TAMPIPI: The Pinoy Expats’ Band

They say that people come into our lives for a reason, that nothing happens completely by chance. Somehow, there is an unseen Hand that guides us to where we are and to the people who surround us. Some call it fate, others call it destiny, some call it simply “TAMPIPI”.

This unseen Hand took many years to bring four people from different parts of the Philippines to Tokyo so that they can form TAMPIPI, a band that best describes the Pinoy expat: highly talented, persevering, resilient and fun!

Meet Julius Santillan, Fernand Fagutao, Yoyee Viray-Tan, and Knollee Sales of TAMPIPI, the Tokyo-based Pinoy band that sings directly into the heart of the Filipino expat. Their songs are original, their beat unique, their message brimming with positivity and hope.

“Kakayanin ko yan, kakayanin mo yan/ Paglipas ng dilim ay may bukas/ Puso mo ay buksan, damdami’y sundan/ Sa pagkakamali ay may aral” (from the song “Kakayanin”)

TAMPIPI not only epitomizes raw talent and genius, they also symbolize the struggles of the ordinary Pinoy in the streets of Tokyo or wherever in the world the overseas Filipino worker sweats his brow. Their songs speak of and to the OFW, the unsung hero who keeps the Philippine economy afloat, the so-called “Hiyas ng Pinas”.

Their music likewise projects the authenticity of Filipino culture, particularly in the songs “Gusto Kong Kumanta” and “Halakhak”, both of which take pride in the Pinoys’ penchant for taking life’s problems in stride; that is, with music and laughter despite the trying times. No prescription for sanity is more apt than these, esp. to the Pinoy expat who misses his family and friends back home.

Dapithapon sa bansang malayo sa iyo/ Pinilit na umalis, labag man sa puso/ Hinahanap-hanap ang iyong paglalambing/ Tawag ng damdamin pangalan mo giliw (from the song “Dapithapon”)

In the vast sea of original Filipino music, with various waves, tones and undertones, TAMPIPI is undoubtedly a fresh, new voice. But don’t take our word for it: listen to samples of their songs in their own website (http://tampipi.stmike-iloilo.com/), and if necessary, email them for more.

In this special feature exclusive to Philippines Today Online, we bring you an interview that strikes deep into the band’s heart. Learn about who they are and where they’re headed. And of course, feel free to join the ride.

Read on.

1. How was Tampipi formed?

Tampipi started simply as a bunch of friends hanging out, singing, eating, drinking, and sharing stories about their lives, (these stories would eventually become the basis for future songs). The group’s guitarist composer, Julius Santillan started writing songs, first for a couple who fell in love, then for the daughter of a friend. These were rendered by vocalist Fernand Fagutao. As more ideas for songs started to accumulate, they were further joined by Cecille Cruz. When Julius decided to join the Gawad Ka Amado Songwriting competition, he asked Yoyee Viray-Tan, the wife of a friend, to sing the song for him.

The Filipino community soon became involved in the yearly Family Day presentation, and since Julius, Fernand and Yoyee were already part of the program, they asked if they could perform separately. During their rehearsals for the impromptu audition at the embassy, they were joined by percussionist Knollee Sales who excitedly contributed to the songs. They were eventually allowed to perform at Family Day in Shin Kiba (2004). Soon thereafter, they decided to band together to further promote and develop their own music in Japan and formed Tampipi in February 2005.

2. Why do you call yourselves Tampipi? What is the origin of this word?

Naming the group Tampipi took several weeks of debate, but in the end we decided on a name that would symbolize the modern Filipino: the ‘Pinoy of the world’. This person is someone who is constantly on the move, traveling around the world, working for a living, learning, growing and giving back to the Philippines. The name Tampipi (being the almost-forgotten Tagalog word for bag) also cautions us to look back to our roots and never forget where we came from. We as a people, as Pinoys who live and work abroad, are the Tampipi or receptacle of all things Filipino; it is we who carry our culture and traditions with us and within us as we go on our travels, and in turn it is also we who give back to the country whatever glory we may find.

3. What is Tampipi’s guiding philosophy?

First and foremost, Tampipi believes in the Filipino. Tampipi believes in the Filipinos’ capability to make music and to share that music with the world, using it as a tool for expression and communication.

Secondly, Tampipi would like to promote positivity in music. Tampipi would like to show that despite the harshness of everyday reality, there is always a happy side to life if only we choose to see it.

Lastly, although Tampipi’s music is not exclusively devoted to the theme of Filipinos working abroad, most of its songs are centered on this theme. Through its music, Tampipi would like to illustrate not only the difficulties of working in foreign places, but also the versatility and strength that Filipinos display in being able to do so.

4. Who are the members of Tampipi and what are their day jobs?

Julius Santillan

Juls started composing songs back in high school where he won third place in a songwriting competition hosted by the local city government. He says that the culturally rich environment of Silay, Negros Occidental was instrumental in fuelling his musical creativity. He was a member of the award-winning Baranggay Dos Sarswelistas and of the Silay City Choir. Julius came to Japan as a Japanese Government scholar in 1998, the same year that he graduated from the Technological University of the Philippines-Visayas. He is now working as a Researcher at a semiconductor research facility in Ibaraki. In 2004 he won third place in the Gawad Ka Amado songwriting contest in Manila. Today, he continues to write songs about the people he meets, gaining insight from their experiences and using these to paint a picture of what life is for Pinoys abroad.

Yoyee Tan

According to Yoyee, she started singing as early as she could remember; not surprising for someone who comes from a musically gifted family. In fact, a few years back, she and her cousins informally organized themselves into a choir and bested several other veteran groups at a choral competition in their native Dagupan. A former member of the acclaimed UP Singing Ambassadors, Yoyee also regularly sang at her church in Mangaldan and at the Alliance Church in Quezon City. In 2004 she moved to Japan with her husband, who is doing a Phd. in Engineering at the Tokyo Institute of Technology. She became an active member of the Tokyo International Singers and has participated in several of their public musical offerings in Tokyo. Yoyee currently works as an English teacher in Tokyo.

Knollee Sales

Knollee’s musical style could be aptly termed Eclectic Pinoy. He started as a member of a new wave band, become a disc jockey and finally went on to win the Best Performer Award in the 1st CCP Drama Festival and also was the Champion in 2nd DFAPA singing contest. He has also done collaborative work with artists and leaders from different tribes of the Philippines in festivals, which in turn opened his eyes to the beauty and diversity of Filipino music. He is also a member of the Mitus Tribe, a Palawan-based group who does spontaneous music, workshops and rituals. Having arrived in Tokyo in 2002, this civil servant finds his emancipation in music. Through the years, he has continuously promoted the Philippines’ rich musical culture by using traditional Filipino instruments, which he says brings us back to our roots and makes us proud to be Filipinos wherever we may be.

Fernand Fagutao

2004 brought Fernand to the shores of Japan as a Japanese Government scholar. After surviving a six-month skirmish with Nihongo, he went on to embark on his masters in Fisheries at the Tokyo University of Marine Science. Fernand’s first musical exploits involved the Marian choir at the Marillac Academy in his native Miagao in Iloilo. In truth, friends and family only learned of Fernand’s singing prowess when he agreed to sing at a wedding. A natural talent, this soulful crooner is deliciously expressive in his rendition of R&B songs. Fernand is currently graduating from the Masters program in March 2007 and will enter the Doctor program in April of the same year.

5. Who is your target audience?

The target audience of Tampipi are Filipino migrant workers. After all, the songs of Tampipi are about them and these are written and performed by people who live the same lives and who can definitely empathize with their situation. Moreover, with at least 200,000 registered Filipinos in Japan, according to the Tokyo Immigration Bureau, Filipinos comprise the 4th largest foreigner population in Japan.

In the future, Tampipi would like to reach out to more people, including both Japanese and people of other nationalities. The group has taken the first step of translating the songs in Tampipi’s current album into Japanese and English. These may be viewed on our website.

6. How many albums do you already have and where can people buy them?

Tampipi has released its first album “Tampipi: Mula sa Ibayo” which contains nine all-original compositions. For orders, interested parties may contact us at contact_tampipi(@)yahoo.com. The album may also be bought at the Philippine Travel café in Iidabashi.

7. What is distinctive about your kind of music? What makes your music different from the rest?

We have recently had someone attach the label “ethnic pop” to our music, and to our happy surprise, it’s a label that fits. Although the overtones of our music is distinctly pop, it still retains ethnic undertones evident not only in the instruments our percussionist uses but in the way that the songs are structured and performed.

8. Are your songs original compositions?

All the songs of Tampipi are original compositions of Julius Santillan. The songs Halakhak and Gusto Kong Kumanta are collaborations with Yoyee Tan, one of Tampipi’s vocalists who came up with the idea for the songs.

Recent compositions such as ‘Magandang Morning’ and ‘Hiyas ng Pinas’ are largely based on the poems of Dr. Louie Uayan, a friend and supporter of Tampipi who published the poems on her online blog. Tampipi sometimes bases its songs on reflections of everyday life based on observations, or on poems or other written material. In the case of the latter, Tampipi perfunctorily asks the permission of the authors before using their material

9. Among Tampipi’s songs so far, which one best describes the group’s soul and identity and why?

In the album ‘Tampipi: Mula sa Ibayo’ the song ‘Liham (Kumusta na?)’ best captures the essence not only of Tampipi, but of Filipinos abroad in general as they struggle to comprehend the changes wrought by time and separation on them and their relationships with family and friends.

The newer ‘Hiyas ng Pinas’ is another of the songs that promotes the group’s idea of positivity in music. It speaks of the pride Filipino migrant workers feel in contributing to the development of their country. The song acknowledges that working abroad is not a bed of roses, but it takes grit and determination to do so. It also revels in the knowledge that Filipino migrant workers realize their worth and believe with certainty that they are indeed ‘Hiyas ng Pinas’. The song is currently used as the theme song for the show Bantay OFW with Susan K on ABC-5.

10. How do you foresee Tampipi a year from now? Five years from now? Ten years from now?

Tampipi hopes to still be creating and performing music in the years to come. Tampipi has been blessed to enjoy collaborations with some of Tokyo’s talented singers and musicians such as Thomas Lichtenstein, AJ Sahagun, Donna Aton, Ces Cruz and Bobby Madlansacay, and we hope to be able to work with more people in the future. We do not know what will happen in five to ten years or even a couple of years from now as we acknowledge our transient existence in Tokyo, but this is one of the main tenets of the group; we are but travelers, and during our stay we learn new things and share what we know. We just hope that wherever we may be in the future, music will still play a major part in our lives.

11. How would you like Tampipi to be remembered? I mean, if people hear “Tampipi” what should be the first thing that should enter their minds?

Tampipi would like to be remembered as a group of people who support the development of original Filipino music. More importantly, we would like to be remembered for our songs and how with these songs, they were able to touch the lives of people in various parts of the world. We only hope that when Filipinos think of Tampipi, they would feel pride not only in the music and in the group, but also in themselves and in what they have achieved.

12. When is your next engagement?

Tampipi just finished a lounge act at the Philippines Travel Café in Iidabashi and hopes to do more of the same in the future. The next performance is at the Paul Galang Concert in March which is organized by Akay.

13. How can people book your services?

Tampipi would love the opportunity to share our music by performing not only at Filipino community events, but also at international gatherings where we may be able to represent the Philippines. Interested parties may contact Caryn Santillan at contact_tampipi(@)yahoo.com.

14. What is your final message to Philippines Today Online readers here in Japan and around the world?

Tampipi would like to thank Philippines Today Online for this opportunity to share our thoughts with its readers. We hope that we may have an opportunity to share our music with you in the near future. Please feel free to visit our website at http://tampipi.stmike-iloilo.com/ where you can listen to MP3 samples of our music.

Please continue to support original Pilipino music! Mabuhay ang musikang Pinoy!

Interviewed by Philip Nemenzo for PT Online.