The band Pantayo want ‘honeys to pop the booty on the dance floor’

The Filipinx kulintang ensemble explores explicit desires on their second album

Pantayo’s chiming percussive patterns are the focal point of their genre-fusing sound. For the past decade, the Toronto-based quintet of queer Filipinx women have used traditional kulintang instruments indigenous to the islands of Mindanao, like gongs laid horizontally or hung from strings, as a springboard for playful experimentation. Their second album, Ang Pandaloy, includes the music they discovered as children of the diaspora: sensual R&B slow jams, dense metallic drones and electronic grooves made for the dancefloor.

“We described our first album as an audio diary, and this one is still kind of like a collage,” says band member Katrina Estacio. “There are five of us and we all have different influences to bring to the table.” Expanding on the title Ang Pandaloy, which translates from Tagalog to “the flow,” she explains how “it follows the concept of water through the path of least resistance, and the more we allow things to be.”

Prior to forming the band, Pantayo’s members (Eirene Cloma, Michelle Cruz, Joanna Delos Reyes, Kat Estacio and sibling Katrina Estacio) connected at a series of community-organizing events, including a conference on queer intimacies. After studying with several kulintang masters, the group attained their own instruments for their first live performances in the early 2010s. This led to them hosting kulintang workshops across the country, teaching attendees of all ages how to play the mesmerizing metallophone rhythms.

In 2014, Pantayo connected with alaska B, drummer and bandleader of prog-metal group Yamantaka // Sonic Titan. The two bands began their collaboration with the score for the video game Severed before painstakingly crafting Pantayo’s self-titled debut over years of recording sessions. On Ang Pandaloy, alaska B resumed her role of producer, while the quintet welcomed their touring drummer Vania Lee to add thunderous fills. 

“[Vania’s] style is very jazz-informed, so that expanded our musical universe of how percussion instruments can work together,” says Estacio. “It’s an addition and not so much a contrast to how the drum parts were arranged and written. For this album, we just let them feel it out, and then went with that.”


From the jump, Ang Pandaloy’s opening song “One More Latch (Give It To Ya)” immediately raises the temperature with its explicit descriptions of queer desire. Originally inspired by George Michael’s “One More Try,” the hookup jam’s lyrics were reworked into a passionate invitation to take it slow while holding, kissing and tasting a lover. 

“It’s definitely a sexy song,” says vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Michelle Cruz. “We decided to be all loud and do our thing. It’s good for us to show that side of ourselves because most of us grew up in religious households and went to Catholic schools, so there was a lot of shame about our sexuality. We’re much older now and coming out of our shells.”

Estacio adds that “One More Latch” sharply contrasts with the lyrical themes of Pantayo’s debut, which centred on community and their experiences as a group. “We wanted to represent Filipinx as fully developed human beings, and not just connected to labour,” she says. “There’s a perception that we are often live-in caregivers, nurses or nannies. We can also be artists who express all of these emotions, sexualities and desires in the public sphere.”

The album’s two other lyrical songs—“Mali” and “Must’ve Been a Fool”—explore unrequited love from different angles. “‘Must’ve Been a Fool’ came about as a melody first that was very reminiscent of 1980s or ’90s Janet Jackson,” says Cruz. “I tried to tap into that vibe as a teenager experiencing young love, when you often feel lost and don’t know who you are. You’re so desperate to find connection, but it’s love for yourself that you’re really looking for.” 

“Mali,” written by vocalist, guitarist and bassist Eirene Cloma, was inspired by the concept of limerence, or romantic infatuation. “Mali means wrong, incorrect, improper, or bad vibes,” says Estacio. “It’s about ruminating and going through your head about something that didn’t happen, and grieving that lost opportunity. When you feel uncertain, it can be hard to move forward, and the conclusion of the song is not a neatly tied bow.”

Ang Pandaloy’s five instrumental pieces also come alive with vivid concepts. “Bakal Bote,” translated as “metal bottle,” is inspired by the clanging sounds of early-morning recyclable collectors in Manila. Though the song “Dreams” was initially written with lyrics, the band envisioned its squelching sounds as a conversation with their younger selves, encouraging them that things would get better. On the opposite end of the sonic spectrum, the seven-minute album closer “Bastá” swells into an ominous drone with bubbling electronics sounding like Pac-Man lost in an abyss. 

The dark synth arpeggios and pulsing beats of “Masanguanan” were informed by the band members’ experiences at queer dance parties; spaces where they could safely express themselves. “For that song, we imagined a futuristic environment where a track could inspire honeys to pop the booty on the dance floor,” says Estacio. “We arranged rhythms in different sections and Frankensteined them together. The kulintang part for that song is a new piece we learned, so it also expanded our repertoire.”

Growing bolder as they grow older, Pantayo’s members have dared themselves to follow their instincts on the songs of Ang Pandaloy, whether letting their freak flags fly or revealing their vulnerability. “We’re still changing, evolving and finding ways to grow as we follow the flow,” says Cruz. While they continue to meld traditional music with modern genres, they have strengthened their bonds with the chiming gongs.

“We use kulintang as a vehicle and mode of expression,” says Estacio. “Even the styles of electronic music that we explore on this album are so broad. For ourselves, there’s what we can add to the Pantayo universe, but also finding different ways to fall in love with our instruments again. That wasn’t the intention, but it was the outcome.”

Jesse Locke

Jesse Locke (he/him) is a writer and musician based in the traditional, unceded territories of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Nations, also known as Vancouver. He has contributed to outlets such as Pitchfork, Bandcamp Daily, SPIN, The Wire, CBC Music, Xtra, Musicworks and Aquarium Drunkard. Jesse is the co-founder of the We Are Time record label, and has played drums with the bands Tough Age, Big Rig and CHANDRA. Follow him on social media!

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