of expectation that he fears that he cannot always fulfill.
Although he rebelled during his high school days on being 'pressured' to be another musician in the family by taking up visual arts, he later realized that there was no way he could deny his musical genes.
He finds it unfortunate that he wasn't been able to witness his grandfather in action as a great band conductor and composer. "Thankfully, my father always told me the great stories about my grandfather's life, especially the story when he sold cigarettes and newspapers in his youth to fund -- not just his own musical education -- but also the other children in need in his hometown of Penaranda, Nueva Ecija," Diwa said.
He said his lolo's archives are a rich source for musical ideas for nationalistic songs.
Apart from his work being a good source of income, he considers film scoring as always artistically gratifying. "I always have a child-like excitement when scoring a new film; it's like being given a vast aural playground of which I can play music with. It is also a great venue to hone my knowledge in all styles of music."
De Leon said every film needs a very wide genre of music from classical to ethnic to rock and one needs to be knowledgeable in not just listening to it, but knowing how to compose all of it.
"This, in my opinion, is an important factor if you want to work in the professional film scoring industry," he said.
(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for "true.")